Education Laws Amendment Bill: hearings

Basic Education

18 October 1999
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Meeting report

EDUCATION PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE AND EDUCATION SELECT COMMITTEE: JOINT MEETING
19 October 1999
EDUCATION LAWS AMENDMENT BILL: HEARING

Documents handed out
Education Laws Amendment Bill [B44-99]
National Association of School Governing Bodies
South African Democratic Teachers Union
National Professional Teachers' Organisation of South Africa
Centre for Education Policy Development
Federation of Associations of Governing Bodies of South African Schools
South African Universities Vice Chancellors Association
Suid-Afrikaanse Onderwysersunie (South African Teachers' Union)
National Youth Commission
Congress of South African Students

SUMMARY
The following organisations gave oral submissions: National Association of School Governing Bodies, South African Democratic Teachers Union, National Professional Teachers' Organisation of South Africa, Centre for Education Policy Development, Evaluation & Management, Federation of Associations of Governing Bodies of South African Schools, South African Universities Vice Chancellors Association, Suid-Afrikaanse Onderwysersunie (South African Teachers' Union), South African Youth Commission, Congress of South African Students. Their full comments can be found in their written submissions.

MINUTES
National Association of School Governing Bodies (NASGB)
Victor Mathonsi stated that in general, the NASGB welcomes the proposed amendments, as they address some administrative discrepancies in the system and also because they address the power relations between stakeholders and government. He then addressed some areas that need further attention.

A member asked Mr Mathonsi to clarify what the NASGB is and what is the relationship between that organisation and FEDSAS. Mr Mathonsi responded that both organisations represent school governing bodies at the national level, but that many schools are still organised and/or separated along class lines. The NASGB represents the historically disadvantaged schools, such as those found in rural areas and squatter camps. Its aim is to focus on developing a culture of learning in those schools, and on the democratisation of education.

A member noted that the NASGB welcomed the amendment to Section 9 of South African Schools Act, No 84 of 96, giving the Head of Department (HOD) the right to be involved in any decision to expel a student. He asked what effect that amendment might have on discipline in the schools. Mr Mathonsi responded that the purpose of the amendment is to provide a learner with protection from prejudice, and, as such, should not affect discipline.

South African Democratic Teachers' Union (SADTU)
Themelani "Thulas" Nxesi, General Secretary, Mthunyuva Ngonzo, Education Committee Member, and Anton Roskam, Legal Advisor, represented SADTU. Mr Nxesi stated that SADTU's main areas of concern are 1) the definition of "educator" in S.A. Schools Act 1996, 2) the composition of governing bodies, 3) the identification of the employer, 4) the appointment, promotion and transfer of educators, and 5) the repeal of disciplinary and inadequacy procedures. He emphasised that many school governing bodies (SGBs) have not made the transition from apartheid style school committees to democratic governing bodies and also that they lack the capacity or skills to govern schools. As a result SGBs are often embroiled in petty conflicts, in-fighting and corruption. Therefore, SADTU opposes amendments that undermine the democratic elections of SGB members, which would exacerbate these problems.

In addition, SGBs often cannot make decisions in an objective way, and their decisions with regard to appointments, transfers and promotions are often educationally unsound. Therefore, the employer should be empowered to make such decisions in the best interest of transformation, equity and redress. Finally, the amendments should clarify that, although there is a multiplicity of functions of the employer, there is only one employer, which is the State.

A member noted that SADTU had very few kind words for SGBs, and clearly thinks their role should be smaller. He asked if SADTU thinks the Department of Education will be any better. Mr Nxesi responded that first, it is easier to make the Department of Education accountable. Second, while decentralisation is a good idea in principle, the issue is the capacity of people in disadvantaged areas. In reality, the people who end up being empowered by decentralisation tend to be the advantaged.

A member noted that SADTU is "extremely concerned" about the amendment of section 23 of Act 84 of 1996 allowing for co-opted parent members of SGBs to have voting rights where the number of parents on the SGB is not more than other members. The member asked whether SADTU is opposed to the principle that the total number of parents should be greater than non-parent members of an SGB, or whether SADTU is opposed to co-opting in general.

Mr Nxesi responded that SADTU agrees that parents should outnumber non-parents on an SGB, but feels that co-opting undermines democracy. Instead, SADTU has proposed that if more parents are needed on a SGB, there should be a by-election to elect them.

A member asked whether SADTU had any specific facts to back up its attacks on SGBs. Mr Nxesi responded that SADTU is not attacking SGBs, but that there have been a lot of problems.

National Professional Teachers' Organisation of South Africa (NAPTOSA)
Henry Hendricks, Executive Director of NAPTOSA, stated that there needs to be consistency within an Act as well as across legislation, and that this is a problem of a more technical nature. He also stated that NAPTOSA has several concerns, including 1) the tone and spirit of the amendments related to the partnership between the State and school governing bodies, 2) several areas in which the amendments allow the State to abdicate various responsibilities, and 3) instances in which the Head of Department (HOD) is empowered to make unilateral decisions, which is "contrary to the empowerment" of SGBs.

A member noted that the amendments to the Employment of Educators Act, 1998 give an SGB two months to make a recommendation regarding appointment or transfer of an educator, and that the HOD may make an appointment of transfer only when the SGB had failed to do so after that time period had elapsed. NAPTOSA has proposed that the SGB be given a further fourteen days. The member asked why the extra fourteen days was necessary. Mr Hendricks responded that very often communication does not reach the school, and that the fourteen days would begin after the SGB has been given notice that the HOD will make an appointment or transfer if they fail to do so.

