Ministerial and Departmental briefings on interventions in Eastern Cape Department of Education

NCOP Education and Technology, Sports, Arts and Culture

15 February 2012
Chairperson: Ms M Makgate (North West, ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Minister, Deputy Minister and Director General of the Department of Basic Education briefed the Committee on the recent decision by Cabinet to intervene into the provincial Department of Education in Eastern Cape. The first intervention, in terms of section 100(1)(a) of the Constitution, started at the start of the 2011 school year, but was beset with various challenges, including arguments around division of responsibilities between national and provincial department. It was feared that it would cause major disruptions to the schools, and the decision was taken for the teams to be withdrawn for a time to try to break the impasse. A scoping exercise was done, and five deputy ministers were delegated to visit the province to try to evaluate the situation. It was found that most of the problems were related to management, and many of the governance, financial and administrative problems were long-standing and deep-rooted. The situation was not helped by the frequent changes of MEC over the last years. The task team of deputy ministers identified that the areas that needed to be addressed urgently included delivery of text books and stationery, reinstatement and proper running of the school feeding schemes, transport of learners and personnel issues, particularly the placement of temporary teachers. A detailed problem statement was drawn, followed by a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the province (the provincial department, Premier and MEC) to describe the focus of the intervention. It would be necessary to improve human resources across the entire system. A strategy to go to districts and provide extra classes resulted in a significant turnaround. The Minister and task team also engaged with the unions, and district directors. A full report had been drawn, and would be provided once approved by Cabinet. All ministries and departments had committed themselves fully to achievement of the desired outcomes. It was not possible to say exactly when this would be done, as it would depend on when real systemic change was achieved. The NCOP would have to be asked to extend the time frame of 18 months for the first intervention, now that an enabling environment was in place to achieve the results desired. The province had now accepted that section 100(1)(b) would be implemented to the full.

The Department presented some statistics on the performance in education of the Eastern Cape, compared to other provinces. It was stressed although this provinces’ performance was more or less comparable to other provinces in 2008 to 2010, it was apparent in 2010 and 2011 that it was declining in performance, whilst other provinces were not. Although the schools were coping at the lower levels, and in fact showed remarkable resilience, they could not sustain this at the higher levels. The various structural problems included too many teachers, inflated learner numbers and expenses related to excessive litigation, all of which affected the budget, insufficient spending because of lack of capacity, irregular salary arrangements, suspensions, a number of non-viable schools and the strategic leadership vacuum.

Members agreed that the intervention would not be an easy task, but welcomed the intervention, and the report, which would assist the Committee in its oversight. Members commented that infrastructure was a major problem in various areas, and this impacted on the human rights of learners. They asked what actions would be taken against those who had failed to deliver on their responsibilities, and those who had hindered the efforts, and the Minister stressed that most of the officials were dedicated although a few had caused problems. They enquired as to the current status of teachers, noting that not all the court cases had been finalised, asked about the timeframes for the process to be completed, what had been agreed with the unions and whether the Ministry was supportive of the approaches. They stressed that reports should be given back to all stakeholders, including parents and unions. They wondered why these problems had not been brought to the fore years ago, and feared that they could recur, asking what exactly was being done to redress the current problems and prevent repetition of the issues. Members also questioned the prevalence of multi-graded classrooms, the allocation of teachers on numbers alone, which meant that classes had to be multi-graded, the post provisioning model and the necessity to look at the curriculum. The point was made that there had to be rationalisation of schools and the Ministry agreed, noting that this was already a policy, and that the ideal time to rationalise would be at the time when there was restructuring of the mud schools. Members noted the need to try to separate out issues as far as possible to avoid schools being affected by politicisation of the past, and the need also to ensure that learners were not adversely affected. They were interested to hear about plans to halt any further deterioration as well as to achieve improvement. They asked about the timeframes for achievement of the objectives, specific interventions for grade 12 students, specific arrangements for maths and science in the province and the arrangements for temporary teachers and rationalisation of posts. 

Meeting report

Chairperson’s opening remarks
The Chairperson welcomed and thanked the Minister of Basic Education, Ms Angie Motshekga, and Deputy Minister, Mr Enver Surty, to the meeting and thanked them for their cooperation in the previous year. She also applauded the department of Basic Education (DBE or the Department) on its results the previous year, which were reflective of its commitment to service.

