School Governing Bodies should be trained to ensure accountability and good governance, Bela Bill submissions to continue

Students writing their matric exams at the Sena-Marena High School in Soweto. Picture: Chris Collingridge

Students writing their matric exams at the Sena-Marena High School in Soweto. Picture: Chris Collingridge

Published Nov 16, 2022


The South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) has recommended that “clear provisions” regulating language policy be inserted in the Basic Education Laws Amendment (Bela) Bill, to facilitate access and uniformity across the system.

In delivering its oral contribution to the draft regulation in Parliament this week, the teachers’ union said it also felt that provision should be made to unlock stalemates between the heads of department and the SGB relating to schools’ language policy.

Sadtu recommended that a clause be inserted that will ensure that SBGs do not apply the school’s language policy directly in the admission of entry-phase learners.

The Portfolio Committee on Basic Education continued to listen to oral submissions on the Bela Bill on Tuesday and will continue to hold hearings next week.

The committee heard from nine organisations and stakeholders wanting to contribute to the drafting of the legislation. Some of the presenters included the Pestalozzi Trust, the Federation of Associations of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (Fedsas), Sadtu, Section 27, Cause for Justice, AfriForum and Cosatu).

Committee chairperson Bongiwe Mbinqo-Gigaba said the second round of oral submissions was very informative, continuing the trend established in round one last week.

“We are grateful for the input and contributions made by all organisations, which I believe will enhance and enrich our deliberations,” she said.

The Bela Bill, in essence, proposes to amend the South African Schools Act and the Employment of Educators Act to align them with developments in the education landscape and to ensure that systems of learning are put in place in a manner that gives effect to the right to basic education, as enshrined in the Constitution.

Among this, the bill seeks to amend certain definitions. The bill wants to legislate that attendance in Grade R is compulsory and to provide for system improvements in terms of admission of learners to public schools.

It also provides for financial and public accountability frameworks for school governing bodies (SGBs) and provincial departments.

In addition, the bill gives the minister additional regulatory powers and enhances the decision-making and oversight powers of heads of departments and members of executive councils.

The bill further proposes technical and substantive adjustments, clarifies certain existing provisions, inserts provisions not provided for in existing legislation and strengthens enforcement mechanisms for offences and penalties.

The committee heard from AfriForum that despite the promise of 1994 that language and culture would be protected in the new dispensation, very little had been done to do so.

It is AfriForum’s opinion that the amendments contained in the bill, specifically those pertaining to admission and language policies, amount to a calculated attack on Afrikaans education, while offering no relief to the speakers of other indigenous languages.

The committee heard from Fedsas that about 80% of school governing bodies were dysfunctional.

Fedsas also said functional and successful SGBs should be allowed to continue as they are, without the interference of the state.

Fedsas also expressed its concerns regarding the proposed requirement for SGB members to declare their financial interests.

Section27 said while it welcomed measures related to ensuring accountability and good governance, there were obstacles facing SGBs at historically disadvantaged schools “that can only be addressed through putting in place measures to improve SGBs’ skills capacity and by addressing the power dynamics between school staff and SGBs”.

This, Section27 said, included providing comprehensive training after every election to all SGB members.

Section27 also raised the question of corporal punishment and welcomed the move to define corporal punishment. However, the current definition only extends to physical forms of punishment, excluding non-physical forms of punishment.

Cosatu raised its concerns that the bill did not extend compulsory schooling from Grade 9, where it is currently, to Grade 12.

It said many learners dropped out of school in Grade 9 or when they turn 15, which condemned them to low-paying jobs with few career prospects.

It further said the bill must recognise education workers’ constitutional and labour rights to picket.

There were mixed reactions regarding the consumption or sale of alcohol on school premises outside school hours. Many felt additional provisions setting the conditions for liquor sales were not enough to prevent learners accessing liquor in such events.

[email protected]