The Standing Committee on Education met virtually with the Western Cape Education Department (WCED)
The WCED first presented the Quarterly Performance Reports for the period April – June 2020, July – September 2020, and October – December 2020. The content of the first presentation consisted of: impact of Covid-19 on organisational performance and monitoring – quarter one, two and three performance; and pre-audit output against annual targets.
Thereafter, the WCED presented the readiness for primary school learners (Grade R to 7) and Special School learners to return to the daily attendance and traditional timetable from 26 July 2021. The content of the second presentation consisted of: national guidelines; WCED Survey; procedure with deadlines; and readiness and risks.
The ensuing discussion by Members concerned: missed targets; mitigating measures put in place; progress made regarding the targets; non-performance of contractors and their placement under administration; classroom over-crowding; inclusion of School Governing Bodies (SGBs) in WCED engagements with schools; safety of learners; learner retention percentage; impact of the third wave on the directive for all learners to be in a classroom as of 26 July 2021; teachers with comorbidities and applications for exemption; powers of the principal to give a teacher permission to stay at home or remain at school; number of teachers who are teaching from home; learners who are taking lessons from home; WCED supply of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE); and the effect of the directive on hostel accommodation.
The WCED was to come back to the Committee to indicate the learner retention rate in numbers as opposed to the percentages provided.
The Chairperson welcomed everyone to the Committee meeting. She asked that Members and the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) introduce themselves.
Members introduced themselves.
Mr Archie Lewis, Deputy Director-General: Institutional Development and Coordination, WCED, introduced himself and said that he would be guiding the presentation.
Ms Warda Conrad, Director: Business, Strategy, and Stakeholder Management, WCED, introduced herself and said that she would be presenting the quarterly performance of the WCED.
The Chairperson asked if Mr Lewis and Ms Conrad were the only officials present. She confirmed that she had received an apology from Ms Debbie Schafer, Western Cape MEC: Education, Mr Brent Walters, Superintendent-General (S-G), WCED, Mr F Christians (ACDP), and Ms N Makamba-Botya (EFF).
Mr Lewis apologised for the absence of the remaining WCED Exco. He explained that the WCED had an Exco meeting which started more or less at the same time. This was the meeting in which EXCO met with the Minister and was a bi-monthly meeting. Himself and Ms Conrad were also part of that meeting but had been excused to attend to the commitment with the Committee.
The Chairperson explained the cardinal rules with regards to the Committee meeting. She said that the meeting would consist of the Quarterly Performance Reports of the WCED for April – June 2020, July – September 2020, and October – December 2020. She asked that the WCED keep focused on the partially achieved targets as well as the unachieved targets. This would allow Members to pose more questions and provide more time for input on the presentation. The second half of the meeting would consist of a presentation on the WCED readiness for the Third Quarter to start and, in regard to the directive from the Department of Basic Education (DBE), for all learners to go back to the benches from Grade R – Grade 7 every day.
Quarterly Performance Reports for the period April – June 2020, July – September 2020, October – December 2020
Ms Conrad said, terms of the quarterly performance, the WCED set six quarterly targets. In terms of quarter three, two targets were achieved, and four targets were partially achieved. The same pattern could be seen in quarter two and four. Programme performance measure (PPM) 101 and 102, which concerned the number of public schools that use electronic solutions to provide data and that can be contacted electronically, were partially achieved due to new schools opening and smaller schools closing. Under programme three which concerned independent schools, it partially achieved Programme Performance Indicators (PPIs) which included physical visits to schools. The physical visits were impacted by Covid-19 during Quarter Two, but the WCED was able to catch up in quarter four despite the late start to schools.
In terms of quarter four, four targets were achieved, and two targets were partially achieved. The partially achieved PPIs are due to technicalities, Covid-19, and the impact of Covid-19 on infrastructure – the number of schools that the WCED expected to reach completion was affected and the technical reason is that a hospital school is considered a school despite the fact that there are not necessarily learners at the school. The items under programme one was partially achieved and the items under programmes three and four were achieved.
Learner retention has increased from the previous year, going from 67.33% to 67.8%. Covid-19 impacted targets which had to be amended e.g. targets such as formal training which could not be conducted. The WCED performed admirably given business unprecedented due to Covid-19.
