Change ‘undermines parent’s rights’

Voices of opposition are mounting to some of the changes to education laws proposed by the Department of Education (DoE).

The Education Laws Amendment Bill, which was presented to Parliament’s education portfolio committee earlier this month, seeks to amend certain aspects of the South African Schools Act (Sasa) and the Employment of Educators Act.

School governing body (SGB) organisations and political parties are objecting to changes they say amount to a centralisation of power at the expense of school communities.

One proposed change will require SGBs to recommend three candidates for educator appointments, instead of one as is the case at present. Even though the order of preference of these candidates must be indicated, a head of department (HOD) can appoint anyone from this list — or reject all three in favour of another candidate, who will then be appointed in a temporary position.

While there are mechanisms of appeal, the changes undermine ‘parents’ inalienable right not only to decide what their children should be taught, but by whom they are taught”, says Paul Colditz, national chairperson of the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (Fedsas).

Some are questioning the need for such an exercise at all, as existing legislation could already be used by the DoE to meet its transformation agenda. For example, HODs are already entitled to decline a SGB recommendation on the grounds that include what the proposed amendments are apparently trying to strengthen — the principles of equity, redress and representivity.

HODs are also entitled, in the current version of Sasa, to take away certain functions from SGBs if they believe they are abusing its powers — a mechanism that could be invoked to make schools resisting transformation tow the line.

Says Colditz: ‘We’re spending all this energy and resources on an exercise to force 100 or 200 schools out of 27 000 to transform their staff establishment — and after all this, what would we have achieved in terms of improving quality of education in the classroom?”

Ultimately, says Colditz: ‘Who is in a better position to determine which educator is best for his or her child than the parent and the school community? Now it’s going to be up to a bureaucrat, and bureaucrats don’t have a reputation for making decisions that are in the best interests of the school community.”

Elphus Maseko, president of the National Association of School Governing Bodies, intends to join Fedsas in making a submission at the public hearings on the proposed amendments scheduled for August 30. Says Maseko: ‘We will support only what is supportable. We will not support any proposals that are going to infringe on the rights of the SGBs.”

The Democratic Alliance’s Helen Zille has also joined the fray, claiming the DoE is planning ‘to strip governing bodies of their key rights”, adding that ‘race has once again trumped all other considerations”, such as the competence and quality of the educator.

But the Director General of Education, Duncan Hindle, maintains there are no sinister motives behind the proposed amendments. ‘We are giving to the department [of education] the powers to act in its role as employer. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with an employer exercising its authority.”

Once the processes of approving the bill have been completed, the DoE intends to implement some of the changes in the first quarter of 2006.

On the table

Other amendments being proposed to education laws include:

  • HODs will be able to convert the post of temporary educator into a permanent post. This must be done in consultation with the school governing body (SGB), but there is no need for a recommendation from the SGB.
  • Limiting the power of the SGB to suspend a learner. Such disciplinary action will now need the approval of an HOD.
  • Giving the minister of education the power to determine the allocation of state funds at schools, instead of the provinces as at present. Certain school categories may also be declared ‘no-fee” schools.
  • Spelling out in greater detail that it is illegal to force parents who qualify for exemption to pay school fees, and that learners should in no way be penalised for non-payment of compulsory fees. The laws will also make it clearer that charges such as registration or administration fees are illegal.
  • Public school assets cannot be disposed of without the written permission of a provincial minister.
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