Equal Education Law Centre on the school admission crisis in the Western Cape; WCED briefing on the Mathematics and Language Strategy

Education (WCPP)

10 May 2022
Chairperson: Ms D Baartman (DA)
Share this page:

Meeting Summary


In a virtual meeting, the Equal Education Law Centre briefed the Standing Committee on Education on the status of school admission crisis in the Western Cape province.

The Equal Education Law Centre reported that it had observed an incredible number of learners being unplaced in grades one and eight. The Centre was alarmed by the unwillingness of the districts to assist the parents and caregivers regarding the placement of their children. The parents were either told that schools were already oversubscribed and they must apply for the 2023 academic year, or they were merely turned away by the district, without any support or assistance. The organisation also noted that a number of parents and caregivers who approached EELC lacked knowledge entirely regarding applications that were made online. They were also unaware that applications could be made through the district or pop-ups.

Members were concerned by what was presented and the “unwillingness” of the Department to assist.  They questioned the coordination between the district and schools, what was being done to improve communication between the districts and schools and a forecast model on how government planned to ensure learners were placed and to deal with the influx. Members said non-state actors should be encouraged to share their expertise with the Committee as it assisted Members with oversight. Members asked for specific details on unplaced learners for follow up and the list of names of the officials who did not permit the filling in of forms and what reasons were given for refusal so that the matter could be sent to the Department for their attention.

The Western Cape Education Department also briefed the Committee on the Language and Mathematics strategy, aiding school teachers, encouraging technical teachers, and special needs schools.

Members were concerned by the exit of teachers and asked whether it would be feasible to build a training college in the province to prevent a serious problem in the coming years. Members were impressed by the increase in the rate for mathematics but were concerned with mathematical literacy rate that decreased. Were there any specific reasons for the two% decrease in mathematical literacy? Members asked about forward-thinking career pathing for the province such as in the space of Finn Tech and drones. Members asked about career options for maths literacy and a need to engage on the new STEMAC subjects relating to arts, agriculture, coding and computers for the new industries established in the provinces.

Meeting report

The Chairperson opened the virtual meeting, welcoming the Members and the guest delegations from the Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) and the Western Cape Education Department (WCED). She requested that presentations focus on key issues. The Chairperson suggested the EELC present first, followed by a question-and-answer session. Afterwards, the WCED would present and would have a question-and-answer session. 

Mr F Christians (ACDP) sent an apology for his absence.

Briefing by the Equal Education Law Centre (EELC)

Ms Anjuli Maistry, Senior Attorney, EELC, and Mr Yolisa Piliso, Candidate Legal Practitioner, took the Committee through the presentation.

The EELC said it had observed an incredible number of learners being unplaced in grades one and eight – in January 2021, there were 5 537 unplaced learners in grade one and 10 450 in grade eight. In April 2021, there were 2 550 unplaced learners. 53 058 late applications were received between April 2021 and March 2022.

-January 2022: 3 589 unplaced grade 1 and 8 learners. (excluding late applications);

-January 2022: 32 000 late applications received by the WCED;

-March 2022: 341 unplaced grade 1 and grade 8 learners

The EELC stated that they were alarmed by the unwillingness of the districts to assist the parents and caregivers regarding the placement of their children. The parents were either told that schools were already oversubscribed and they must apply for the 2023 academic year, or they were merely turned away by the district, without any support or assistance.

The systemic issues that underlie the reasons for learners being out of school and also struggling with placement and admission include issues with the application process, the lack of coordination between schools and districts, admission appeal processes and overcrowding. In the Western Cape, online platforms were the main way of applying, and they normally opened about nine months earlier so as to improve administration and efficiency. For the learners that do not have access to the internet, the Department would have pop-up applications in malls and other places.

