Spotting trouble

In terms of Section 29 of the Constitution of South Africa, everyone has the right to establish an independent educational institution at their own expense.

However, these institutions have to comply with a number of laws and regulations, which can help determine their suitability for your child. If you answer yes to any of these questions, it might be better to look at another school.

  • The school discriminates on the basis of race or sexual orientation. Education law distinguishes between unfair and fair discrimination. It is, for instance, fair for a girls’ school to turn away boys, or for the Drakensberg Boys Choir to accept only boys who have good singing voices. It would, however not, be fair for either of them to refuse Chinese children entry simply because they are Chinese. Similarly, it would be unfair discrimination to turn down children because they are gay or lesbian, of a certain religion (in a secular school) or pregnant.

  • The school is not registered with the government. The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa and the South African Schools Act stipulate that all schools must register with the Department of Education before they start operating. However, the registration process and protocol requires independent schools to submit certain information along with their registration application. Some of this information can only be made available once the school is operational, for instance the number of teachers and the number of learners, among others. This has compelled independent schools to submit their registration application at the same time as they begin to enrol learners.

  • Teachers at the school are not registered. All educators working in South African schools, public and independent, must be registered with the South African Council of Educators (SACE). It is illegal for any teacher to work without SACE registration. There are different levels of registration, depending on level of training and experience.

  • The examination body used by the school is not recognised by Umalusi. An independent school has the freedom to choose which examining body’s examinations it wants its learners to write, as long as the examining body is recognised by Umalusi (the Council for Quality Assurance in General and Further Education and Training). Most independent schools in South Africa write either the state examination or that of the Independent Examinations Board (IEB).

  • The school doesn’t comply with the outcomes and standards of the national curriculum. The National Curriculum Statements (NCS) for Grade R-12 is the curriculum prescribed by the Department of Education for all schools, both public and independent. However, independent schools are free to choose their own curricula and to organise teaching, learning and assessment in the school in any way they wish as long as the learners are able to achieve the minimum outcomes and standards of the NCS.

  • The school has its own criteria for failing Gr 9 or Gr 12. Independent schools may not set their own promotion and retention requirements for those levels of the education system that are exit points and have requirements that are regulated through national assessment and examinations (Grades 9 and 12).

  • The school refuses to give you access to their files on your child. The Promotion of Access to Information Act give the grounds on which the head of a private body may not refuse access to information or records. All schools, whether they are government or private schools, are obliged to furnish information to parents if that information pertains to their children.

  • The school spends 100% of its income on teachers’ salaries, and fund raises for maintenance and other needs. While not a statutory requirement, the Independent Schools Association of Southern Africa (ISASA) suggests that for a school to maintain its level of education and general standards, schools should cover all their operating expenses from fees.

This article originally appeared in the Mail & Guardian newspaper as a sponsored supplement

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