Readiness for primary school learners (Grade R to 7) and Special School learners (Grade R to 12) to return to the daily attendance and traditional timetable from 26 July 2021
Mr Lewis said the national guidelines mainly include directions from the DBE as placed in the Government Gazette dated 28 May 2021 which talks to the return of primary school and special school learners, as well as all contact sports at schools having to stop with immediate effect. This is supplemented by the DBE Circular 3 of 2021 which talks about teachers with comorbidities, dated 3 June 2021. The WCED S-G also sent letters to schools regarding the return of Primary School and Special School learners on 26 July 2021, dated 2 June 2021, as well as regarding the management of comorbidities on level two, dated 4 June 2021. Level two meant that the exemption of teachers from school fell away, and teachers had to return to school. The letter of 4 June 2021 indicated that the discussion prior to exemption had to take place between the teacher and principal of the school whereby they had to complete an agreement to check or monitor performance of the teacher at home. If the school applies for the exemption, the WCED will supply the school with a teaching assistant at a stipend of R3 500 per month.
The WCED conveyed a survey amongst all of its schools with regard to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and 100% readiness. Whilst almost all schools still have PPE that were delivered in 2020 or procured by the school using norms and standards funding, the outcome of the WCED survey indicated that schools will have difficulty in funding further PPE. Consequently, the WCED agreed to supply schools with PPE, but schools must inform the District office of shortages. In terms of the outcome of the survey on 100% readiness, the WCED had 1 523 schools in the system. Of the 1 523 schools, 1 100 schools have Grade R-7. Of the schools that responded to the survey, 1 195 schools indicated that they will not be in a position to return all learners back every day due to lack of space as a result of the one-meter physical distancing requirement – 86 of which are primary schools and 55 of which are special schools. 328 schools indicated that they could return 100% of its learners to school whilst still complying with the Covid-19 requirements – 234 of which are primary schools and 18 of which are special schools.
The directions issued by the DBE indicate the process which schools must follow if they cannot bring 100% of learners back. Schools that cannot open must complete a template providing the following information on: Why the school cannot receive all learners back? How will it ensure that all learners receive adequate teaching exposure? This information must be submitted to the District Office by 30 June 2021. If the school is open, it must inform the Head of Department within 72 hours of any Covid-19 cluster breakout. WCED will monitor support to all learners.
Regarding the readiness and risks, the WCED will get a sense after 30 June 2021 of how many schools will return 100% of learners. There could be teacher objections given the announcement of the third wave of Covid-19. WCED to closely monitor those schools which cannot return 100% of learners. DBE still needs to clarify the one-meter physical distancing requirement as this might make it difficult to return 100% of learners. The rollout of the vaccine amongst teachers could aid the 100% return of learners. Responsibility stays with the WCED to support learners, irrespective of attendance mode, as best as it can.
The Chairperson thanked the WCED for its presentation. She informed Members of the fact that the meeting had translation services from English to Afrikaans. She thanked the Western Cape Provincial Parliament for providing the service and noted that it did not have all three languages as yet. She allowed Members to ask a round of questions.
Mr K Sayed (ANC) thought that the presentation was very comprehensive. He referred to slide nine with regards to the quarterly report, where there was reference being made to a contractor that had not performed sufficiently and was placed under administration. When did the WCED realise that the targets would be missed? What mitigating measures were put in place? What progress has been made regarding the targets? On the second aspect regarding the readiness for learners to return to school, he was largely covered. With regards to those schools that could not return to 100%, what proportion of them so far have cited the fact that classrooms will be crowded? What will be done to address this issue?
Mr M Kama (ANC) welcomed the presentation and said that it was clear. In terms of school readiness and the engagements that were taking place with schools, to what extent are SGBs being included in the conversation? He explained that he was asking this question because, sometimes, when schools are open there would be friction between parents in terms of wanting to be assured that their kids would be safe during this time – understanding that there were high numbers of Covid-19 cases. Are the necessary engagements with SGBs taking place so that everyone involved in the operation of ensuring that there is learning, is aware and taken into confidence in terms of the process that is unfolding?
