Petition on the Withdrawal of Subsidies to six Eastern Cape Independent Schools submitted in terms of Rule 312 by Dr Z Luyenge (ANC): consideration; Oversight Report on Visit to Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal: consideration

Basic Education

21 February 2011
Chairperson: Ms H Malgas (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Dr Z Luyenge presented a petition on the withdrawal of 2010/11 financial year subsidies to six Eastern Cape independent Schools. The Mthatha Independent Schools Association alleged that the pressure put on principals of public schools by the Department of Education led to discrimination of learners on admission. The learners who failed their examinations were then absorbed by the independent schools some of which had their subsidies withdrawn by the Department.

Members together with officials from the national Department of Basic Education discussed the issue. Conditions of eligibility for subsidy were discussed. Among some of the conditions for eligibility of secondary schools for subsidy was that a final grade 12 pass rate of 51% or more should be achieved by full-time candidates who wrote exams in the previous year.

Members were given an analysis of the performance of the affected schools which was below the provincial average of 50%, with the exception of Umtata College of Maths and Science, whose 2010 pass rate was 59.4% and would qualify for the subsidy upon completion of such application. However the Head of Department had powers to deviate if schools gave sufficient motivation to do so.

The Committee resolved to address the issue in its next meeting upon submission of relevant documents by the Department.

The Chairperson tabled the draft oversight report on the Committee’s visit to the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, and draft minutes (08 February 2011). Both were discussed and adopted with minor grammatical corrections.


Meeting report

Petition on withdrawal of subsides from Independent Schools in the Eastern Cape
The Chairperson informed the meeting that the expected meeting with Umalusi, the Council for Quality Assurance in General and Further Education and Training,  had been cancelled since Umalusi was not comfortable with an open meeting.

Dr Z Luyenge (ANC), in his capacity as the Constituency Management Chairperson for Umtata, read the petition from the Mthatha Independent Schools Association (MINSA), representing six independent schools in the Umtata district, Eastern Cape, following the withdrawal of Government subsidies for the 2010/11 financial year. The highlight of the petition was the constitutional obligation by the Department to implement prescribed policies in relation to the funding of independent schools. The petition from MINSA complained about the selective treatment of the independent schools by the Department.
 
The affected schools were: King's Commercial College; Science College International; Christ the King International School; St Martin’s Private School; St. Jude Private School; and Umtata College of Maths, and Science. The schools expected to be funded 100% in accordance with the policy and it was understood that, although a gentlemen’s agreement of 60% had been reached, it was never implemented. Instead a selected number of independent schools had been funded. Dr Luyenge said he had communicated this issue with Mr M Qwase, the former Member of the Executive Council (MEC), Eastern Cape, as well as the chairperson of the relevant portfolio committee and minister. It was agreed that the matter be taken to Parliament.

Dr Luyenge indicated that for the past three years these schools had not received their subsidies although a number of meetings had been held by both the Department and MINSA. These schools absorbed students who had failed their Matric and were unable to access Government schools. Dr Luyenge undertook that he would submit detailed information which showed the sequence of events regarding the issue.

The Chairperson indicated that detailed information was required regarding the conditions of eligibility for funding.

Discussion
Ms F Mushwana (ANC) commented that it would have been prudent had Members been asked to bring the relevant Act with them for reference in order to make informed decisions.

Mr W James (DA) commented that this issue had been rejected twice but the Chair indicated that it had gone through the relevant Parliamentary processes.

Mr James commented that this was a provincial matter and the Committee had oversight over the national Department and not over provinces and felt that it should be referred to the national Department of Education.

However a Member argued that the issue was properly processed and the Committee had the right to ask the Department of Basic Education to clarify the matter before decisions were taken. He requested for a detailed document on the issues raised by the petitioners especially with regards to issues of discrimination, admission and rejection of learners by public schools.

Mr A Mpontshane (IFP) asked whether this petition was provided for in the South African Schools Act (SASA) and asked the Department officials to comment on whether schools could petition the Speaker of the National Assembly in the first place, rather than the head of department (HOD) or MEC.

Ms N Gina (ANC) said that since it was the first time for the Committee to handle such an issue, and that no such issue had been rejected before as alluded by Mr James, Dr Luyenge should be given an opportunity to clarify whether these schools had met the conditions required for subsidies. She indicated that the SASA provided for this and gave the HOD or Minister the right to give or withdraw the subsidies if the required conditions were not met; therefore detailed information was required on the status of these schools.

