Sara Gon says Gauteng's new feeder zone policy threatens islands of quality in state school system
The ongoing controversy over education in Gauteng points to the failures of education management in the province.
In 2016, Deputy Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court Dikgang Moseneke’s last case before retiring was that of Federation of Governing Bodies for South African Schools (FEDSAS) v Member of the Executive Council for Education, Gauteng and Another (CC) T 209/15)  ZACC 14 (20 May 2016).
Panyaza Lesufi, MEC of the Gauteng Department of Education (GDE) pronounced it a victory “against apartheid spatial planning” and said “the poor would finally have access to decent schooling”. We said in an article about the judgment at the time that the sub-text was that as long as township children had to attend their nearest GDE schools, they would receive an inferior schooling.
In Gauteng, just over 60% of urban government schools are located in townships. About 36% of suburban schools are Afrikaans medium. There are 510 English medium only suburban schools – about 25% of all ordinary schools. A relatively small number of those schools are considered high-achieving academic schools.
Schools are divided into five quintiles, with Quintile 1 being the poorest, non-fee paying and Quintile 5 being the schools for children most able to pay school fees and therefore which receive the least subsidies from the GDE.
At a typical Quintile 5 school, the GDE provides a certain number of teachers based on pupil numbers, some administrative staff and some financial contribution. The latter is often less than 2% of the budget. So in addition parents, at every annual general meeting, approve a budget together with a school fee that they agree they can afford in order to meet the budget.
Most fees budgeted for accommodate up to 30% of pupils to be exempt from paying fees, as well as provide for parents who just don’t pay fees even when they can afford them. Seventy percent of parents, therefore, accept having to cross-subsidise other people’s children. Remember, Quintile 5 school fees are paid with after-tax money – money spent after taxes have already been paid by parents for education.
Experience shows that if non-fee paying pupils exceed 25% to 30%, it becomes increasingly difficult for paying parents to afford the school fees necessary to maintain a school. Fewer SGB teachers can be hired, teacher-pupil ratios increase, fewer extramural activities can be offered and less maintenance can be done.
We said that Lesufi perpetuates the myth that suburban schools remain largely white. Most English medium schools now have a majority of black pupils. The black middle-class living or working in the area and the children of domestic workers who live and/or work in an area comprise the black pupils at English medium schools.
Gauteng has to place the fastest growing numbers of children each year. People constantly migrate into the province or children are being sent to be educated in Gauteng because parents believe they will receive a better education than that provided in their home provinces.
Currently, most schools’ admissions policies provide for a 5 km feeder zone. This obliges a school to accept onto its A List any pupil who lives in or who has a parent who works in the feeder zone. This applies irrespective of whether the parent can afford to pay school fees.
The B List comprises those children who neither live in nor have a parent working in the feeder zone. These children are accepted if the school’s admissions are not filled from the A List. In reality, schools have to consider the fee-paying ability of those on the B list if the school is to be managed in terms of its budget.
Lesufi set up a Task Team of GDE officials, representatives of three Governing Body Associations, StatsSA, Equal Education, the Premier’s Office, the Gauteng City Region Observatory and the Municipal Demarcation Board. The teams were chaired by the DDG: Strategic Planning and the Chief Director: Legal Services.
The principles for establishing feeder zones are:
The promotion of community schools in order to strengthen the involvement of parents and reduce travel costs for both the parent and learner transport.
Minimising learners having to travel or walk long distances to school.
Quality Education to be delivered in all schools (i.e. an overall pass rate in excess of 80%).
All schools are to be optimally used to ensure access, redress and equity.
Achieving these will include that:
Feeder Zones will be geographically determined for each individual school, based on where it is situated and on the capacity of the school.
The Feeder Zone for a school need not necessarily consist of a single area around the school; areas allocated to the school could be discontinuous and made up of two or more geographical areas.
Feeder primary schools to high schools will no longer be considered.
None of this seems to have mattered because Lesufi’s new regulations published in the Government Gazette of 30 July 2018 will just change the radius of feeder zones to 30km.
In “Lesufi’s new 'feeder zones' will cause chaos – FF Plus” (Philip van Staden, Politicsweb, 23 October) the FF Plus raises the following criticisms:
- learners from the existing natural feeder zones may not get a place at schools in their vicinity and that will, in turn, put even more financial pressure on parents;
- if children aren’t accepted at their nearest schools, they will have to travel long distances, which has risks and dangers exacerbated by heavy traffic.
We would add to those concerns:
- travelling long distances is very tiring for children. They will lose hours out of their day, reducing homework time, they will be excluded from participating in extramural activities and their performance in class will suffer;
- distance also discourages parents from participating in the life and management of a school;
- the travelling problems would most negatively affect poor, largely black, parents;
- Lesufi said after the judgment that it was intended to make it easier for township students to get into suburban schools for a better education. Many children who do live in townships do go to suburban schools because their parents desperately want them to get a good education. However, many suffer from the disadvantages of travelling, already mentioned;
- if the School Governing Bodies don’t have some control over the number of non-fee paying pupils, the chances are that those parents who do pay fees will try to move their children to private schools because fees will become unaffordable and the benefits of being a Quintile 5 school will disappear. The GDE will have to pay the schools more, which it can’t afford to do.
The FF Plus points out that Gauteng needs over 5 500 new classrooms and that there is an influx of over 110 000 pupils into Gauteng annually.
This is really about the failure by Lesufi and the GDE to anticipate the changes or do enough with enough sense of urgency to provide better schooling to existing township schools, as well as provide new schools for migrants and informal settlements.
A number of schools which have been built at a cost of R249 million have been standing vacant.
The problems in providing education in Gauteng are massive, but the GDE as it is now constituted is not the body to tackle them.
Sara Gon is a Policy Fellow at the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), a think tank that promotes political and economic freedom. If you agree with what you have just read then click here or SMS your name to 32823 (SMSes cost R1, Ts and Cs apply).