The Chairperson referred to the first presentation and asked Ms Conrad to translate the learner retention percentage into numbers. What impact would the third wave have on the directive for all learners to be in a classroom as of 26 July 2021?
Mr Lewis started with Mr Sayed’s question on the proportion of schools that would not return. As captured on slide 30, 1 195 schools indicated that they would not return – of which 867 were primary schools. As the focus was currently on primary schools, 867 primary schools and 55 special schools would not be returning. The reason that most of the schools had indicated was that, if they should return, it would definitely but not necessarily lead to overcrowding, and they would transgress in terms of the one-meter physical distancing. There would thus definitely be overcrowding but some of the schools were sitting with extra-large class sizes. However, the biggest obstacle that would prevent the WCED from bringing most of the learners back was the one-meter classroom requirement which did not necessarily translate into overcrowding. What would then happen at these schools was that, unfortunately, they would have to fall back on the Temporary Revised Education Plans (TREPs) that had been instituted in the previous year. This meant that all of the learners could not be at school on the same day and that the school would have to arrange its timetable in such a manner that learners attended school every alternate day. As the WCED, and in consultation with the curriculum, if some schools returned to 100% and some schools could not, he asked how they then supported the schools and learners that could not go to school every day. He explained that the Branch: Curriculum and Assessment Management had put some measures in place in terms of helping to distribute or provide some material to learners and update what is on the WCED website in terms of curriculum plans for both teachers and learners.
Regarding Mr Kama’s question on consultations with SGBs, he confirmed that this had already taken place. The S-G had conducted a few meetings with stakeholders, amongst which was the SGB Association. The SGB Association was an established body in the Western Cape, where different SGB associations were more or less geographically spread and participated in the forum. At that stage, the S-G had just shared what was contained in the directions. He added that the S-G had also indicated that, as a collective, everyone needed to hold hands to see how many learners could be brought back as learners, especially in primary schools, where learners were missing out on critical foundational learning. The WCED had also held meetings with Teacher Unions and the Provincial Principals Forum, which represented all principals in the Western Cape. There were thus discussions taking place and he was sure that, as the WCED approached 26 July or start of the following quarter, another range of these meetings would be necessary to ensure that schools were ready to deal with the 100% return of learners. He added that this was especially so as, at that point, the Western Cape might be in the peak of the third wave.
Ms Conrad responded to the question about learner retention. What happened with learner retention in terms of the batch of Grade 12 learners, was that the WCED looked at the cohort of Grade10s in the prior years that would match the Grade 12 group of 2020. In terms of the figures there, the WCED was looking at 52 374 Grade 12 learners versus the 77 245 Grade 10 learners of that cohort. This would be the basic arithmetic that was then done. She thus explained that coming into the system in Grade 10 was 77 245 learners and entering the system in Grade 12 was 52 374 learners as per the Annual Survey of Schools (ASS) of that period. It was thus based on a specific point in time as per the ASS of that time. In terms of Mr Sayed’s question, she asked to be assisted in terms of exactly which reference or slide he had seen what he was referring to. If he were asking her when this took place, she could not give an exact date as to when the WCED had realised the impact of Covid-19 but could provide a general response in terms of operations within the infrastructure space. What would happen was that there would be certain milestones that one would have to achieve along the way. If these milestones are not achieved, then one could make a predictive assessment that you would not be able to achieve the targets set – particularly in infrastructure.
In the quarterly performance there were no infrastructure matters and no infrastructure performance indicators so, apart from giving a general comment, for a specific comment to be made in terms of a specific performance indicator it would be a little difficult for her to respond. What had happened throughout the infrastructure industry was that, of course, Covid-19 had had an enormous impact on all industries – particularly the infrastructure industry which had taken a massive blow. On top of everything else, the infrastructure industry also had to put in place social distancing and apply the necessary PPE which added more strain on its finances. This was a Nation-wide problem and was not unique to the Western Cape. In fact, the building industry had been suffering for decades – particularly the smaller companies. However, the bigger infrastructure companies had also been suffering, not only through Covid-19 but also through the general reduction of the use of big companies. Specific information could be received from the infrastructure people, and she could provide that information. However, she reiterated that she could not see the connection to any performance indicator but hoped that she had given sufficient information to respond.
