School bill challenged

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga.

A draft education bill seeking to strip school governing bodies of their powers, and which has drawn flak from Education MEC Debbie Schäfer, has also stirred a hornets’ nest of opposition in Fish Hoek.

The draft Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill, published in the Government Gazette last month, has proved contentious for parents and teachers alike.

The bill proposes amendments to the South African Schools Act (SASA) 84 of 1996 and the Employment of Educators Act 76 of 1998 that would take away governing bodies’ powers over pupil admissions, language tuition, identification of learning support material and staff appointments.

It would give the head of department the final authority to admit pupils and appoint senior staff and the principal.

The closing date for objection was Friday November 10.

Ms Schäfer said that while the bill tried to address some valid concerns, “we believe that the national minister is seeking the wrong solutions for the right problems and this cannot be supported.”

There were already remedies in existing laws that were not being applied to address the problems the bill identified, she said.

The Fish Hoek Valley Ratepayers’ and Residents’ Association (FHVRRA) has also come out against the bill, saying weakening governing bodies would reduce parental involvement in schools and make them less accountable to the community.

Tim Gordon, the national CEO of the Governing Body Foundation (GBF), says most of the bill’s 46 clauses are uncontroversial, but there are four that have the GBF worried:

Blob: The removal of the right to parental inputs around who the principal and senior staff will be. “We believe this to be striking at the very heart and soul of the concept of a public school, and that it should be opposed as strongly as possible,” he said.

Blob: An obligation placed on the department to vet and approve policies on admissions and language in schools.

“We do not believe that the departments of education have the capacity to fulfil their mandate in this regard, or that they have proven their bona fides in dealing with admissions or language matters,” he said.

Blob: The right to “central procurement” of textbooks and other learning and teaching support materials meaning, in practice, prescribing what books and other texts will be purchased and sent to schools.

Blob:An equally unfettered right of the head of department to withdraw “one or more functions” of a governing body and to empower the head of department to dissolve a governing body that has ceased to perform the functions allocated to it in terms of the act.

Fish Hoek High School principal Gavin Fish said FHHS was a high performing school, drawing pupils from all racial groups and economic classes.

He says taking the appointment of promotions posts away from schools is a bad idea, as he doubts the Department of Basic Education (DBE) or the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) have the capacity to sift, interview and deliberate on the thousands of posts involved.

In his objection to the DBE he says: “The attempt to eliminate the rampant corruption of posts being bought, is to be applauded. I do not believe, however, that the solution is to centralise the process. It is counter-intuitive to solve a problem in a manner that creates others.”

The DBE, he said, could not be expected to understand the particular needs and nuances of every school.

“We have our own redress policy in place, a considered response to our specific realities. We also draw pupils from a range of primary schools with particular academic and socio-economic needs. It is important that we appoint educators with the specific capacity to meet our pupils’ needs.”

The governing body, he said, had been democratically elected by the parent community and comprised “people with considerable educational insight, business acumen and a heart for the community” who gave up “hundreds of hours of their time” without pay.

The appointment of teachers, he argued, was the “single most important function” of the governing body and to deny them that role”robs us all of their governance oversight” and would compromise the the contributions made by the governing body.

“We are a participatory democracy, not a centralised bureaucracy,” he said.

He is also worried about the proposal to take away schools’ right to determine admission criteria, which are already subject to both the South African Schools Act (SASA) and the constitution.

FHHS had turned away 109 families from acceptance into its Grade 8 class of 2018 because the number of applications had far exceeded the school’s capacity.

It was critically important that a school had specific criteria to ensure equitable access, bearing in mind a host of factors specific to its particular context.

“It takes a community to bring up a child. Don’t allow the education of our children to be depersonalised at the risk of a community no longer believing that their school is a reflection of either who they are or who it is that they would like to be… I cannot see how centralised decision making can possibly enhance the proud fish Hoek High School community that we are.” Ms Schäfer said the bill shouldn’t try to fix things that weren’t broken.

“We cannot fix the problems arising from a captured criminal justice system, an ineffective state bureaucracy and lack of skills by providing for increased state interference in our schools.”

Jaco Deacon, deputy CEO of the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (FEDSAS), said it seemed like the draft bill’s overall purpose was to curb parents’ rights by curbing governing bodies’ powers.

FEDSAS has submitted a 36-page document outlining its objections to the bill.