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KwaZulu-Natal Education MEC Senzo Mchunu has put a contentious matter about school admissions to rest.
Despite a proposed first-come, first-served policy finding favour among several |members of the KZN legislature, Mchunu ruled that governing bodies could continue to include the proximity of a child’s home to the school as one of its selection criteria.
Mchunu made his position known at a meeting of the portfolio committee on education in Pietermaritzburg on Friday.
Last month, head of department Nkosinathi Sishi issued a circular on school admissions that nearly became the subject of court action.
He said some schools were using “feeder zones” to exclude pupils from other areas – this translated into a policy which excluded poor children from “good” schools.
The circular was challenged on the basis that it was not legally binding and that the Schools Act afforded the power to determine the admission policy to governing bodies.
Both Sishi and department spokesman Muzi Mahlambi explained that the intention was “transformation” and heralded the end of schools and governing bodies being allowed to prioritise children from within the “imaginary” feeder areas they had created.
After a meeting between Sishi and the Governing Body Foundation, an association representing 700 schools, it was agreed that proximity alone could not be the deciding factor, and that merit also be a criterion.
On Friday, DA MPL Tom Stokes asked Mchunu to withdraw the “confusing” circular on school admissions.
Stokes later said that the legislation already prescribed a first-come, first-served approach – provided local pupils and those enrolled in lower grades were accommodated for the next year’s intake.
“The idea of multi-racial schools reflecting the demography of our land is the ultimate goal, but it is not the only goal. We also need to preserve schools that are performing well and raise the standard of those that, for a whole host of historical reasons, are desperately poor.”
Stokes said although it was not possible, in the medium term, to raise all 6 500 of KZN’s schools to the level of Durban High School, or Pietermaritzburg Girls’ High, it was possible to create another 20 of similar quality.
He added that a top education cost money and fee exemptions compounded the financial burdens on schools.
Mchunu clarified that a circular was not policy, and said he had not seen or contributed to the document in question.
He said most pupils attended the school next door and that the department should allow that.