In addition, the schools were also meant to accept physical applications. Many parents and caregivers were unaware entirely that school applications were done online. A number of parents and caregivers who approached EELC lacked knowledge entirely regarding applications that were made online. They were also unaware that applications could be made through the district or pop-ups. Examples of parents include those who proceed to approach schools directly, which was the process for many years before the online application became mandatory. Sometimes, those schools do not accept online applications and parents and caregivers would be told that schools were oversubscribed and not advised regarding the other options available to them. Some parents were aware of the online applications but did not know how to use the online platform and also lacked information regarding access to admissions through the district office or pop-ups. Many parents struggle with unemployment and rely on social grants so approaching neighbourhood schools become the most feasible option. Unfortunately, parents were turned away due to schools being oversubscribed. Officials of the district often do not provide unplaced learner forms, and they incorrectly provide advice such as telling parents that they should apply for the next school year. Real life examples include a parent who did not know of the Western Cape’s online application process. Even if she had known, she did not own any smartphone or device and did not have knowledge of how to use one or how the internet worked. At the beginning of the year, she unsuccessfully approached several schools in Khayelitsha before approaching EELC, where she was advised to approach the district. She was unable to approach the district because she did not have enough taxi fare. When she approached the district after borrowing money from a neighbour, she was told that all schools in Khayelitsha were oversubscribed and she needed to apply for the 2023 school year instead, and the district could not provide her with an unplaced learner form because schools were already full.     

The EELC recommendations for improvement included:

-Effective administrative systems

-Proper systems to ensure consistency and uniformity

-Adequate system and process support and resources throughout application process

-Improved coordination and communication between schools and districts

-Proper reporting on unplaced learners as better data= better reporting and planning


The presentation addressed the lack of coordination between schools and districts including:

-Lack of cohesion between schools and districts

-No uniformity between districts

-Districts not following proper procedures

-Lack of communication

Parents often report that districts advise parents to approach schools but the schools are oversubscribed and learners cannot be admitted. Sometimes districts provide parents with letters saying a child has been admitted but when the letter is taken to the school, the school will turn the learner away as the school is full. This demonstrates a lack of coordination in the information shared between the districts and schools.

Recommendations to remedy the above included:

-Effective administrative systems at the district

-Proper systems to ensure consistency and uniformity to avoid situations where parents are sent from pillar to post

-Improved coordination and communication

The EELC reported on challenges with the admission appeal processes:

-No application outcomes from schools in writing (when this is required for the appeal process)

-No legislative guidance for parents who are required to appeal to schools

-Lack of guidance and support on appeal processes to the MEC’s office

-Lack of publicly available information = confusion

-No timelines for consideration of appeals

Recommendations to remedy the above included:

-Proper reporting


-Legislated admission appeal processes and timelines

-Effective administrative systems

-Proper systems to ensure consistency and uniformity

-Improved coordination and communication


-Oversubscription of schools: worrying numbers

-Schools not being built in areas of need

-Lack of publicly available information and plans

-Lack of funding

-Inadequate forecasting / planning


Mr R Mackenzie (DA) said that the information presented was concerning, and asked for the latest information regarding the statistics of grades one and eight learners. He asked whether the EELC visited the districts. When there was “unwillingness” to help, was it from a district level or local school level? He asked for the reasons that were given by parents for late application submissions.

On the administration process, he asked what the Department had in place to ensure people came to application pop-up stalls, etc. He asked what the coordination between the district and schools was, and what the structure was. He also asked what was being done to improve communication between the districts and schools. He asked for a forecast model on how government planned to ensure learners were placed.

Mr K Sayed (ANC) said non-state actors should be encouraged to share their expertise with the Committee as it assisted Members with oversight. He was extremely worried about what was heard especially that the WCED did not seem to have a plan for dealing with the influx of learners. He asked what the EELC advised government have in place regarding such a plan for the influx and placement challenges. How long would it take the WCED to present a concrete plan to the Committee? He asked what the cause for lack of uniformity between the WCED and the District was.

The Chairperson asked whether EELC emailed the WCED on the individual cases or if they play a monitoring role.

She asked the Department how the appeal process worked and where the information regarding appeals could be found. This was for the benefit of the public.

She said the reporting on infrastructure was done in the budget cycle. Perhaps Provincial Treasury needed to assist with this information.

Mr Mackenzie asked what best practices the EELC recommended, and how the WCED could implement them particularly when it comes to unplaced learners.

