Intshinga Primary School has 78 Grade 7 pupils in one class. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency (ANA)
Cape Town - A classroom crammed with close to 80 pupils, another class in a makeshift tent and school closures due to protests.

These are the challenges teachers and parents faced as the academic year got under way this week.

The Grade 7 class at Intshinga Primary School in Gugulethu has 78 pupils. The school governing body (SGB) has hired a temporary teacher to help the overwhelmed class teacher.

The teacher, who wanted to remain anonymous, said the school had 500 pupils, excluding its foundation phase, and it qualifies only for a certain number of teachers while the school has three classrooms standing empty.

“Our numbers directly affect the number of teachers we are allocated,” said the teacher.

He complained that the pupils who sit at the back of the classroom cannot see what was written on the whiteboard and discipline was a challenge as he cannot see what happens in the class at all times.

He said the average class size at the school was 30-plus pupils and the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) usually allocates one teacher for every 39 pupils. The school can accommodate up to 800 pupils.

“I have been teaching at this school for 20 years and our situation has not changed. I feel sorry for the younger teachers who are expected to cope with such big classes.”

At Sokhanyo Primary, also in Gugulethu, a principal was chased from the premises by protesting parents and the school was shut down.

According to the principal the revolt was started by a Grade 1 teacher who was unwilling to move classrooms.

At Matroosberg Primary in Belhar, 157 pupils were accommodated under a makeshift tent because of a shortage of classrooms.

As many as 68 pupils were crammed into one classroom.

Earlier this week, a Bishop Lavis school received the good news that the WCED would provide them with more teachers.

This follows complaints by parents after it emerged that one class at Bergville Primary School had as many as 72 pupils.

WCED spokesperson Millicent Merton said the department was aware of the challenges some schools were experiencing with an increase in pupils and crammed classes.

“This happens at the start of each school year as schools finalise class lists and late applications.

“That is why the WCED keeps an allocation of educator posts separate to those that were distributed previously, in order to accommodate unexpected growth.”

She added that schools which have large class sizes and substantial increases in pupil enrolment could apply to their district for additional posts. The department reviews the applications and distributes additional posts to schools where there are needs.

“It generally takes a number of weeks for the system to stabilise as we finalise late enrolments. We also experience another spike in learners at the end of January, after “pay day”, when learners travel from other provinces or areas and take up places in schools.

The principal of Intshinga Primary School will be applying for a growth post,” she said.

The department had planned to place 1 170 837 pupils, but final figures will be available only after it has conducted a survey which will be completed next week.

Education MEC Debbie Schäfer said primary schools in the Western Cape had taken in 108 325 Grade 1 and 83 360 Grade 8 pupils.

Some parents were still struggling to find schools for their children.

Somerset West father Steven Smith said he could not find a school for his two sons in the Helderberg area.

“All the government schools say they are full and the private ones are way too expensive,” said Smith.

His sons attended De Villiers Graaff School in Villiersdorp last year but could not return to the school because of outstanding school fees.

“I still owe the school R31 000 and I simply don’t have that kind of money. Some of the private schools in our area are charging up to R14 000 per month per learner. What are we as parents supposed to do?”

A further frustration was that the two closest schools are Afrikaans medium schools.

Other parents have blamed the schools, saying they are refusing to accept their children.

Kensington father Sandro Josephs applied to six northern suburbs schools before he found a spot for his Grade 8 son at Oude Molen High in Pinelands.

“I work in Bellville so it would have been easy for me to drop and fetch my son on my way to and from work. All the schools wanted salary slips and I think where we lived and what I earn may have played a role.”

Josephs has had to find extra money for bus fare, a burden he said was shared by many parents who cannot enrol their children close to home.

“I followed the proper procedure and I still cannot understand why not a single school in the northern suburbs accepted my son,” said Josephs.

A Mitchells Plain mother, who wanted to remain anonymous, has accused a local school of favouring some parents above others.

The mother lives in Westridge and has been trying since June to get her Grade 4 son enrolled at a school closer to home.

“The school of my choice told me that they have a waiting list. I have been going there every day to get my son in. One day I heard the principal say to another parent that they do not need to worry as she knows their faces and that their child will get in,” said the woman.

Burgundy Estate mother Tasneem Toerien has also been battling to get her daughter into a high school.

“All the schools in my area claim that they are full. The only school that can take my daughter costs R65 000 per year and I do not have the means to pay that. My child does not have a school.”

According to Toerien, her daughter has been placed on a waiting list, but none of the three schools can give her an indication whether her application will be successful.

The education department says in terms of the South African Schools Act, SGBs determine their own admissions policy.

Therefore, a school can determine criteria in line with the law which could benefit some pupil admissions over others - such as sibling preference.

WCED spokesperson Jessica Shelver reminded parents that applying to a school does not guarantee acceptance.

“It is quite surprising how many parents only apply at one school each year. The proximity to a school does not always guarantee placement. Living 50m from a school or 50km cannot guarantee placement. Some schools factor proximity in their admissions policies, but it is rarely the sole criterion, if it is a criterion at all,” said Shelver.

She added that some schools received five times the number of applications than the places they have available.

Weekend Argus