Parents whose children were recruited to join an unregistered, independent school feel their children’s futures have been jeopardised.
A parent, who asked not to be named to protect the identity of her child, said that in 2022, Nicole Griffith, the founder of The Angela Academy, offered Grade 7 pupils from Muizenberg Junior School the opportunity to get free high school education.
“We were told that she had partnered with Wingu Academy, an international online school, and that the pupils would study through their online platform,” the parent said
She said Ms Griffith had told parents that it had always been a dream of hers to start a school and she was finally able to do so after securing sponsorships and inheriting money from her father.
Many parents jumped at the opportunity – giving up Grade 8 placements they had secured at other schools.
She said Ms Griffith had told her that the academy would be registered with the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) soon and that the academy had permission to operate as a “cottage school” while registration was pending.
However, in November last year, Ms Griffith told parents that The Angela Academy would close as 2023 had been a “tumultuous” year with a breakdown between the pupils, parents, and staff.
The school had still not been registered, and in a letter, Ms Griffith told parents the school had been unable to meet the WCED’s requirements in the time given to it to do so.
However, a few days later, she told parents that Ian Strydom, the founder of Wingu Academy, an international online school, had offered to take over the management of The Angela Academy.
The aunt of another pupil, who also asked not to be named, claimed that when she had enquired if the new school would be registered in time for the 2024 school year, her niece’s conditional acceptance had been withdrawn.
She said the Wingu Academy was only registered as a distance-learning institution through the South African Comprehensive Assessment Institute (SACAI) for the further education and training (FET) phase for Grades 10 to 12 but not for Grades 8 and 9.
“They knowingly allowed children to enrol for Grade 8 despite knowing they were not registered, and at no point was this information disclosed to parents.”
She said her niece still needed placement for 2024 and they were awaiting feedback from the WCED.
The first parent said she was now concerned that her child’s Grade 8 qualification was not valid.
WCED spokesperson Millicent Merton confirmed that Wingu Academy was not registered with the department but was in the process of doing so.
She said that according to the South African Schools Act, of 1996, an independent school had to register with the provincial education department, and the application had to meet all requirements in the regulations before a registration certificate was issued.
Mr Strydom said the parents had been made aware last year that The Angela Academy was still in the process of being registered.
“It was made very clear to the parents that they were going to register, and it was no secret,” he said.
The parents, he said, were misinformed about the regulatory landscape in South Africa for online schools.
All online schools only had the option of registering Grades 10 to 12 with the SACAI, a non-profit private assessment body that assesses the National Senior Certificate and general education and training certificates, he said, adding that neither the SACAI, nor any other body, offered registration for any other grades.
The SACAI confimed this.
In addition to the academy’s registration woes, it operates from Christ Gen Church in Lakeside, which is not zoned for a school.
Mayoral committee member for spatial planning and environment Eddie Andrews said the property was zoned for single residential use, which is suitable for a single dwelling with additional use rights that include a place of worship and a place of instruction, but the church, he said, did not have consent.
In 2023, he said, the church was served with an administrative penalty of R3 000 as determined by the Municipal Planning Tribunal, and an application for consent was submitted.
However, he said, the application was incomplete and a new application under a new case number had to be submitted.
The current application, he said, involved consent for the school and departures including building line setbacks for a proposed roofed lobby at the entrance of the church.
A maximum of 35 pupils is proposed, he said.
He said a building inspector had conducted a site visit on Thursday January 18 and confirmed that the church was being used as a school.
“The City will be issuing a notice for unauthorised change in use of the building in terms of the National Building Regulation on Monday,” he said.
Gideon Thiart, senior pastor at Christ Gen Church, said he had tried to submit a land-use application in 2022 but had been told by the City that its application system had been offline and he had to submit it in 2023.
He said the system had been offline until March 2023 and his application had been submitted then.
“The City’s system is in total disarray as there are no records of the church on this property despite it being built in 1958,” he said.
He said the church was “just a hub” for children to sit with their laptops while learning online.
“It is not for underprivileged children, merely children who did not get a placement in conventional schools. The school pays rent for the use of the church and has assisted in fencing the property,” he said.
He said he had had to follow up on his application several times with the City.
Mr Strydom said The Angela Academy had closed down in December last year as it could not meet the WCED deadline to finalise the application as the City had not approved its rezoning request.
Ms Griffith said she and Mr Strydom were in continuous discussions with the department and the academy should be registered before the end of the first term.
When asked by the Echo if the academy would continue to operate in violation of City by-laws, Ms Griffith said they had been trying for more than a year to get the necessary permissions but had encountered hurdles along the way.
“We have not been doing this intentionally, but can hardly educate the children on the street,” she said.
“Our vision is to give these children a world-class education and the ability to fulfil their full potential in a nurturing and safe environment.”
Mr Strydom said Wingu Academy was registered with both Oxford International and Pearson Edexcel to offer all ages of international qualifications from Grades 1 to the international A-levels.
He said Wingu Academy complied fully with the WCED draft policy for online schools and all SACAI regulations.
“We also abide by all the conditions of the home-schooling policy and the South African Schools Act where applicable,“ he said.
Mr Strydom said no instruction to close the facility had been issued by WCED or the City.
“If that is what they want, they must just inform me so that we know what the situation is,” he said.
“We have had stakeholder engagement meetings, including with the parents, and we have overwhelming positive feedback from the parents. We are aware of a small group of parents who appear to be disgruntled due to the sudden changes. However, this should not be taken as a representation of the situation where we have overwhelming support of the parents.”