EELC responses

Mr Piliso replied to Mr Mackenzie and said the EELC was approached by clients and would advise them and refer them to their nearest district. In one of the examples of an unplaced learner, the parent was not assisted by the district and did not receive adequate support or assistance. In some cases, parents were told to apply the following year. EELC tried to engage the district officials but a response was not forthcoming. The matter was escalated to the Head of Department and MEC but the learners are still at home as responses were not forthcoming. Litigation was a last resort to resolve matters as the EELC first tried to engage those responsible. He highlighted the difference between the EELC as a law clinic to empower and assist communities compared to Equal Education the organisation.

Ms Tshegofatso Phala, EELC Executive Director, said that the EELC’s concern was that many of their letters to the Districts, HODs and MEC go unanswered. The EELC wanted to assist the education departments in dealing with these issues but where requests are unanswered, litigation is then used to have learners placed. Last year, a group of learners in the metro eat remained unplaced for the entire year despite the EELC pleas for assistance – litigation was required in these cases of being ignored.

Looking at the plan and what could be done better, capturing of data is first needed. Sadly, the EELC saw the numbers presented were not accurate as judging from their law clinic, many of the clients are not captured on a central database and put on unplaced learner forms. In many areas, it is known the practice is for parents to approach schools and those schools do not record who those learners are. The EELC was of the view that there were many learners not recorded and not being tracked which has an impact on planning – planning requires an adequate picture of the problem. The first stage of planning is centralised databases, information and a clear system for schools and districts to track unplaced learners.

The EELC had requested plans before but this had not been forthcoming so it was difficult to comment on plans without seeing them. Data was central to planning and ensuring responsiveness in addressing overcrowding. An audit of the situation is required. There are various dynamics applicable to the planning including administration, inter-provincial movement etc. Year in and year out, the same reasoning cannot be provided.

Ms Maistry responded that the reasons for late applications included migrations by learners moving from one province to the Western Cape, parents being told to apply the following year by school officials, and parents not knowing when applications should be made.

On the lack of cohesion between schools and districts, this was also due to lack of systems which allow for schools to share information on a regular basis with the districts which means the information districts have are not up to date.

The Chairperson said that the infrastructure budget was published with the ‘budget overview of municipal and investment 2022’ on pages 149 until 152, where it stated the infrastructure for the Education Department included new, upgraded or maintained for the financial years 2022/2023, 2023/2024 and 2024/2025. It also indicated the respective project name, the type of infrastructure, programme, district or local municipality, names, the start and end date of project, source of funding, line of project, and total project costs and expenditure to date from previous years. Members would find this in the “blue books”.

Mr Sayed asked for details of the learners who were out of school, how many there were, and their contact details.

The Chairperson asked for the list of names of the officials who did not permit the filling in of forms and what reasons were given for refusal so that the matter could be sent to the Department for their attention.

Response by the WCED

Mr Lance Abrahams, School Enrollment, asked that the details of the unplaced learners and correspondence sent by the EELC to the Department be sent to understand why there was no response. The WCED considered responding very important.

He said the WCED managed exceptionally well with the placement and admission of thousands of learners – up to 18 000 learners are new to the system every year. The Department did not have control of migration to the Western Cape. Many of the unplaced learners are late applications and despite the Department’s best advocacy campaigns, it cannot control late applications and migrations. Despite this, the WCED has done tremendous work in placing learners. The Department welcomed being notified of unplaced learners – the Department cannot help it if it did not know of these cases, as was proved in court. The Department’s goal was to ensure all learners were placed in schools because learners have a right to basic education. This is what the Department was doing successfully and would continue to do. He said the Department would prepare a more detailed response. He emphasised the Department was open to working with any organisation on the matter.

Mr Abrahams said there were many cases of officials helping parents with their applications on the system. There were systems to assist parents with online applications where there were challenges. The Department’s view was the system worked for the general public and that is why it is in place. Over the past two years, in excess of 85% of parents have used the online system successfully – this is a phenomenal achievement.

The Chairperson emphasised the interests of the child were paramount. She appealed for anyone to send information on unplaced learners to the Committee. She said she sent a number of queries to the Department and received speedy responses.  However, much more needed to be done to ensure no child was left behind.

She asked Mr Abrahams what the process for appeal was. The concern was on communicating the outcome or processing of the appeals.

The EELC noted challenges of transport – the Chairperson asked f there was a way to speak to the Department of Mobility to partner to assist parents with transport when applying for placement.

Mr Mackenzie asked where the appeal was done – at the district office or the school?