Ms A Mda (COPE) asked whether the Eastern Cape’s provincial cabinet was aware of this issue and whether the Portfolio Committee’s provincial counterparts had engaged with this issue and the status thereof.

Mr D Smiles (DA) questioned the role of the provincial legislature and said that procedurally such a petition would be taken to the speaker of the provincial legislature if the schools were unhappy with the Department; he asked whether that route had been followed.

The Chairperson indicated that Section 100 of the Constitution dealt with petitions.

Dr Luyenge indicated that Section 100 of the Constitution allowed the national Department to intervene in provincial department’s affairs.

Dr Luyenge, in response to Ms Mda, replied that he had taken the matter to the provincial portfolio committee’s chairperson who had suggested that it be referred to the then MEC, Mr Qwase. The Premier was also informed about the issue and had indicated that the MEC for Education should handle it.

Dr Luyenge added that he had discovered that the MEC was undermined by the Department’s official responsible for this programme who had indicated that there was nothing that came from National Department that allowed funding of Independent Schools “by 60%”. According to Dr Luyenge, the concerned schools met all the conditions and requirements to be accredited that status of being institutions of learning and had operating licences from the Department. The issue of their funding should be based on their performance and the MEC had asked how the schools were expected to perform if they were not given adequate resources. Once the schools were in the database as private schools, there was a Constitutional obligation for them to be funded. The provincial legislature’s portfolio committee chairperson had initially said this was an administrative matter, but when it was not addressed, the parents and students came to his (Dr Luyenge’s) office in protest. They said that since their children could not be accommodated by the public schools, they had taken them to the private schools as they knew that these received subsidies from Government. Dr Luyenge noted that Khanyisa School in Umtata was funded 100% from the beginning and not 60% and that the playing ground was not levelled. While other schools got R300 000, Khanyisa got R4 million per year, and there were allegations that certain officials in the Department had vested interests in the ownership of the school. Dr Luyenge noted that it was not just a procedural matter that these private schools received selective treatment but there were elements of corruption and syndicates that involved Department officials.

The Chairperson asked for the Department’s response.

Mr S Padayachee, Acting Deputy Director-General: Planning, Department of Basic Education, responded that Section 100 was not applicable in this instance because the President and the Deputy President had not made any declaration in that regard. However, the Minister and the Department of Basic Education in terms of the National Education Policy Act (NEPA) had a role to monitor and ensure compliance to regulation and policy. Regulations that governed private schools were not similar to that of public schools.

Advocate C Leukes, Director: Legal, Department of Basic Education, reiterated that the Minister had oversight in terms of the NEPA to monitor schools and ensure compliance of Independent Schools with regulations, particularly the norms and standards for school funding. Paragraph 176 of the norms and standards outlined conditions of eligibility for independent schools to be considered for subsidy. An independent school might be considered for subsidy if it:
(a) was registered by the Provincial Education Department (PED);
(b) had made application to the PED in the prescribed manner; 
(c) had been operational for one full school year;
(d) was a registered non-profit organisation (NPO) in terms of the NPO Act, Act No. 71 of 1997;
(e) was managed successfully according to a management checklist determined by the PED, as described in paragraph 179;
(f) agreed to unannounced inspection visits by officials of the PED or person duly authorised by the PED; and
(g) had not been established in direct competition to a nearby uncrowded public school of equivalent quality.

In addition, paragraph 177 added that a secondary school phase might be considered for subsidy if:
(a) its final grade 12 pass rate was 50% or more of full-time candidates writing the examination in the prior year;
(b) not more than 20% of Grade 11 learners were repeaters who took Grade 11 in the same school during the previous year;
(c) not more than 20%of Grade 12 learners are repeaters who took grade 12 in the same school during the previous year; and
(d) it did not engage in practices that are calculated to artificially increase the school’s grade 12 pass rate.

In terms of the South African Schools Act, it was the responsibility of the Head of Department; in terms of Section 48, the HOD might not terminate or reduce subsidy under subsection 3 as there were certain procedural requirements. Paragraph 3 outlined that:
(a) if a condition subject to which a subsidy was granted had been complied with, the HOD might terminate or reduce the subsidy at a date determined by him or her;
(b) the HOD might not terminate or reduce the subsidy under subsection 3 unless the owner of such independent school had been furnished with the notice of intention to terminate or reduce the subsidy and the reasons therefore;
(c) such owner had been granted an opportunity to make written representations as to why the subsidy should not be terminated or reduced;
(d) and any such representations received had be duly considered; and
(e) the owner could then appeal to the MEC against termination or reduction of a subsidy to such independent school.

