612 Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi attends the education portfolio committee member meeting at the Legislature on reports related to the growth of the province's education system. 240714. Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu

Johannesburg - A R2.1 billion increase to the Gauteng Department of Education’s R23.2bn budget for staff did little to fill essential vacancies in the department.

The department had 7 193 vacant posts in the financial year from March 2013 to March 2014, and these excluded 801 teacher posts, which are filled by temporary teachers

This was revealed by Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi when responding in the legislature to written questions from Khume Ramulifho, the DA education spokesman.

The highest category of posts that need to be filled are those of school-based departmental heads, of which there are 1 629 vacancies - up from 1 610 in 2012/13.

The amount set aside for staff for this financial year will be revealed when Lesufi presents his department’s 2014/15 budget on Thursday.

When tabling a report on the analysis of the department’s budget for the 2014/15 financial year earlier this month, committee member Sekinah Nenweli said the number of people hired by the department increased to just over a million in March, showing an increase of 9 063 personnel from March 2013.

“Although this might imply that it will enable the department to reduce overcrowding in public schools… the department indicates that the reduction of the pupil-educator ratio and the average-class size at schools will not occur since the ongoing cost of the personnel does not allow the department to hire additional educators,” she said.

Asked when the vacancies would be filled, the department’s spokeswoman, Phumla Sekhonyane, said posts for the heads of department responsible for supervising entry-level teachers were expected to be filled by October.

“The number reflected in the parliamentary question covers the period 2012/13 and 2013/14.

“To date, we have only 561 heads of department vacancies, which were advertised last month for to be filled in October,” she said.

“It is important to note that when there are vacancies, the school or school governing bodies) are empowered to appoint acting teachers or principals to ensure that there is no disruption in terms of learning and teaching.

“There is limited impact as all vacant school-based educator posts are filled immediately through acting appointments, until the posts are filled in accordance with the \provisions of the Employment of Educators Act,” Sekhonyane said.

Sekhonyane added that departments’ vacancy rate stood at 7.9 percent, which was below the 10 percent vacancy rate threshold acceptable in terms of the Department of Public Service and Administration standards.

Meanwhile, a written parliamentary response by Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga to questions by the DA’s basic education education spokesman, Annette Lovemore, revealed there was a backlog of 22 882 teachers who have applied for incapacity leave.

Incapacity leave is sick leave in addition to the usual leave allocated. An application for incapacity leave has to be approved by the province until it’s officially processed.

“This means that the applicant is paid a full salary and is excused from teaching duties for the period of application.

“Often in provinces such as the Eastern Cape, the provincial budget and bureaucracy preclude a substitute teacher from being appointed during this time of absence, and learners potentially go untaught,” Lovemore pointed out.

Health-risk managers and officials hired by the Department of Public Service and Administration are responsible for processing the applications.

Motshekga said: “The selection and departmental contract of the panel of accredited health-risk managers was suspended at the end of 2012 due to legal action brought before the high court by an unsuccessful bidder.”

Risk managers were eventually appointed last year and mandated to process applications received from November, leaving the 22 882 backlog as recorded by September 2013 unattended.

“My department has been informed that the process of taking a decision relating to the backlogged cases is at an advanced stage and the Minister of Public Service and Administration will announce a decision soon,” she said.

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