He replied that the appeal process was not online: parents write a letter to the MEC and ask for an appeal. The letter can be emailed, faxed or posted as a hardcopy. The MEC will engage with the district or the school on the case and the outcome of the appeal will formally be communicated to the parents and school. An appeal is made after the admissions process has been concluded. Time is given to the schools to first make the placements. Appeals are made when all avenues are exhausted.

The WCED is looking to move this to an online process where parents could access the system all day, every day, without having to travel. The Department is busy with the final testing stages and it should be ready for this year’s appeals in the coming weeks.

The online admission system in place made the application process easier because the parent was able to apply from anywhere. The Department was looking at making the system more accessible e.g. in libraries, hotspots etc.

The Chairperson said that next quarter, the Department would be expected to report back on how far the online appeal process was.

Mr Sayed wanted to get an idea of plans in place to allocate more resources to ensure more pop-up stands at shopping malls to assist parents register their children especially those without internet access.

The Chairperson asked for the latest figures on unplaced learners.

Mr Abrahams said all learners were placed except for one or two new cases of families relocating to the Western Cape. He emphasized that the Department should be alerted to further cases – they cannot intervene if they did not know about a problem.

He said the Department was looking at expanding the pop-ups to libraries and Tusong Centres.

The Chairperson said the EELC should provide the details on the learners to the WCED and CC the Committee. The Department should update the Committee on these cases.  

She repeated that the interests of the child were paramount and ensure unplaced learners were placed. No child should be left behind as education was a tool of empowerment in SA.

Briefing by the WCED: Maths and Language Strategy

The Department reported that it was in consultation with stakeholders to develop a strengthened Maths strategy to improve maths in the province. This was in response to reflections of previous interventions, covid losses in curriculum, support of the WCED SREAMC and improved performance in all grades.

The presentation discussed details of the maths pass rate since 2011 and the language pass rates and how this strategy was different from an earlier version.

The briefing also presented the language strategy and reading strategy.

See briefing for further information.


Mr Mackenzie asked what the backup plan was for the concerns related to the 47% exit in the next five to ten years, and another 20% exit with only 12% entry level. Would it be feasible to build a college for training in the Western Cape? The only technical college that could provide the services was the one in Potchefstroom. It seemed there would be a serious problem in a few years so what was the plan?

The Chairperson asked for the links, booklets, pamphlets and material to be sent to the Committee to share with constituents. If the Department wanted to invite Members to events, they should do so.

She was concerned by the number of teachers exiting.

 She was impressed by the increase in the rate for mathematics but was concerned with the mathematical literacy rate that decreased. Were there any specific reasons for the two% decrease in mathematical literacy? She said it was interesting that the pass rate for the more scientific subjects increased as one would think they would be more difficult for students.  What were the reasons?

She said that the University of Cape Town introduced a Fin Tech degree a few years ago, and some of those students were being contracted by companies around the world to create world-class solutions – why would it be difficult to do something similar in education? What would this look like? What were the obstacles? Could provincial or national legislation assist?

Mr Mackenzie asked what careers were being planned regarding mathematical literacy when careers on mathematics and science were being created? He asked for examples of those careers.  He used the example of Mr Marshall Nelson doing drone training in Mitchells Plain. How could this be incorporated into the curriculum? This is part of future training.

The Chairperson noted the upward trajectory in maths and language in the province but perhaps there was a need for engagement on the new STEMAC subjects relating to arts, agriculture, coding and computers for the new industries established in the provinces. The work readiness must be thought of.


Mr Haroon Mohamed, Chief Director: Curriculum Management and Teacher Development, WCED, said a feasibility study was done on the teachers. The idea was to speak to the universities and that plan had not been abandoned yet. The CTLI could be the hub or college, and it could collaborate with the universities to determine the qualification and operate almost as a college. The academic delivery of the programme could be done by the universities and the practical side could be done by technical schools in the province. The research done by the Department showed that the four universities in the province may not be able to set up the workshops and infrastructure for the practical side. The Department will take up the recommendations from the Committee, explore the possibility and report back.

Mr Mohamed said the materials can be sent to the Committee.