Mr Lewis said that if the question had not been responded to fully then it could be followed up with something in writing to the Office of the Head of the WCED and the WCED would try and respond to it.
The Chairperson said that she was just going to ask Mr Sayed whether his question was answered.
Mr Sayed indicated that he had been covered.
The Chairperson continued onto a second round of questions. Regarding the presentation on readiness, she said that Mr Lewis had spoken about teachers with comorbidities, that they could apply for exemption, and that those who were successful in their applications could work from home. What is the number of teachers who are now teaching from home? She explained that her question was with reference to those teachers who had comorbidities and whose applications had been successful. Are there teachers whose applications had not been successful but who are at home anyway and not in the classroom? What is the number thereof? Regarding learners, are there any learners who are taking their lessons from home, offline, and who are also not in the classroom? Could the WCED speak to these numbers as well? The WCED had spoken about the PPE that they would supply now regarding all learners going back to school. Is this supply on top of the increased funding that schools had received regarding the norms and standards so that they could provide PPE for themselves?
Mr G Brinkhuis (Al Jama-ah) said that his question concerned the principals at schools. What are the actual powers of the principal? Does the principal of a primary or high school have the last decision or power to give a teacher permission to stay at home or remain at school? Does this power lie with the principal or the WCED?
Mr Lewis referred to the question about how many teachers were currently at home. At this point in time, with the directive that had gone out recently, he could not provide the Committee with the numbers immediately. He said that he would have to consult with the WCED’s Human Resources (HR) section that was dealing with these matters. Regarding learners who were sitting at home, the directive did not make provision, as it did in the past, for learners to be exempted from school. In the previous year there was a section in the directions which provided that parents could apply for learners to be exempted from school attendance and learn from home. During the previous year, the WCED had then provided learners with a learning material pack so that they could continue their work. This provision was not repeated in the current directions. He thought that if it were repeated it could be interpreted as contradictory to the efforts of bringing those learners back to school – which was perhaps the reason why it was not included. Learners were supposed to attend school, be it every day or every alternate day. In terms of the PPE, despite the fact that schools’ norms and standards were increased a little during the previous year for the current year so that provision could be made for PPE, the current requisitioning that the WCED was busy with would be on top of either what the schools already had, what the schools had procured from their own funding, or perhaps for other pressing needs if they had already used their funding, so that schools could be placed in a position to have PPE. The WCED was just careful so that they did not get a situation where schools ran out of PPE and then there is finger pointing. The WCED wanted to make sure that all schools had sufficient PPE to make use of.
Regarding whether principals had the power to give permission to teachers to stay at home, he said that all of these things worked according to certain processes that are established in the HR offices. In the first place a teacher had to apply to be exempted to work from home because of comorbidities, which application had to be supported by a doctor’s or medical certificate. The application would then be submitted to the district office via the principal, which landed at HR and would then be granted. If a teacher had been granted permission to work from home in the previous year, such teacher would not have to go through the same process because the WCED had sufficient evidence at the Head Office. For these teachers that had been exempted in the previous year, all that was to happen now was that they needed to come to an agreement with the principal so that the principal could strike a balance between recognising the teacher’s health and allowing them to work from home against the right of a learner to access and quality education at schools. The principal must thus ensure that these two rights are balanced and that the teachers agrees to certain deliverables with the principal. This was an agreement that had to be signed between the principal and teacher so that the WCED could protect not only the teacher working from home but also the rights of learners at school to receive the education that they have a right to.
The Chairperson asked Mr Lewis to speak to the issue regarding school hostels. How would hostel accommodation be affected regarding the directive?
Mr Lewis thought that the situation at hostels would not change. The three requirements were still in place and the new directions had not changed the three requirements. The three requirements were: wearing a mask, regular sanitising, and compliance with the one-meter physical distancing. The hostels and hostel management would be careful in terms of the number of students or learners that they could take into the hostels so that those learners using the hostels could be protected. These learners would have to sanitise not only at school but also at the hostel, on the way to school and back to the hostel. The WCED had recommended that the hostels stagger their eating times so that the kitchens or dining places are not congested. Hostels also needed to stagger their study times. In other words, all of the measures that were in place in hostels during the previous year would have to remain in place until there is clarity around the physical distancing requirement.
