Our problems with the schools amendment bill - Debbie Schäfer

WCape MEC says for HoDs to approve admission and language policies will be an administrative nightmare

Minister Schäfer on the BELA Bill – don’t fix what isn’t broken

The stated intention in the Memorandum on the Objects of the The Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill (“the BELA Bill”) is to ensure that “systems of learning and excellence are put in place in a manner which respects, protects, promotes and fulfils the right to basic education enshrined in section 29(1) of the Constitution”.

The Western Cape Government (WCG) wholeheartedly supports this intention.

While there are some valid concerns that are sought to be addressed in the Bill, it is important to identify the root causes of the problems. In several cases, we believe that the National Minister is seeking the wrong solutions for the right problems. This cannot be supported.

On analysing the proposals in the Bill, it appears that the main issues the Bill purportedly seeks to address arise out of corruption in the appointments process, incapacity of many SGB’s, failure of education departments to manage their staff properly, and inadequate processes of staff appointments. In addition, there are remedies in existing legislation that are clearly not being used adequately.

We believe that, if these issues are dealt with and current legislation properly applied, many of the issues of concern will resolve themselves.

The Draft Amendment Bill proceeds from the premise that officials in the education departments are somehow more competent and/or objective than parents. We have seen first-hand that this is certainly not always the case. 

For Heads of Department to approve admission and language policies will be an administrative nightmare. More importantly, it takes away a power that was expressly given to governing bodies in a move to make the public school system more democratic. There is little point in allowing SGB’s to make policies, but then telling them what to put in the policy.

If policies of schools are problematic, there are remedies available. The policies can be challenged individually, and if there are allegations of unfair discrimination against any learner, they have the right of appeal to the MEC.

We do agree that, after taking into account the factors and after following the processes prescribed in the draft Bill, the HOD should be allowed to force a school to offer another language.

It is the case that some schools simply refuse to allow other languages as a method of exclusion, with the consequence that a school may not be optimally utilised. Should a school be required to offer education in another language, they must be given the resources they need to do so.

Regarding the appointment of senior staff in schools, it is correct that the HOD as the employer is not currently represented in either the shortlisting process or as a voting member of the interview panel.

We do not support the wholesale removal of the powers of the SGB in this regard, as they do, in general, have a far better knowledge of the needs of the school than most other people. 

What we do propose, however, is that a departmental representative of the level of circuit manager or higher be on the shortlisting panel as well as the interview panel. 

This would provide for the involvement of the department in ensuring that educational criteria are taken into account during both those processes. It will also enable them to report to the HOD on the process, and if there are any irregularities or allegations of unfairness in the scoring process, they would be able to advise the HOD, who will be in a better place to motivate reasons for his or her decision in the event that the number one choice is not accepted.

We believe this will provide a good counter-balance whilst not taking away the SGB’s powers.

The case law provided in the Memorandum on the Bill does not substantiate the Minister’s objective. We support diversity and believe that this must be achieved, but ultimately the primary consideration should be the best person for the school.

If SGB’s are not functioning properly, there is a legal remedy in s22 of SASA, whereby the HOD can remove certain functions. This is not used nearly enough.

In summary, 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.

The Draft Amendment Bill must be looked at from the starting point of “fix what is not working” and not “fix what is not broken”.

It is my hope that the Draft Amendment Bill will be reviewed and our comments and recommendations considered, in ensuring that we achieve the best system for improving education outcomes for our youth.

***Please see attached the final draft of my comments submitted to DBE on Friday 10th November 2017. Comments on individual clauses are provided in the attached document. If a specific clause is not addressed, it is supported.

Statement issued by Debbie Schäfer, Western Cape Minister of Education, 14 November 2017