Western Cape -
Classrooms have stood empty at Barrydale High School since Monday while its 525 pupils stayed home.
Parents were keeping their children at home and said they would continue to do so until the end of the week.
Their aim? To convince the Western Cape Education Department the school had reached breaking point with overworked teachers, in overcrowded classrooms, not able to give pupils the quality education they deserved.
This week, parents locked two education department officials in the school hall, alleging that promises made had not been kept.
The officials had visited the school to discuss parents’ concerns about overcrowding.
The school, which offers classes from grades 1 to 12, had 14 teachers.
School governing body member Amanda Swart, who was guardian to her nephew in Grade 5, and an ANC ward councillor, said there was particular pressure on the school because the number of pupils had increased from 459 last year to 525 this year.
Swart said one Grade 10 maths literacy class accommodated 78 pupils.
In one history class, 60 pupils shared 35 desks, she said.
“How are children supposed to concentrate when they are all squeezed together? It is unacceptable,” Swart said.
“For us it is a great problem. It affects the teachers. They can’t stand it anymore, they will collapse.”
Swart said this had been a problem for the past two years, which had contributed toward a decreased matric pass rate last year.
The pass rate was 81.8 percent last year, down from 96 percent in 2012 and 88.2 percent in 2011.
Henry Michaels, chairman of the school governing body, said the situation at the school was one of the worst in the Overberg region.
“The ratio of teacher to child should be 1:32. Here it’s up to one teacher per 78 pupils. It needs to change,” he said.
Teachers at the school have echoed Swart and Michaels’s concerns, saying they have had enough.
“There is no time to give any child one-on-one attention,” said one teacher, who declined to be named for fear of victimisation.
“We cannot identify which child needs attention in which areas because there is just not enough time. Up to 300 pupils pass through my door everyday.”
She added that the nearest school was 50km away, in Swellendam.
“Options in terms of schools are so limited. We can’t turn any pupil away, yet we don’t have the resources to keep accepting more.”
When the Cape Times visited the school, the outside was plastered with posters, with some saying: “Our children are not slaves.”
The playground and classrooms were empty while teachers were present in case pupils arrived.
“We have no life,” said another teacher.
“We don’t think the department understands what we are going through.”
Last year, the school’s governing body wrote a letter to the Western Cape Education Department, asking that three additional teachers be placed at the school to support the growing number of pupils.
Since then, principal Roy Auret has sent three requests for more teachers.
The department responded to the principal twice, saying the application for more teachers had been unsuccessful.
On Monday, however, the department made one teacher available, on a one-year contract basis.
Auret said that while the school was extremely grateful for the extra teacher, it still needed another two.
“We will remain under pressure until we get the vacancies filled,” he said.
Department spokesman Paddy Attwell said he did not know the reasons the school’s request had been rejected.
“I admit that the school is growing. We are (busy) processing the applications for more teachers,” he said.