Mr Padayachee indicated that, according to the information received, these particular schools had not complied with the eligibility requirements in terms of paragraph 177 of the norms and standards in that their pass rate for the grade 12 was under 50%. In terms of the Constitutional requirements, the standards of the independent schools had to be comparable to public schools. Furthermore, the granting of subsidies was not an absolute right but at the discretion of the Department which took into account the norms and standards and the requirements set out in the legislation.

The Chairperson indicated that the Department should submit its response in writing.

Ms Mushwana commented that the Department should have furnished Members with copies of the education legislation to facilitate informed decisions.

Mr Mpontshane asked about the status of the schools whose subsidies had been withdrawn.

A Member added that it was important that members got the whole information on this issue and requested a performance history of the affected schools.

Mr James commented that it was the Members’ obligation to understand the law and it was not the function of the Department to provide copies of the legislation.

Mr Padayachee said the Department would provide a detailed report on the issue.

Mr R Mehl, Deputy Director, Department of Basic Education, responded that in terms of the funding policy, the level of subsidy for an independent school was based on the school fees charged and not based on performance as implied by Dr Luyenge. He explained that in terms of the 60% funding policy, each province had to work the average spent on public schools and the highest level of subsidy for an independent school could be 60% of public school funding. He said that independent schools were not financed at the same level of public schools and therefore requested additional details about the 60% referred to Dr Luyenge. In terms of the funding levels, the higher the school fees, the lower the amount of subsidy received.

According to reports from the Eastern Cape Education Department, St. Jude Private School had received its subsidy for 2010/11. Christ the King International School received notification of withdrawal of subsidy based on the fact that the school did not provide equity in educational achievement: its pass rate for 2005 was 23.3%; 2006 -25%; 2007 – 33.3%; 2008 -10.8%; 2009 -15.6%; and 2010 – 19.3%. Science College International results were: for 2006 – 26%; 2007 – 43%; 2008 – 16%; 2009 – 22% and 2010 – 31%. St. Martins Private School results were: for 2009 – 26%; and 2010 – 30.9%. However, the school received the subsidy for General Education & Training (GET) phase grade 1-7 for 2009 but that for the FET phase was withdrawn. Kings Commercial College’s results were: for 2008 – 43.6%; 2009 – 26.7% and 2010 – 50.5%. Umtata College’s results were: for 2008 – 43.7%; 2009 44.4% and 2010 – 59.4%; and the College was in the process of completing its application for the subsidy.

Mr Padayachee said that the HOD had the powers to deviate if schools gave motivation for others reasons to be taken into account for their failure to achieve the provincial average pass rate. The former MEC had signed letters that indicated that four of these schools had their subsidy terminated while he was in office, and these would be made available to the secretariat for the Members of the Committee.

The Chairperson asked the Department for a written report to enable the Committee to make an informed decision about the issue.

Dr Luyenge informed the meeting that he was not the legal representative of the petitioners but had brought the petition to Parliament as part of his constituency responsibility to ensure that the communities had access to Government resources including the private schools and he was therefore not answerable for anything and he had no additional details about the issue.

The Chairperson acknowledged Dr Luyenge’s role in conveying the petition and said that the Committee would decide on the way forward.

Ms Mushwana requested that the national Department urgently provide the Committee with the whole Education Law.

Mr Mpontshane said that the word “petition” had legal connotations.

The Chairperson clarified that the petition under discussion had gone through the proper Parliamentary process before it was referred to the Portfolio Committee.

Ms Gina proposed that the Committee’s researcher gather relevant documentation so that the matter would be concluded during next week’s meeting. The Department was requested to provide information on the six schools that were discussed as well as the relevant laws.

The Chairperson noted that people wanted things to be done immediately and the petition took a whole year before it was discussed by the Committee.

Mr James requested clarity about the process followed to bring issues to Parliament.

The Chairperson acknowledged the concern and would check with the Speaker’s office.

Draft Oversight Report on visit to Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal
The purpose of the joint oversight visit was to assess the state of readiness of schools in those provinces and the impact of the extreme weather on them.

Members discussed the report and adopted it with minor grammatical corrections.

Minutes of 08 February 2011
The minutes were discussed and adopted with minor corrections.

The meeting was adjourned.




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