Schools in KwaZulu-Natal may be forced to find more sponsorships – or consider hefty fee hikes – to cope with a controversial first-come-first-served admission policy directive.
This is according to critics of the policy, who have warned of legal action and called for schools to ignore a recent KZN Department of Education circular that effectively bars schools from favouring children from their surrounding areas when considering applications for places.
Critics have claimed that affected schools would be forced to admit more pupils who cannot afford to pay fees, which could lead to schools becoming financially distressed.
The national chief executive of the Governing Body Foundation, Tim Gordon, said in an interview that the new policy could have “massive implications” for schools, because it would affect their daily operations.
“Schools have historically worked out how many pupils they subsidise and how many people the community can carry in fees,” he said, adding that these numbers could be greater once the policy is implemented.
Many former Model C schools, for example, based on their ranking on the department’s poverty index, receive minimal funding from the department for their day-to-day expenses.
These formerly advantaged schools depend largely on fees
to make ends meet. But with the new policy, in terms of which schools cannot turn away pupils from outside their feeder zones – meaning they will have to enrol pupils from less affluent areas – there are fears they might not have a large enough fee-paying base.
Gordon said those schools would require “huge” sponsorships to meet any shortfall, or the funding model would have to change.
“The new policy is not sustainable. The department cannot change the composition of a school and expect everything else to remain the same.”
School fees might have to be increased to “exorbitant” levels to maintain the standard of the school, Gordon said,
adding that this was not something that was easy to do.
“Sadly, more non-fee paying pupils and less fee-paying pupils would mean a deterioration of school facilities. The school facilities would break down and the school would lose the attraction that draws people towards it.”
The Governing Body Foundation said it was discussing the policy with its lawyers.
Paul Colditz, the CEO of the Federation of Governing Bodies of SA Schools, said the federation had told its 150 KZN members to ignore the circular.
“If the department insists on enforcing the instructions on the circular, we will see them in court,” he said.
“First-come-first-served is unlawful and if schools are compelled to it, it would interfere with the way schools administered their affairs.”
Colditz said pupils could not be refused admission because of inability to pay fees.
The principal of a former Model C school in Durban, who would not be named because the official is not authorised to speak to the media, said schools would be financially disadvantaged by the policy.
The school charged fees of R16 000 per pupil, and received just under R200 000 in funding a year from the department. “The funding is not even enough to pay the school’s water and lights bill for the whole year,” the principal said.
“The school couldn’t operate without fees and it costs about R18 million a year to run the school.
“The school pays for its own teaching and non-teaching staff, and has about 10 percent of parents paying fees according to their means. It is concerned about the extra burden it may now have to carry.
“The implications would mean larger classes, fewer teaching staff and non-teaching staff, no extra-mural activities, no guidance councillor and the school would not be able to offer a variety of subjects,” the principal said.
“The instruction on the circular is not workable. The more I think about it practically, I realise that it’s just not workable… this could lead to increasing fees.”
Responding to concerns that schools could face financial hardship if they admitted more non-paying pupils, department spokesman Muzi Mahlambi said schools could not use the ability to pay fees as criteria for admission.
“They cannot just look at a parent and decide that they cannot afford to pay,” Mahlambi said.
“We cannot afford to attach emotions to the circular and schools should not implement the group areas act in schools based on affordability.”
He said schools had created “imaginary feeder zones”, which they have used to exclude certain pupils.
“The affordability issue is another form of discrimination,” Mahlambi said. “It is very unfortunate that there are people who want to take the legal route on mere issues of integration.”