The Chairperson said that she had asked the question about hostels as concerns were raised with her regarding a hostel of a school. She said that she would not name the school in the meeting as she wanted to go and see the school for herself. She indicated that she would be going to the school on Friday morning but would definitely write to the WCED after she had visited the school. She trusted that this was in order.
Mr Lewis confirmed that it would be fine.
The Chairperson said that this was the shortest Committee meeting that the WCED had attended in a while. She thanked the WCED for its presentation and for engaging with Members around the presentation.
Mr Lewis fully concurred and agreed with the Chairperson. He said that if this was the Committee’s new streamlined method of operating then it was most welcomed by the WCED. He thanked the Chairperson and, in fulfilment of the WCED’s educational mandate, he asked that Members keep safe, wear their masks, sanitise, and comply to the district requirements.
The Chairperson dismissed the WCED.
The Chairperson asked Members if they had any resolutions from the WCED presentations.
Mr G Bosman (DA) said that he had no recommendations.
Mr Brinkhuis said that he was covered.
The Chairperson thought that there was one recommendation where Ms Conrad had said that she would come back to the Committee regarding the numbers, which was a question that she had posed around the learner retention.
The Committee Secretariat said that she had captured the Chairperson’s recommendation regarding the learner retention. She said that Ms Conrad had mentioned the numbers but had also indicated that she could provide it to the Committee.
Adoption of Outstanding Minutes
The Committee considered and adopted its minutes of 4 May 2021
Adoption of Annual Report 2020/21
Annual Activity Report for the 2020/21 financial year
The report was considered and adopted.
The Chairperson spoke to a conference Members were expected to attend. The Committee had paid to attend the conference and had paid for a few Members to go. Regarding the proposal that was put forward for Members to go, she asked the Secretariat if it was still the same group that was going to attend.
The Secretariat said that Mr Sayed had indicated that he would not be able to attend, and Mr Kama would be going in his place. She said that she would be submitting all documentation the following day as she had to be sent a quotation for attending the conference. She confirmed that she had been liaising with the conference holders, had received the quotation, and had put the necessary documentation together to be sent for approval. Therefore, everything was in place.
The Chairperson noted that Mr Kama would be attending the conference and that Mr Sayed was no longer attending.
The Secretariat clarified that the conference would be a virtual conference. There were thus no flights involved and Members just needed to attend and be cognisant of this.
The Chairperson reiterated that the Committee had paid for Members to attend the conference and that it was online on a virtual platform.
She said that Members would have seen on the Parliamentary Programme that the Committee would be embarking on a visit week to the Karoo during the week of 5 – 9 July 2021, which Members already knew as they had taken a resolution in a previous Committee meeting. This was in front of programming earlier that morning in that the Committee do the visit during the second week that Members came back from their constituency period, which was now from 2 – 6 August 2021. She asked whether Members could agree to that week, which would still take place in the Karoo but just on the revised or amended dates.
Mr Brinkhuis asked for clarification regarding the dates.
The Chairperson explained that 5 – 9 July 2021 fell away and that the visit would now be done during the week of 6 – 9 August 2021. The visit would therefore no longer be happening during Members’ constituency period and was rather going to happen during the second week that Members came back from the constituency period.
Mr Brinkhuis confirmed that it was in order with him.
Mr Bosman also supported the proposal.
The Chairperson continued onto the agenda items. She checked with Members about bringing forward the content of the meeting in regard to the Covid-19 report from the WCED. If Members did not have a problem with this, she proposed that the presentation be brought forward in light of South Africa being in the third wave. She asked that it be brought forward to the following week Tuesday. The visit to Vooruitsig would then shift to the Friday if Members did not have an issue with it.
Mr Bosman did not have a problem with the Chairperson’s proposal and thought that it was all in order.
Mr Brinkhuis found the proposal in order.
Mr Kama also found the proposal in order.
Mr Brinkhuis asked if he could make a resolution.
The Chairperson asked that Mr Brinkhuis put his resolution in writing and send it to the procedural officer.
The meeting was adjourned.
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