According to the South African constitution (Section 29 paragraph 1) “Everyone has the right to basic education, including adult basic education; and to further education, which the state, through reasonable measures, must make progressively available and accessible.” The South African Schools Act of 1996 stipulates that schooling is compulsory for all South Africans from the age of seven, starting at grade one, to the age of 15, or the completion of grade nine. There are penalties for parents who do not allow their children to attend school or keep them from being educated, and these are set to become stiffer due to changes to the School’s Act.

Changes to the school’s act

Late last year a bill which included amendments to the School’s Act had parents, educators and even some learners debating the pros and cons of more state control over various aspects of parental involvement in the schooling of their children, specifically homeschooling, and how parents through being in school’s governing bodies had a say in how schools are run.

As things stand, parents have a say in the running of public schools due to the national policy on state schools requiring that the school governing body (SGB) be made up of management, teachers and even learners – at the high school level. Private schools run a little differently, but they too strive to include parents in the running of the school as much as is possible although in private schools parental involvement depends on various factors including the nature of the school.

Increased inclusivity

South Africa has a policy of inclusive education which means they aim to include special needs children into ordinary schools where possible. Many of the better-resourced schools do have remedial teachers and run small remedial classes for learners that are having trouble alongside regular classes for this reason. How much a school is able to do this, however, is determined by the resources of the school.

Another aspect of inclusivity at schools is how schools deal with diverse cultural beliefs and religious observances of the learners. The bill with proposed changes has a clause which makes provision for an exemption clause, making it possible to exempt learners, upon application, from complying with the code of conduct of a school if they show legitimate grounds that it is in conflict with their beliefs and observances.

The same clause also states that schools need to use an informal process which adheres to the principles of justice, fairness and reasonableness prescribed by the Constitution when dealing with disciplinary matters.

Governing bodies

One of the main changes proposed by the bill was that head of the education department (HOD) would have the final authority to admit a learner to a public school, and the SGB of a public school must submit the admission policy of the school – which needs to be reviewed every three years at least – and any amendment thereof, to the HOD for approval. These changes are less attractive to many parents at some schools, especially ones where parents feel they represent government seeking to limit their control over how a school is run and dictate language policies.

According to the bill, these changes have become necessary to ensure that confusion over where the locus of authority lies in respect of admissions to public schools is ended.

The changes which amendments to the act might bring to how governing bodies work in schools which were put across in an attempt to prevent abuses of the governing body system in some schools. It includes how SGB members must be elected, who may be elected, budgets, and what powers the HOD has, and also confirms that governing body members may not be paid for their time, outside of legitimate reimbursements in order to prevent any members from using it as a “get rich quick” scheme.

Within the Bill which describes itself as seeking the changes to the South African Schools Act and the Employment of Educators Act, to “align them with developments in the education landscape” and to ensure that “systems of learning and excellence in education are put in place in a manner which promotes and fulfills the right to basic education enshrined in the constitution”, are rules governing the language policy at public schools. The SGB will, the bill submits, be expected to gain approval from the HOD for the language policy of a public school, as well as allow the language policy to be reviewed every three years, or whenever the “prescribed factors have changed”, or even “when circumstances so require”, or simply “at the request of the HOD.” The clause will also allow the

The clause will also allow the HOD to direct a public school to adopt more than one language of instruction, after taking certain prescribed factors into account, and after the prescribed procedures have been followed.