Western Cape progress on Committee oversight recommendations; DBE Q4 Report 2021/22; with Deputy Minister

Basic Education

14 June 2022
Chairperson: Ms B Mbinqo-Gigaba (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

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ATC220303: Report of the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education on an oversight visit to the Western Cape and Northern Cape Provincial Education Departments, dated 1 March 2022

The Department of Basic Education (DBE) briefed the Portfolio Committee on its fourth quarterly report performance. The Committee was also briefed by the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) on the progress with recommendations by the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education regarding its oversight visit to the Western Cape province.

On the progress with the recommendations from the oversight visit to the Western Cape, the Committee was advised, on the 49 matters it had raised, there was one matter which was still in progress and the other matters were either finalised or did not require action by the Department as it was only comments. The interventions made by the WCED in the schools within the province included improvement of infrastructure, alleviation of overcrowding in classes by reducing teacher/learner ratio, and improving corrective maintenance.

The Committee was concerned about the safety and security of the teachers and learners, vandalism of sports facilities in schools, and the inequality in the placement of learners in schools. A Member wanted to know how far the WCED was in addressing the challenge of admissions in schools because there were several learners who were not admitted at the time of the Committee’s oversight visit. Another Member said a high-level intervention was needed around facilities for the schools to continue with sporting activities, and to keep young people off the streets.

The Committee would visit the province again to assess the progress it made.

On its fourth quarterly report for 2021/2022, the DBE told the Committee it achieved 90% of its targets and the remaining 10% was partially achieved for the quarter.

The Committee wanted to know if there was a procurement process undertaken by the Department to support the online learning process; if there was a tender process followed; and the selection criteria for the people allowed to sit on the bid specification committee. The Chairperson wanted to know how the Department prepared learners for the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) assessments, and once the results were released, how the feedback was communicated to the learners who were participants, the parents, and the SGBs.

The Chairperson said when the Committee started working with the Department in 2019, it was performing at 61% and it was now performing at 100%, which was very good. She said this was something the Department should pride itself on and she congratulated the Department. She hoped when the quarterly reports are presented, this would be the performance level the Committee would continue seeing from the Department.

Meeting report

Chairperson’s opening remarks
The Chairperson welcomed the delegations from the Department of Basic Education (DBE) and the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) to the meeting and acknowledged the presence of the Deputy Minister of Basic Education and the Member of Executive Council (MEC) for Education in the Western Cape. She apologised for the hour delay to the start of the meeting and noted Parliament was concluding its budget business, so the Committee had to wait for the programme to finish before it could leave the plenary.

The Chairperson said the Committee would be briefed on implementation of its recommendations, resulting from the oversight visit it did in the Western Cape. The WCED had come to present to the Committee two weeks prior, but the Committee turned the Department back because the Department had submitted its presentation late.

The Committee would also be briefed by the DBE on its fourth quarterly report for 2021/2022.  

Deputy Minister’s opening remarks
Dr Reginah Mhaule, Deputy Minister of Basic Education, introduced the delegation from the DBE and noted the presence of the newly appointed Western Cape MEC for Education.

Briefing by Western Cape Education Department (WCED) on Implementation of Portfolio Committee Recommendations
Mr David Maynier, Western Cape MEC for Education, said it was a great pleasure to join the Committee and the DBE in his maiden appearance before the Committee and he was looking forward to working with the Committee going forward. He handed over to the Head of Department to introduce the presentation.

Mr Brent Walters, Head of Department: WCED, said of the 49 matters raised by the Committee during its oversight visit to the province, there was one matter which was still in progress and the other matters were either finalised or did not require action by the Department as it was only comments. He handed over to the Chief Director: Districts to do the presentation.

Mr Alan Meyer, Chief Director: Districts, WCED, presented the progress made with the recommendations of the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education in regards to the oversight visit made to the Western Cape. He presented the recommendations for each of the schools visited and the responses made by the Department on each school.

At Agape Special School, he said one of the recommendations was for the Department to ensure fit-for-purpose masks were made available to the school, as requested for certain learners 30 days after the adoption of the report. In response, he said PPE were received in 2020 for all learners, as with all public schools. Agape School is a Section 21 school. In 2021 the school purchased additional masks from its Norms and Standards allocation and it was confirmed with the principal the school would continue to supply masks which suit the needs of the learners in future.

Another recommendation was for the Department to consider augmenting the school maintenance budget and assist and support the school with infrastructure maintenance projects within a reasonable timeframe. In response, the WCED Directorate: Infrastructure Delivery visited Agape and found there were areas which needed to be fixed urgently. The school was asked to log the repairs that it needed, on Centralised Educational Management Information (CEMIS).

At St Mary’s Primary School, one of the recommendations was that the WCED should ensure extra educators were appointed to alleviate overcrowding in respect of teacher/learner ratios, and to consider filling all the acting positions at the school to create stability within reasonable timeframes. The School had a teacher/learner ratio of 1:37, which was below the ratio of 1:40 the Western Cape Education Department used this as a high-end ratio. Some classes had above 40 learners per class, but the addition of a post would result in classes with an average of 23 learners and reduce the ratio of the school more favourably, as opposed to other schools with a higher ratio. 