She reminded Members that the Select Committee on Education had received a notice informing it of the interventions into the Eastern Cape Provincial Department of Education (the provincial Department). In the previous year, the Committee had been briefed on the problems in that provincial Department, and the Committee had also visited the province and had prepared its own report and recommendations, and hoped that the challenges outlined would be worked on in a comprehensive way. She acknowledged that interventions did not pose an easy task and challenges were to be expected.

Minister of Basic Education briefing
Ms Angie Motshekga, Minster of Basic Education, agreed that this had not been an easy intervention. The problems were long-standing and deep-rooted. The provincial Department had been under-performing for years, and there had already been a number of interventions, which seemed, initially, to have corrected the situation, only to find that the problems would later resurface. Her predecessor had tried to assist this province in the past.

She briefly outlined that when schools opened at the start of the 2011 academic year, it was apparent that the problems in the Eastern Cape were so serious that  the system had virtually collapsed. There were difficulties apparent not only with teachers, but also with the school feeding schemes, infrastructure, financial management and transport. The national DBE had been devoting a lot of time and energy to trying to resolve the problem, diverting resources and money away from other needy departments, and it was thought that the impasse must be broken. Although the decision was taken to implement a section 100(1)(b) intervention, finally, to try to break the impasse, particularly the lack of cooperation between provincial and national departments, this had come at a bad time, in October 2011. Rather than cause immense disruption at the time of school examinations, a scoping exercise was done, which the province should implement between October and December 2011, and five ministers were delegated to visit the province to try to evaluate the situation. The five ministries involved were Ministry of Basic Education (who led the delegation), Higher Education and Training, National Treasury, Public Works, and Justice and Constitutional Development.

It was found that most of the problems in the Eastern Cape lay with management. Although learner attainments had improved in the years between 2008 and 2010, by up to 15% on previous years, there was a sharp decline in 2011, and this was cause for concern. It was necessary to try, as far as possible, to separate out the issues of administration and learner attainment, and address each simultaneously, to try to ensure that the learning and teaching was not too severely disrupted. There were also personnel problems, with the national Department being cited in a number of court cases, reports of “ghost” teachers, but these problems had been contained, and matters were almost back to normal, with assistance being given to schools to focus on learner attainment.

Mr Enver Surty, Deputy Minister of Basic Education, recognised the important role to be played by the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) in terms of interventions and noted that all decisions must be fully informed. It was necessary to outline the progress that had been made, and to decide whether the further intervention in this year was justified. The Minister had already given a frank and honest assessment of the situation in the provincial Department. He reminded Members that in the first quarter of 2011 the serious challenges confronting the Eastern Cape, partially arising from legacy issues, related to governance, management and finance. It had been identified, at that time, that the areas that needed to be addressed urgently included delivery of text books and stationery, reinstatement and proper running of the school feeding schemes, transport of learners and personnel issues, particularly the placement of temporary teachers. There were systemic financial issues, and the Auditor-General had expressed grave concerns about the state of financial management in the province. There were also several other auxiliary issues. Cabinet had taken the decision to undertake an intervention in terms of the Constitution’s section 100(1)(a) – which was basically the giving of directives that the province should address. However, this did not have the desired effect, and so the decision was then taken to do an intervention in terms of section 100(1)(b). He stressed that this was not a punitive measure. The Constitution enjoined the national and provincial departments to work in collaboration. An assessment was done of the challenges and a detailed problem statement was drawn. He also noted that no intervention could be overly-broad and so it had been necessary to draw a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the province (the provincial department, Premier and MEC) to describe the focus of the intervention.

This MOU focused on a range of personnel issues, nutrition (following the virtual collapse of the school feeding scheme), transportation and infrastructure, stationery, systems and auxiliary services. The Minister and Cabinet had decided to deal with the most compelling matters first, so immediate attention was paid to  nutrition, text books and transportation, followed by critical infrastructure and the issues of temporary teachers, affecting 4 000 teachers who had been suspended arbitrarily. Although there were some attempts to undertake collaborative work, there had been mixed successes. It had been decided to decentralise the nutrition scheme to function at the level of the schools. Transport was transferred from the Department of Basic Education and Training to the Department of Transport, and over 15 000 students were now being transported on a daily basis. Although there were achievements, they were not comprehensive. In regard to the personnel, there had been some litigation and a decision was taken to reinstate the temporary teachers to achieve some stability for the learners.