He said that the WCED met with Mr Nelson Marshal of the school, and visited the site. They were in a partnership with him but, because the programme that was being run was not the only being run in the province, it did not neatly fit in the formal structure. They were finding ways to incrementally incorporate those kinds of programmes. 

Ms Glynis Schreuder, Senior Curriculum Planner, WCED, said that in 2021, there were approximately 5 000 more candidates who wrote Mathematical Literacy. Normally, the more learners' writing means one could expect a slight decrease in performance. Even though there was a slight decrease in the performance of Mathematical Literacy, it was still performing at a considerably higher level than learners taking Mathematics. The WCED did have a plan to support teachers and learners in terms of Mathematical Literacy. There was a detailed subject support strategy, which could be made available should it be necessary.

There were careers, pathways and degrees where learners could take Mathematical Literacy. This is outlined in the strengthened maths strategy so learners do have options and are supported. There is a strong focus on careers so learners should choose subjects aligned to the careers they wish to follow.  

Regarding drone training, the WCED was working with schools so that subject choice could lead students to particular pathways. There were focused schools for focused learning and Mathematics and Science, such as the Academy for Mathematics and Sciences in Constantia, COSAT in Khayelitsha, Protea Heights, etc. These are schools which guide learners in careers requiring high levels of maths and science.

Mr Mohammed said that there was training within the Department regarding the use of drones in agricultural schools. But there was a gap in the licensing, and so there was a discussion with specialists to get the licensing processes completed.

The Chairperson asked whether it was a commercial license that was needed.

Mr Neil Simons. Senior Educational Specialist /Advisor - Civil Tech and Engineering Graphics and Design, WCED, responded that the Department was in the process of discussing the use of drones within the school premises. Licencing also requires teachers to become drone pilots – this was costly but the Department did need to figure out the rules and regulations on flying drones around the public spaces. 

The Chairperson remarked that agriculture was also having problems securing their commercial licence from national.

The Chairperson asked about schools where maths was not offered but a few learners were interested in taking the subject – was it streamed? For example, in the Karoo, some schools did not offer maths but the learners were interested in taking the subject for career purposes. She knew this because she helped many students with admission to university and the maths requirements. There were many careers, courses and skills requiring maths so this was concerning. If the subject can be streamed into these schools, one did not need a full time post and would just make use of the IT infrastructure available for streaming.

Mr Mohamed said he was aware of schools where there were no maths teachers but as part of the strengthened plan, the Department wanted to ensure as many eligible students had access to maths as possible.

The Department has a dedicated budget allocated to each of the districts to identify the best teachers and have livestreaming. If this facility did not reach the Chairperson’s constituency, he would discuss it with the Department and provide the Committee with feedback. There was a struggle with detailed data on the schools without qualified teachers but the team was working on it.

Ms Razzia Ebrahim, DCES: Mathematics, WCED, said the Department was not always aware of cases of one or two learners wanting to take maths where the school does not offer it but if such cases are known, there are available resources such as digi-campus on the WCED portal. There are also other websites where learners can practice the skills to consolidate their knowledge. Systems are in place in such cases.

The Chairperson asked if the Department was saying that maths can be streamed in in these cases.

Ms Ebrahim said some systems must be in place but some teaching is required for overseeing as some learners might not work independently – but the resources are there.

The Chairperson agreed that in her constituency of the Karoo, she was not sure if many of the learners would independently learn maths on their own.

The Chairperson thanked the Department for the briefing and released them from the meeting.

Committee resolutions/actions

The Committee requested:

-updated number of unplaced learners since March in writing – to also be forwarded to EELC

-send EELC a copy of the overview of municipal and provincial infrastructure investment 2022 & Treasury to provide the Committee with a quarterly update on infrastructure including WCED

-details of learners out of school: EELC research and details

-names of officials that turned learners away

-WCED booklet and other detailed information

-updates on workshops, webinars and other events

-update on getting drones in schools

-update on taking appeals process online (follow up in next quarter)

-similar briefing on agriculture, coding and arts curriculums

The Education and Social Development Committees would embark on a study tour and the Members would be kept up to date by the procedural officers. 

The meeting was adjourned. 


Download as PDF

You can download this page as a PDF using your browser's print functionality. Click on the "Print" button below and select the "PDF" option under destinations/printers.

See detailed instructions for your browser here.

Share this page: