Durban - Proposed changes to the South African Schools Act would wrest power from parents, and compromise the quality of public education, governing body associations and teachers’ unions said on Monday.
A draft version of the Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill, which The Mercury has seen a copy of, proposes that school governing bodies have no part in the appointment of school-level heads of department, deputy principals or principals. It also says the law should be amended so the heads of provincial education departments have the final say on school admissions, and may instruct a public school to have more than one language of instruction.
Governing body associations and teachers’ unions argue that should these amendments be made law, public-school parents will take their money and their children to independent schools.
Paul Colditz, the head of the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools, said while the draft of the bill was under discussion, it was a “kick in the teeth” for parents and undermined the principles on which the post-1994 public education system was founded. “A principal is the guiding spirit of the school, and a school dies when the principal is not accepted by the school community.”
Tim Gordon, the head of the Governing Body Foundation, said it was neither unusual, nor sinister for the Schools Act to be revised - but that this time, the signs were worrying.
Basil Manuel, the head of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa, expressed “discomfort” over the proposal that governing bodies have no say in the appointment of principals. “We cannot reject the amendments until we see them in full. But how many senior officials acquire posts through dishonest means? What happens when these people are responsible for appointing principals?
“The practicalities have also not been thought through. KwaZulu-Natal has 3 700 promotion posts to be filled. If there are 50 applicants for each post, how will education officials be able to sift through 185 000 CVs? And if there are committees all over the show to conduct the interview process, who will oversee them, inept and overloaded officials?”
Manuel said amending the law on school admissions was tantamount to “swotting a mosquito with a canon” because few of the country’s 24 000 public schools had admissions problems.
The head of the Suid Afrikaanse Onderwysersunie, Chris Klopper, said education authorities needed to realise that in a constitutional dispensation, parents did not take kindly to being prescribed to by politicians.
Basic Education Department spokesman Elijah Mhlanga would not be drawn on the issue on Monday.
The draft bill is expected to be finalised by next year at the latest, according to the department’s 2014/15 annual report.
The ANC’s 53rd national elective conference resolved that legislation be amended so the current process by which principals were appointed, deemed “deficient” and “open to undue influences,” could be changed.
According to the National Development Plan, union interference in appointing principals is possible because education officials responsible for Human Resources have a limited understanding of labour law. It also says many governing bodies are hampered by parents’ lack of expertise and social status.
Other law changes proposed:
* A fine or six months in prison for anyone who prevents a child from attending school.
* Exemption clauses for school codes of conduct.
* School governing body (SGB) members must declare if they or family members stand to gain in the procurement of goods and services for the school.
* The chairman of the finance committee of the SGB should be a parent.
* Governing bodies must submit quarterly reports on all income and expenditure to provincial heads of education departments.
* That it be a criminal offence to apply for admission to a public school, or for a fee exemption, using misleading or forged documents.