A school pupil peers out from behind a broken window in Cape Town in this February 1999 file photo. South Africa's Education Minister Naledi Pandor said in an interview on September 27, 2006, that the poor quality of public education in Africa's economic powerhouse will threaten future growth if not corrected. South Africa's economy has boomed over the past few years but the government wants even higher growth to tackle widespread poverty and unemployment. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings/Files (SOUTH AFRICA)

Cape Town - More than 300 Western Cape schools with fewer than 250 pupils face closure, a newly released document on infrastructure backlogs at schools throughout the province has shown.

The Western Cape Education Department (WCED) on Friday published its strategy for eliminating infrastructure backlogs at schools, which included plans to replace schools – built with inappropriate materials like metal and asbestos – with proper structures.

According to the document, the department had “taken an informed decision” not to replace inappropriate schools with less than 250 pupils.

“The reason for this decision is that the department intends to consolidate these small schools into bigger schools which will offer a richer curriculum and assist with the eradication of multi-grade teaching,” the document states.

The Western Cape has 323 schools with pupil enrolments of less than 250.

The department’s spokesman Paddy Attwell said primary schools needed at least 245 pupils to provide one class per grade across seven grades.

In schools that were smaller, multi-grade teaching – where more than one grade is taught in the same classroom by the same teacher – had to be used.

“The department would like to improve access to single grade classes where possible, in line with international best practice.”

He said single grade classes made it easier for teachers to cover the whole syllabus for a particular grade, rather than preparing lessons for up to seven grades.

“The WCED is looking at the possibility of consolidating or merging schools into hubs where possible, to achieve this objective. This could include expanding some schools to allow for more single grade classes. This may not be possible in all areas.”

Attwell said the department would discuss options with all concerned.

But Vanessa le Roux, co-ordinator of Save our Schools campaign, which has fought school closures, said the department should have proper consultation with communities.

“We are not saying there shouldn’t be school closures but there should be consultation. In the document the department says they have taken an informed decision but who did they consult with?”

Le Roux said most of the schools with less than 250 pupils would be farm schools or schools in rural areas.

She said many problems with the pupil transport system had been reported and, even if these pupils had transport from their area to a school in their closest town, these schools might already be full. For many rural communities a school isn’t just a school. It is the place where they gather for church, to vote and it could be used as a place of training. The department should consider this.”

Jonavon Rustin, provincial secretary of the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union, said size alone shouldn’t be a factor when closures are considered. - Cape Argus