A member asked whether NAPTOSA thought that the Bill should spell out under what circumstances the HOD should have the power to close a school in an emergency, and whether, without doing so, the Bill gives the HOD too much power. Mr Hendricks responded that NAPTOSA would be happy to see a requirement that the HOD should consult with other responsible authorities, such as the police.

A member asked whether NAPTOSA thought a SGB should be empowered to specify certain minimum curricular requirements that must be met when making an appointment or transfer, and asked whether NAPTOSA is satisfied that its recommendations will allow a SGB not to make a recommendation if no one satisfies those requirements. Mr Hendricks stated that while curricular requirements should be adhered to where possible, it is often the case that SGBs have such complicated requirements that it becomes impossible to find a candidate who can fulfill all of the requirements.

A member asked if NAPTOSA has a different view of SGBs than SADTU, and whether NAPTOSA endorses the principle that the role of SGBs is essential. Mr Hendricks stated that while NAPTOSA and SADTU hold differing views, they respect each other's views regarding SGBs. He also stated that NAPTOSA believes that SGBs have a legitimate function in schools.

Centre for Education Policy Development, Evaluation & Management (CEPD)
Godwin Khosa stated that the CEPD is in agreement with the majority of the Bill. He then highlighted some areas of disagreement and alternative proposals. These included concerns about those areas in which the HOD is given unilateral authority or unfettered power causing an imbalance of power.

A member noted that CEPD proposed that if a HOD closes a school in an emergency situation, under Section 9 of the Bill, the SGB should have the right of appeal against such an action. The member asked whether CEPD intended that the SGB should have veto power. Mr Khosa responded that CEPD was not advocating a veto, but that the right of appeal is a democratic right. He also expressed the opinion that it would be unfair for a HOD to close a school without informing and consulting the SGB.

Federation of Associations of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (FEDSAS)
Paul Colditz, Chairperson, and Advocate Bernard DuPreez presented the submission for FEDSAS. FEDSAS has many serious objections to the proposed amendments. Mr Colditz expressed the organisation's main concern that the Bill dilutes the power of the SGBs. He stressed that the area of education was meant to be a partnership between the State and SGBs, and that the Bill undermines that partnership by giving more power to the HOD. He highlighted several provisions of the Bill that FEDSAS sees as moving in that direction. Specifically, he proposed that SGBs should have a right of appeal against a HOD's decisions regarding expulsion of a student and regarding merger or closure of schools.

A member asked if FEDSAS takes the position that SGBs should have more power. Mr Colditz responded that SGBs should have more power, not less, and that educational policy should be aiming for minimum involvement of the government in education and maximum autonomy of schools.

Another member asked whether it is still accurate to speak of SGBs as having any "powers," or whether they merely have "functions" and "roles." Advocate DuPreez responded that SGBs do still have meaningful decision-making powers, but that these are constantly being eroded.

A member noted that Section 9 of the South African Schools Act of 1996 outlines steps to be taken to discipline a student, and that FEDSAS seems to think Section 9 is too liberal. He stated that Section 9 provides for due process and asserted that the FEDSAS proposal does not provide for due process. Advocate DuPreez responded that FEDSAS does not want the SGBs to have the right to make decisions about expulsion without due process, but that the SGBs need more support from the HOD regarding discipline. Furthermore, as a matter of due process, the SGBs should have a right of appeal against the decision of the HOD.

A member expressed concern that Advocate DuPreez seemed to represent the relationship between SGBs and the HOD as conflictual, and noted that most of the amendments are intended to be corrective of problems that have been experienced under the old acts. Both Mr Colditz and Adv. DuPreez expressed the feeling that the relationship between SGBs and the Department should be one of partnership, but that in many instances there are conflicts. Furthermore, FEDSAS sees some of these amendments as creating conflict.

South African Universities Vice Chancellors Association
Mr Hugh Amore noted that the Bill has little relevance to higher education, and made few comments. There were no comments or questions from the committees.

Suid-Afrikaanse Onderwysersunie / South African Teachers' Union
Professor A Kock and Mr Johan Botha represented the SATU. The SATU does not support the amendment of Section 9 of the South African Schools Act, 1996, finding the amendment to be "messy" and proposed a redraft, which it will submit to the committees by 20 October. It also recommended more clarity regarding the amendments relating to school mergers and school closures.

A member asked whether SATU would support a suggestion that the Bill should address the issue of which specific circumstances might lead to the closure or merger of schools. Professor Kock responded that such legislation should specify exceptional circumstances.

National Youth Commission
David Masondo, Coordinator of Education, NYC, presented the submission. There were no questions put to him.

Congress of South African Students (COSAS)
Lebogang Maile, President of COSAS stated that COSAS supports most of the proposed amendments, but is concerned about the membership of SGBs as provided in Amendment of Section 23 of the South African Schools Act, 1996 . It agrees that co-option of non-voting parent members is a good idea, but feels that co-opted members should not have the right to vote. In addition, COSAS proposed two new amendments. The first would protect the existence of political student organisations. The second would democratise private schools.

A member asked, if COSAS supports the amendments, what role does it see for parents? Mr Maile responded that COSAS supports the need for parents to play an active role in education, but feels that decentralisation is not working during this period of transformation. The reason is that many parents do not have the capacity to run their own schools. There is a huge gap between the township schools and historically advantaged schools, so that decentralisation is premature.

A member asked, if COSAS favours stripping SGBs of their powers, does COSAS believe it will be possible to make schools centres of community life? Mr Maile responded that COSAS supports making schools centres of community life, and that it favours stripping SGBs of some powers because of problems with abuse of power and racism in the SGBs.

Professor Mayatula thanked all of the presenters and adjourned the meeting.


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