Mr Surty again stressed that these were systemic problems that were deep-rooted. It would be necessary to improve human resources across the entire system, since the management of the education system was not located at a single point, and everything must be directed to the core of achieving quality education. It was recognised that the performance of the learners should not be disrupted by the scoping and diagnostic analysis. A strategy to go to districts and provide extra classes resulted in a significant turnaround, and there was little doubt that much poorer results in the national examinations would have been apparent had this not been done.

Mr Surty asked the Director General at this point to give some indications of the performance of this provincial Department, compared to provincial departments in other provinces.

Departmental briefing: Introductory remarks
Mr Bobby Soobrayan, Director General, Department of Basic Education, summarised that the intervention was occasioned by a crisis in several areas, but agreed that these were symptoms of deeper underlying structural problems. It was necessary to concentrate on learning and teaching. Although there was undoubtedly poor performance, he noted that it was also apparent that there was in fact a resilient schooling system, and committed learners and teachers. Problems had manifested themselves in the school examination results, analyses of literacy and reading progression, and studies in quality. Teachers were not being used effectively and there were problems with inflated learner numbers.

Ministerial briefing (continued)
The Minister interjected at this point, to discuss, with the Chairperson, whether it would not be useful for Members to be able to get copies of the report from which Mr Soobrayan was reading. She pointed out that the full report of the intervention task team had not yet been approved by Cabinet, and so that was embargoed, but the analysis given so far, and the statistics, were a matter of open record. Although there was nothing secret in the task team’s report, it was a matter of protocol that it should be approved by Cabinet before being referred to Parliament.

The Chairperson resolved that the report, up to page 18, could be circulated in the meantime. Whilst copies were being prepared, Mr Surty continued with his part of the presentation. He said that the intervention task team of five Deputy Ministers had been put in place after a Presidential visit, which highlighted the challenges in the previous processes. All relevant stakeholders had met and identified the key areas to be addressed first. There were also 22 other challenges that were named. Both short and longer-term interventions were needed to avoid a collapse of the system, and a report was received on those. The Minister and MECs had resolved that the task team of deputy ministers should visit the province, where they should engage with all important stakeholders in each of those areas identified. The Minister and task team also recognised that it was important to engage with the unions, who had an important vested interest in governance, and also believed that it was necessary to get the views and opinions of senior managers across the districts. The team had spent two days in deep and wide-ranging discussions (although the MEC was asked to recuse himself during engagements with management). This was not an adversarial process, but was fully inclusive. The team of deputy ministers had then prepared a report, setting out the scope of investigation, oversight and monitoring and made certain recommendations. This report was provided to the team of ministers and MECs, and all recommendations of the task team were accepted. He reiterated that this Committee would receive a full and comprehensive report once it had been approved by Cabinet. The report would give recommendations on how national and provincial departments must work together. The report highlighted uneven progress across districts, and the task team was seeking a comprehensive solution to the problem. Although more than 54 000 learners were being transported it was necessary to find out if this covered the whole spectrum. The data on PERSAL was questionable and had to be cleaned up. Everyone seemed to be in agreement on the areas that posed challenges, and there was also substantial agreement on possible solutions. It would now be necessary to move from the assessment stage on to the implementation stage. The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development was involved because the Eastern Cape showed an unusually high propensity for litigation.

All ministries and departments had committed themselves fully to achievement of the desired outcomes. It was not possible to say exactly when this would be done; Mr Surty said that this depended on how long it took to achieve real systemic changes. Obviously, the sooner this could be done, the better. Proper solutions must be found, and there must be development of capacity and ability in the province to manage the task on its own. He noted that the report on the scoping and diagnostic analysis was due to be published in the ATC today, and this provided an action plan. The further report would be sent after approval by Cabinet.
Ms Motshekga said, in regard to the time frames, that the NCOP had given authority for the first intervention in 2011 to last for 18 months. However, due to the difficulties experienced, and the fact that the intervention had been ceased for a while to allow for a cooling-off period, the NCOP would receive a request for an extension. It had been made clear to the province that it would have to ensure that an enabling environment was in place to achieve the results desired. Agreement had been reached, two weeks previously, that the departmental teams, which had at a stage been withdrawn when it became clear that they were taking too much time and focus away from the departments’ other work, would be resuscitated. The enabling environment would be created to prevent any further disputes around responsibilities between provincial and national departments. The NCOP would be asked to allow the teams now to continue with the processes. The teams were comprised of those with high-level skills. The province had now accepted that section 100(1)(b) would be implemented to the full.

