Benefits of successful schools at risk as Gauteng imposes new intake rules

Sara Gon | May 13, 2019
The postponement of online applications for Gauteng schools points to a deeper crisis in the province’s education planning.

The Gauteng Department of Education (GDE) has postponed the opening of the online applications to schools from 13 May – yesterday – to 20 May.

According to the South African Government News Agency (Sagna), this follows “concerns” raised by the Federation of Associations of Governing Bodies of South African (FEDSAS), the Suid-Afrikaanse Onderwysunie (SAOU), AfriForum and other associations representing governing bodies.

The request was to delay the opening of Grade 1 and Grade 8 school admissions for the 2020 academic year. 

Sagna reports: “These stakeholders pleaded with the MEC [Member of the Executive Council for Education, Panyaza Lesufi] to delay the opening of the online admissions applications because the department is implementing the newly amended admissions regulations and feeder zones for the first time.

“They believe that it is necessary to heighten greater awareness on the changes in legislation and admissions processes for public benefit.

“The MEC humbly acceded to the request and as such the admissions application period will commence on Monday, 20 May 2019 at 08:00 and close on 22 July 2019 at 24:00,” according to a statement from MEC Lesufi himself.

The governing body associations did not so much plead with Lesufi as threaten to interdict the GDE if Lesufi didn’t postpone the opening of the online application process. Lesufi admits in other media that the associations threatened legal action.

In Amendments to Regulations Relating to the Admission of Learners to Public Schools, 2019, promulgated in March 2019, the definition of the “feeder zone” of a government school was changed from:

“feeder zone” means an area that a school should prioritise when admitting learners and taking into consideration learners who live close, or whose parents work close, to that school

 to

"feeder zone” means an area from which a school accepts its core intake”.

The original regulations made provision for the MEC to determine the feeder zones after having regard to the first definition. High schools were often designated as feeder schools for nearby primary schools.

The regulations used to operate on the basis of five-kilometre-wide feeder zones. 

This new definition is vague and there is no definition as to how a school is to determine what its “core intake” is. A feeder zone is now 30km wide, which is so wide as to be no feeder zone at all. Theoretically, applications will become a free-for-all, which the GDE is now going to manage.

In a tweet, the GDE explained that the online applications have been postponed due to feeder-zone complications where the system might pick up a school that is outside the feeder zone. Other concerns the associations raised were that the new system may cause difficulty for parents who would like to apply to a particular school.

The GDE says further that the postponement will allow the GDE the opportunity to inform the public of the department's tutorial and step-by-step user-guide to clarify how the system functions and acquaint parents with the 2020 admissions processes.

GDE spokesperson Steve Mabona said: “This will include the amendments to the admissions regulations and the incorporation of the feeder zones.” 

How this will be achieved within the week’s postponement is unclear.

The department said: “Parents will have a better understanding of the 3-phase admissions process: firstly, the registration and application, secondly the placement of learners and thirdly the admission to a school.”

Furthermore, the department will go on an awareness drive using various communication platforms such as media, direct engagements through localised community contact sessions to educate the public of all processes pertaining to admissions 2020.

It said parents were “reminded that schools and identified community centres will serve as walk-in centres to apply online for admission to Grade 1 and Grade 8 for the 2020 academic year”.

“We sincerely apologise to the public for the inconvenience caused by the postponement,” said Lesufi.

It is difficult to see how the GDE could have done the work necessary to correctly ascertain the ‘core intake’ for each and every school catering to Grades 1 and 8. Schools covered by this change would include all primary schools and high schools. 

Since the GDE now manages applications instead of school governing bodies, which are still in law responsible for admissions policy, and the feeder zones will be determined by the GDE, schools will have no control over applications and therefore their viability may be threatened.

When the amendments of the regulations were promulgated in March 2019, the SAOU identified the following problems:

  • The system does not indicate the medium of instruction. This creates an impression that a parent can enrol a child at any school and that the learner’s language will be accommodated which is not the case;
  • The online system is centralised and thus contravenes the South African Schools Act which provides that the enrolment of pupils is the function of the school governing bodies.
  • The GDE isn’t building the number of schools necessary to accommodate the growing numbers of learners in the smallest province. This leads to an annual crisis where about 50 000 to 100 000 pupils can’t be placed. This results in the GDE putting unfair political pressure on public schools regarding admissions;
  • The new rezoning of 30 km as a school feeder-zone makes no sense. In effect there are no feeder zones at all;
  • The GDE’s approach to school admissions may lead to some schools being under-utilised and others overburdened.

The IRR has argued repeatedly that the centralising of powers in Lesufi’s office away from school governing bodies will result in the disintegration of many suburban schools as they will be unable to control their intake numbers.

Unless school governing bodies can ensure that the ratio of full fee-paying parents to subsidised or non-paying parents is not more than 75:25, the fees will have to drop. Thus the ability to pay for more teachers will diminish, and the teacher-to-pupils ratio will increase. The number of extra-mural facilities will decrease. Parents who can afford to do so will move their children to the ever-increasing number of private schools. The benefits of these successful schools won’t be realised.

Lesufi and certain NGOs repeatedly accuse suburban schools of being racially exclusive and perpetuating inequality. This is plain wrong. Certainly, in English-medium suburban schools in Johannesburg, the majority of pupils are black and have been for well over a decade.

Gauteng’s education authorities either fail to understand how these schools actually work, or they’re being mischievous. 

 

Sara Gon is the editor of The Daily Friend and a Policy Fellow of the IRR.

 

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