Proposed school Bill will 'silence parents'
The Department of Education has announced possible changes to the South African Schools Act via the Basic Education Laws Amendment (Bela) Bill.
The announcement was made recently by Angie Motshekga, Basic Education Minister. The bill seeks to limit the functioning of SGBs by stripping them of decision-making powers.
The SGBs will not be allowed to make recommendations on staff appointments (heads of department, deputy principals and principals) and some financial policies.
Speaking to the Daily News, parent Merrillee Gabin said in many schools the SGB was the only avenue that parents had to understand what was going on.
Gabin and a group of concerned mothers have been sitting outside Assegai Primary School in Wentworth every day for more than three months.
This is because the SGB questioned the hiring process regarding the school’s incumbent principal.
In turn, the KwaZulu-Natal Education Department has taken the SGB chairman and deputy chairman to court. (The men are being charged in their personal capacity, and not as members of the SGB).
Gabin said that since the matter arose at the school, parents have come to understand and appreciate the importance of SGBs.
“Now that we know the purpose of a governing body and know how vital they are, the department wants to take that away from us.
“Many parents would get notices about governing body meetings but would not bother attending. It is only now that we realise just how valuable their placement is at schools.
“We, as parents, should actually apologise for not taking these meeting notices seriously,” she said.
Gabin said parents had a right to know what was going on in their children’s schools.
If the bill comes into effect, it will allow the department to decide on pupil admission, language of teaching and appointment of staff.
“Already our classes have more than 30 pupils per class. Teachers are overworked with so many children in a class. This is also negatively impacting on other pupils in the class,” Gabin said.
Parents said they only found out about the proposed amendments via social media because no notices were sent to schools.
Rene Matthys, another parent, said if the bill was made law, it would silence parents and would allow the department to do as it pleased in schools.
Andre de Bruin, chairman of the Assegai Primary SGB, said the bill would not be fair.
“If you have to look at the language of teaching for example, what if they make changes that adversely affect those pupils who do not understand the language chosen?
“They are fixing something that does not need repairing,” De Bruin said.
Thirona Moodley, provincial chief executive at the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of SA, said unions could not afford to be silent on the bill.
“The proposals in their current form are dictatorial and undemocratic. Are we taking away active citizenry? These proposals have the effect of adding responsibility to the provincial education departments. Do they have the capacity to effectively execute these responsibilities?
“Currently, most departments are operating with skeleton staff and a large number of vacancies,” Moodley said.
Dr Jaco Deacon, deputy chief executive of the Federation of Governing Bodies South Africa (Fedsas), said the South African Schools Act allowed for the creation of public schools, schools with full legal personality governed by school communities through democratically elected governing bodies.
“We have 23 719 public schools with about 285 000 members of governing bodies that form a system so important that it was described in a Constitutional Court judgment as a ‘beacon of democracy’.
“It is indeed an ugly day when public schools become state schools again,” he said.
Deacon said it was also a fact that competent governing bodies and well-functioning schools were a thorn in the side of officials and politicians.
“Governing bodies that know their rights and act in the best interests of the school do not allow unlawful interference and will oppose any disregard of schools’ interests.
“Giving complete authority over the appointment of school principals and other senior staff to officials is setting the wolf to keep the sheep.
“Parents know what the needs of the school and school community are and many governing bodies follow comprehensive appointment procedures to recommend the right leaders,” he said.
The public has until tomorrow to comment on the Bela Bill.