Departmental presentation on comparative performance in Eastern Cape
Mr Soobrayan then continued with his portion of the presentation. He reiterated that many of the problems were of a deep and underlying nature and impacted on the core business of learning and teaching. He summarised that these findings were apparent from a number of key assessments and sources (see slide 9 for details). He stressed that this would not be a quick-fix, given the long-standing nature of the problems. There had been too many teachers employed, which affected the budget, and there were also huge budgetary implications arising from inflated learner numbers and the expenses related to litigation. Other serious structural problems included irregular salary increases, suspended employees, non-viable small schools, the strategic leadership vacuum, problems in organisational culture, the audit profile and organisational structure.

He tabled the statistics on mean scores across the provinces, in 2008, for literacy and numeracy at grades 3 and 6. The first set of results were those given from the tests administered by the schools themselves, which showed Eastern Cape performing quite well in relation to other provinces. After re-marking by an outside institution, these scores dropped, but still showed Eastern Cape performing better in literacy, numeracy and languages than some other provinces, but lower in mathematics. However, this position had altered in grade 6, and continued to alter for the worse in the later grades, showing that the system was unable to sustain the standards of learning and teaching required by the curriculum through all the grades. By Grade 12, Eastern Cape was at 58% achievement, but all other provinces were above 63%.

The Eastern Cape had been unable to actively address learner performance over the last few years. From 2008 to 2010 it had produced comparable numbers of matriculants who could register for bachelors degrees as Limpopo and Mpumalanga, which were also relatively poor and rural provinces. However, by 2011, the figures in Eastern Cape dropped in comparison to Limpopo and Mpumalanga, indicating that there were no environmental problems affecting all provinces, but only a systemic problem in Eastern Cape. 

The deterioration in performance was also shown by district performance results for grade 12. In 2011, all five provinces that performed below a 49% pass rate were in Eastern Cape, and six of the ten performing between 50% and 59% were also in Eastern Cape. He reiterated that other provinces were as poor and as rural as Eastern Cape, so poverty was not a sole contributory factor, and the fact that every school in a district under-performed also ruled out the possibility that poor principal management was the reason. Support offered to schools in Eastern Cape was not the same as in other provinces.

The Chairperson noted that the Committee had had an opportunity to visit Eastern Cape in the previous year, and accepted that this intervention would not be easy. Today’s briefing would assist the Select Committee in doing further oversight.

Mr W Faber (Northern Cape, DA) noted that during the Committee’s visits it had noted poor infrastructure ,including toilets situated so far from schools that they were inaccessible, and lack of water. The teachers’ appointments, irregularities in transport contracts and school feeding were problematic. The learners had no access to equipment for maths and science. During a meeting with the provincial government and intervention team, it had been mentioned that there was undue political interference so the intervention team was not, during 2011, able to fulfil its mandate. The provincial MEC on Education was definitely not then in agreement with the section 100 intervention. Mr Faber, however, was convinced that this intervention was needed. The division between the management teams seemed to have influenced learner performance.

The Minister agreed that infrastructure was, in many places, a “major disaster”. That was why 60% of the allocations would address infrastructure, although even this would not address all the problems. The Department was delighted with the announcement, by the President of the Infrastructure Coordinating Committee, and the focus on education. The human rights of children were indeed being undermined by lack of infrastructure, and the Department was working hard to try to address these issues. Lack of infrastructure made it very difficult to run quality services. She agreed also that access to science equipment was not at the stage that it should be, and hindered progress, but the Department was not simply sitting back and accepting that problem. Pending the building of laboratories as part of the infrastructure programme, the Department was trying to make alternative arrangements, including partners offering facilities and assistance.

Mr Surty added that the task team recognised that infrastructure covered a host of issues, and he noted that the province relied on grants, provincial allocations (of which the Eastern Cape had spent far too little) and the Provincial infrastructure grants. It would be in the best interests of the Eastern Cape if that province, together with the national department, could make a plan to eradicate the mud schools, and provide infrastructure, including water, but at the same time try to prevent duplication. That had been included in the mandate of the task team, and everyone was agreed on this point.

Mr M de Villiers (Western Cape, DA) commented on the responsibility of officials and the provincial legislature, to deliver education in Eastern Cape. He asked what would be done about those who had not fulfilled these responsibilities. Unless this was addressed, the rot in the system would recur.

Mr S Plaatjie (North West, COPE) had also been part of the team who visited the Eastern Cape and agreed with his colleague that the issues were immense. Officials were often involved in bringing down the standard, and he asked what had been done to address their corrupt conduct that had been part of the problem. It was not always fair to try to allocate blame, since if the landscape of the schools changed, there was little that officials could do. She agreed that things could be better.

Ms Motshekga conceded that there was a handful of people giving difficulties, but most had been supportive of the officials. When a state of confusion was created, a number of opportunities would be abused. The majority of senior officials had been welcomed the intervention, and the difficulties were not at that level, but the impasse had compromised those caught in the middle, which was why it had been decided to allow some breathing space, particularly to avoid compromise to the officials. Eastern Cape had huge potential, as evidenced by what it was managing to do in the lower grades, where outside support such as laboratories was not so important, and also by the fact that, despite the problems, the pass levels had not dropped. At Mount Frere she had seen people working extremely hard, showing enormous dedication, and she was encouraged and believed that matters could be made to work.

Mr de Villiers asked what would happen in relation to the suspensions of teachers, since not all claims had been settled. He asked when it was hoped that this process would be completed. There were questions of irregular expenditure that would need to be addressed. He accepted that it may not be possible to get an answer to this question before Cabinet had approved the report.

Mr Surty added that there were attempts to try to concentrate on maths and science, including the Funza Lushaka bursary, but stressed that in order to learn and teach properly, there must be a conducive environment. This included not only the building of schools with the necessary laboratories, but making sure that there was provision of furniture at the same time.

Mr de Villiers understood the necessity to obtain cooperation of stakeholders, including unions and parents. He asked whether reports would be given back to those stakeholders, who would have to be kept on board to achieve success.

Mr de Villiers agreed that the problems in Eastern Cape, and possibly also in other provinces, had been extant for many years. He asked why these problems were not isolated earlier. If the system was not corrected so that these kinds of issues could be more readily identified, he feared the same problems could well recur, even in other provinces.

Ms Motshekga agreed that there were problems in administration right from the start. There were policies and guidelines setting out how the systems should be set up and run. However, the Eastern Cape presented problems of legacy, having incorporated two former homelands, which ran different schooling systems. That was a fact, but it must also be noted that other provinces with former homeland areas had in fact managed to reconcile the systems. In some schools in Eastern Cape, there were still not sufficient demarcations or proper curricula, and she agreed that there was little excuse for not implementing guidelines that were in place, and that other provinces managed to implement.

Mr Plaatjie said there were problems with multi-graded classrooms in the Eastern Cape. He thought that the post provisioning model (PPM) must be addressed, and there must be consideration of the curriculum that each school was offering.

Ms A Lovemore (DA, member of NA) asked to speak.

The Deputy Minister suggested that whilst she was entitled to be present, she was not automatically authorised to participate in anything other than a joint committee session. He hastened to add that he would have no objections to her contribution, and was not actually objecting to her presence.

The Chairperson said that Ms Lovemore was able to sit as an observer, but she was prepared to allow her to ask questions.

Ms Lovemore thanked the Chairperson for her indulgence. She also had a question on rationalisation of excess teachers and schools. Poor planning in the past had resulted, in Grahamstown, in the fact that there were four secondary schools within a radius of three kilometres. One was producing good results, through a very dedicated principal, and was full but the others were almost empty and vandalised.

Ms Motshekga noted that this had been raised as an issue peculiar to the Eastern Cape, but actually it was something that affected all provinces. The post provisioning model applied throughout, and was based on international models, and it determined class sizes, salaries and teachers’ appointments. The two points of multi-grade classrooms and consolidation of schools were linked. It was, in essence, necessary to assess what would be viable. Even in Finland, a relatively wealthy country, class sizes were in the mid-twenties mark. It was unrealistic to accept that in South Africa, teachers should be doubled to provide several classes within a short distance of each other. The Eastern Cape must simply do what other provinces had done and find other ways around the problem. The Eastern Cape problems would not be solved by deploying more teachers to deal with endemic inefficiencies. A broader approach, including the use of ICT for education, was needed. She was not sure why to date so many of the small schools scattered in Eastern Cape had not been consolidated to achieve greater efficiency, in line with the national approach. The idea was to consolidate into viable schools. The same situation outlined by Ms Lovemore pertained also in other provinces; in Gauteng there were seven schools within a relatively small area. It was not easy to consolidate, as the conflicting requirements of principals, teachers and governing bodies needed to be taken into account, but the reality was that the Eastern Cape had simply not been prepared to take those hard decisions. She reiterated that the problems would not be solved by pumping resources in, without considering all the issues.

Mr Surty added that not every one of the over 6 000 multi-grade schools across the country could be eliminated. However, many of them could usefully be merged. He suggested that when the plans were drawn to eliminate the mud schools, there should be serious consideration given to whether they should all be replaced, or whether instead two or more should be merged, to achieve better use of resources. A more holistic consideration was needed. There had also been a problem in the Eastern Cape retaining some of the legacy systems of having junior and senior primary schools, whereas other provinces were sticking to the basic system of primary schools and secondary schools, but now this province was trying to move to the standardised system and avoid further fragmentation.

Mr Soobrayan added that sometimes the post provisioning model was raised as an excuse, but it was in fact intended to provide the province with a starting point to decide its budget, based on what it would get from the equitable share. The province would then decide what its salary bill would be, and then would work out the post structures. If these aspects were not addressed, there would be a problem. There were several schools that were not economically viable. In some, too few pupils were studying certain subjects, putting pressure on others in different classes. In others, there were simply not enough classrooms for each class to have its own, which meant that one teacher would sit with a huge class, whilst other teachers were not gainfully employed at the same time. Even if the model was rectified, in terms of the numbers, this did not automatically mean that the right teachers were teaching the right subjects. He said that this was also a problem in the foundation phase, where the basis for the future should be established. There was potential, in the Eastern Cape, for learners to do well, but some issues were simply not being addressed properly.

Mr Plaatjie said that schools should not be politicised, but this was happening on the ground, and he hoped that the Department was acting to separate these issues.

Mr Plaatjie asked how much time the Department of Education and stakeholders would need to resolve the systemic problems in the Eastern Cape. He thought that clear time frames were needed to address them, as this intervention could not be allowed to continue indefinitely.

The Minister stressed that it was not the job of the Ministry to run the schools for the provinces. However, the Department and Ministry could not allow the rights of learners to be violated. It was hoped to conclude the intervention in as short a time as possible. Senior officials had been sent to try to create capacity in the province within a short time to enable the province to run itself. At the moment, however, she was not able to make an assessment as to how long this would take.

Mr Surty also added to the comments on the timeframes by assuring Members that whilst it was hoped to achieve the desired results in as short a time as possible, Cabinet would not be over-hasty in ending the intervention and wanted to leave the province with the benefit of a sustained programme of change.

Ms R Rasmeni (North West, ANC) hoped to see early implementation of these recommendations. She noted that there was no report-back issues that the Committee itself had raised.

The Chairperson noted that the ATC today in fact contained a report that confirmed that the issues that the Committee had raised in its report had been addressed.

Ms Rasmeni asked what plans were in place to halt any further deterioration. She also understood that the problems were systemic, but she asked if any specific plans had been put in place to assist the grade 12 students in 2012.

Ms Motshekga said that it was accepted throughout that the learners should be shielded from the difficulties in the province, and all professionals were trying to ensure that this was done An announcement was expected shortly from the teachers’ unions. It was agreed to aim for at least a 5% improvement, not only at grade 12, but throughout the system.

Mr Soobrayan added that work streams were being reactivated to support interventions in schools. He pointed out that it would be unrealistic to assume that interventions at grade 12 level could correct the problems that had started in the much earlier phases. The interventions to deal with the systemic problems were therefore directed to the lower levels. A national assessment would be done in September 2012. However, there was also specific support to grade 12, and there was every attempt to ensure that the support was directed where it was needed. He hoped that he would have another opportunity to detail the specific strategies. He did, however, mention that one of the findings was that many Intermediate Phase teachers had been moved to the Foundation Phase classrooms, despite the fact that they had not been specifically trained to teach at this level where it was so important to have specialist teaching. Planning and oversight delivery units had been put in place across all provinces and there would be interventions at the districts to ensure that they could support schools. In Eastern Cape, this would be accelerated even further.

Ms Rasmeni asked when the national task team would resume its work, in particular the clarification of roles and responsibilities between the task team and the department, which had created the stand-off, and when this clarification was likely to be addressed.

