Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng

A school in East London has been unable to fill three vacancies because two teachers have been on “temporary disability leave” for around seven years, while a third has never taught at the school.

Alphendale High School is one of 23 schools taking the province’s education department and Education Minister Angie Motshekga to court over the allocation of teachers to schools. It’s a fight that has also been raging with the teacher union Sadtu, which wants 3 800 temporary teachers reinstated.

Hundreds of pupils across the province have missed out on crucial maths and science lessons since the start of this year as a result of the teacher debacle. The Eastern Cape has repeatedly achieved the lowest matric pass rate and last year only 58.1 percent of matrics in the province passed the national exam.

This week the province said it could only afford to reinstate 1 000 temporary teachers.

However schools and the department believe the true problem is the placement of teachers.

For several years the province has been plagued by a strange anomaly - it has about 5 000 too many teachers while mostly rural and poor schools are understaffed.

With the help of the Centre for Child Law at the University of Pretoria, the schools have gone to the Bhisho High Court demanding that the department implement the 2012 post provisioning system, which is meant to dictate how many teachers and support staff are allocated to schools.

The schools have spent millions on salaries for teachers and administrative staff who are supposed to be paid by the department.

“The EC Department’s failure to implement the 2012 post establishment has led to many schools being placed in a situation of crisis and financial peril,” says Ann Skelton from the Centre for Child Law in the founding affidavit in the case.

One such school is the Cape Recife High School in Port Elizabeth which caters for 385 special needs children from all over the province.

Because of a 1996 moratorium on the appointment of non-teaching staff, only 22 of the required 77 non-teaching posts have been filled.

These jobs include much-needed nurses, psychologists, social workers therapy aides, cleaners and security guards.

The school has already spent R1.9 million on salaries for support staff and governing body chairman John Dakin says the school “cannot take the financial strain going forward”.

The school has spent:

l More than R103 000 in salaries for four temporary teachers for three months last year.

l More than R116 000 in temporary teacher salaries from January to May this year.

l R165 000 for hourly sessions with education therapists.

While the school collects R12 540 in tuition and R20 900 in hostel fees annually per student, Dakin says it cannot increase fees because many parents could not afford to pay more.

The education department blames the unions, and mainly Sadtu, for the “double-parking” phenomenon, saying there has not been consensus for the past decade.

The unfair placement of teachers can be illustrated by two Grahamstown schools that are barely 2km apart. Mary Waters High School has 1 068 pupils and 27 teachers – 11 fewer than required, placing the teacher-pupil ratio at 1 to 40.

Matric results have plummeted from 74 percent to 52 percent at the school, court papers say.

Meanwhile at nearby Benjamin Mahlasela Secondary School, there are 14 teachers for 100 pupils, placing the teacher-pupil ratio at 1 to 7.

Skelton says the teacher crisis could lead to “the prospective demise of whole classes of learners” because “many learners are wholly without a teacher and have not received tuition this year”.

In response to questions from The Sunday Independent, Eastern Cape Education department spokesman Loyiso Pulumani said they were hoping to resolve the placement of teachers for 2013 through talks with Sadtu to “gradually unlock resources” and uplift restrictions on hiring.

Pulumani said a “comprehensive winter schools programme” began on Friday in all 23 districts. “We will only be utilising services of our best qualified educators in the critical learning areas like mathematics, life sciences, accounting, economics, physical sciences and English. An additional requirement is that the teachers must be credible performers at their schools who have achieved 70 percent or more passes in the past three consecutive academic years,” he said.

Meanwhile Sadtu says it still wants the 3 800 temporary teachers reappointed.

However the union is opposed to the current teacher allocation system and wants it reworked.

Sunday Independent