Mr Surty reported that there was progress, and time frames had been set. When the task team first visited the province, it had been concerned that over 60% of senior management had not signed the financial disclosure forms. It was recently ascertained that all but one had now signed these forms. Every action had a time frame attached to it, and a person responsible for monitoring. He agreed that the tensions had led to the anxiety but the task team had looked at all areas and had decided how the matters would be addressed. The clean-up of PERSAL was under way.

Ms Lovemore noted that she had concerns, based on her own constituency visits, about teachers. Temporary teachers had been “reinstated” and some were given contracts from January to March, so there was still substantial insecurity. Excess teachers were being identified, based solely on numbers of pupils, so that a small school with five grades might only qualify for four teachers, and she thought that this issue must be addressed. Many suspended employees had been reinstated as a result of the Union agreements. This was still an undesirable situation. In effect, it was creating a moratorium on any movement. The issues that the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) had raised had to be dealt with before it was possible to fill the vacancies. She also enquired if the Ministry supported the agreement with SADTU to end the go-slow.

Mr de Villiers was interested to hear about delivery of the books and the arrangements for teachers and learners in the 2012 year, including attempts to regularise the teacher: learner ratio. There were problems with lack of maths and science teachers. He asked whether there were any improvements in this and whether any teachers were to be moved from other provinces. If not, he wanted to know what plans were in place to address it in the future.

Ms Motshekga responded that the difficulties in attracting teachers to the Eastern Cape were varied, and included not only unwillingness to work in remote areas, but also the negative publicity given to the province, and the fact that so many of the posts were still not permanent. There had been discussions on the contracts of teachers, and those that had been signed would be regularised, since the situation last year and in the early part of this year had created much instability. Young professional teachers, particularly those who were qualified to teach maths and science, were unwilling to accept temporary positions in the Eastern Cape and would obviously seek permanent employment elsewhere at the moment. However, it was hoped that clarity on the contracts would help to stabilise the situation.

In answer to the question whether the Minister was happy with the arrangements made with the unions, she added that the Ministry had been anxious about the problem and was obviously keen to avoid further disruptions. It had been helpful when the unions had participated in discussions, and the Ministry would support an amicable resolution of the issues. She reiterated that the main concern in the intervention was to ensure stability in the system, although she also stressed that the processes, and the rights of teachers to strike, must be respected.

Mr Soobrayan noted that the Eastern Cape court order had spoken to the post establishment and noted that a ratio of one teacher to 34 learners should be established. That had not been managed before the cooling off period, but on 8 February, when the agreement was reached on reinstatement, the province had agreed to approach the Provincial Labour Relations Council to try to settle the 2012 post establishment, and it was hoped that this would be achieved very shortly.

The Chairperson said that the budgetary constraints about reinstatement were also important.

The Minister made the point that it was not the temporary teachers who were a problem; they were employed because permanent teachers were not, for whatever reason, available. The excess teachers must be managed. If 1 000 teachers were on leave and were then replaced with 1 000 others on the same salary this would not actually solve the issues. It had been suggested that the posts structure should be cleared, and a fresh start made. Many of the temporary teachers were in rural areas, or had scarce skills. The Province had been told to deal with the problem by regularising the posts and then making permanent appointments. Some of the best teachers were still holding temporary posts, with the permanent posts being occupied by those who were less qualified, or who were approaching retirement age, and it was necessary to give further thought as to how they could be encouraged to vacate to allow progression of new teachers. 

Mr Surty added that the problems outlined were not assisted by the fact that there had been more than ten MECs in this province over 17 years, which contributed to the instability. However, there were improvements. Already there were steps taken to assess all learners and provide resources to aid numeracy and literacy, and 53 million workbooks would b distributed. The Ministry recognised the problems in maths and science. In addition to this, the Minister would now be meeting four times a year with the district directors across the country, and this was part of the national turnaround strategy. There had been an understanding reached that the Ministry could go to any area and any environment to make any interventions that would support it, although it would always do them the courtesy of seeking their consent. There was far better synergy and a reasonably sound platform for change.

He suggested that this Committee should perhaps take advantage of having one of its Members as an Eastern Cape representative, and ask that this Member brief the Eastern Cape legislature and provide a progress report. This would assist the legislature in understanding what the current position was.

The Chairperson thanked the Ministry and Department for a comprehensive report.

The meeting was adjourned.


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