At the Noluthando School for the Deaf, one of the recommendations was for the Department to ensure efforts were made to support the School in making the School wheelchair friendly by improving access within 90 days of the adoption of the report. In response, the Directorate: ISES gave R300 000 towards accessibility improvements to be made at the school. The Directorate Infrastructure Planning also scoped further infrastructure matters requiring attention and recommended the school must use Norms and Standards to replace the missing and damaged ceiling in all the ablutions facilities and passages.

At Siyazakha Primary School, the Portfolio Committee had recommended the WCED should ensure infrastructure and maintenance challenges were resolved within reasonable time, being 60 days after the adoption of the report. In response, the Department ensured the school maintenance committee attended to minor defects which were in its management plan. The school also received corrective maintenance work in the ablutions facilities in the 20/21 financial year, and was due to receive scheduled maintenance in the financial year 2023/2024.

Discussion
Ms M Sukers (ACDP) said there were issues in the Helderberg area, specifically in the Strand Senior Secondary School where there were calls for interventions received from parents and community members regarding community safety. She asked the Department to assist in the intervention as there were no sporting activities at the school because of the violence which marked sporting events. The heritage and history of the school were tarnished because of the violence.

In the same area, four primary schools relied on the same sports field and the community did not have access to the field because of violence and gangsterism in the area. She said a high-level intervention was needed around facilities for the schools to continue with sporting activities to keep young people off the streets. The Helderberg area had a rich rugby history but the only fields which the area had were vandalised, and the other two fields, Charles Morkel and Gordon’s Bay were in the wealthy communities. When schools requested to access those fields, it was either unavailable to the schools or the schools had to pay R2 500 to access the fields.

Ms Sukers said she was thankful MEC Maynier was in the meeting and wished the Committee would continue to invite him to its meetings to honour the Committee’s constitutional mandate, as there were several issues of inequality which affected the schools in the province. One of the issues was the placement of learners. There were instances in February where it took longer to place learners’ in schools closer to the learners’ homes. She said in some instances, she found the schools in which these learners were placed in had higher learner ratios, up to 40 learners per class, and the schools closer to the learners’ homes had lower learner ratios per class. She said this needed to be addressed to ensure learners’ are placed in schools closest to the learners’ homes.

Ms N Adoons (ANC) wanted to know how far the WCED was in addressing the challenge of admissions to schools. There were several learners who were not admitted at the time of the Committee’s oversight visit. She also wanted to know how the WCED was addressing the rising number of female learner dropouts in the Province, and what the current status was.

She said St Mary’s Primary School had complained about its sports facilities and wrote to the WCED and to some donors requesting assistance to revamp the facilities. Lastly, she wanted to know if the newly appointed MEC would change the status quo of male officials filling senior positions in the WCED.

Dr S Thembekwayo (EFF) asked when the WCED expected to alleviate the classroom overcrowding at St Mary’s Primary School by appointing extra educators and filling vacant posts. She asked for an update on the situation at Peter Langeveldt Primary School in the Cape Winelands District, where teachers were experiencing intimidation and victimisation from the principal of the school. The staff had reached out to the seniors, but the problem had not been solved. She said in a previous meeting with the WCED, the Committee was given a number to contact to report specific issues, but there were no responses received from the number.

Mr C Fry (DA) asked about interventions on drug abuse, safety, security, vandalism, and theft in schools as it was said to be finalised and he wanted to know what the finalisation of interventions around the issues meant. He said such interventions must be ongoing and need to be consistently and fiercely monitored to ensure the safety of teachers and learners at schools.

Ms Sukers said she had a case she would refer to the MEC which raised serious concerns about expulsion procedures not being followed correctly, and the lack of special procedures for learners with special needs where disciplinary issues may be related to special needs. She also asked the MEC to speak on how disciplinary issues regarding learners with special needs were handled by the WCED.

Response by WCED
Mr Walters said there were no separate expulsion procedures for special schools as the Department followed the set procedure for all schools. During the hearing of a case, evidence would be considered and if there were any special behavioural issues which affected learners with special needs, this would be taken into consideration in relation to the hearings. Expulsion processes were run by School Governing Bodies (SGBs), who would recommend expulsion to the Head of Department (HOD) if it thought expulsion should take place. He said in several instances, the HOD was unable to expel because the processes were not followed and the accused’s rights were infringed upon.

There was a Committee of four people at the WCED offices who dealt with making recommendations to the HOD regarding expulsions. After having independently applied his mind to each case the HOD would then decide and put it on record. The parties would be informed accordingly. The disciplined party would also be allowed an opportunity to appeal to the MEC should this party be unhappy with the decision.

When the Department referred to matters as being finalised, it did not mean the schools were completely safe, it meant the WCED had specifically taken the action within its powers to deal with the issue. Regarding the Peter Langeveldt Primary School, he said he had received a complaint about the school dated 14 May, and the issue was referred to the Department for investigation. He said he would forward his email to the Committee Secretary so Dr Thembekwayo could send her complaints directly to him.

Regarding the placement of learners, he said making applications for learners was the parents’ responsibility. When applications closed the previous year, there were tens of thousands of applications which came after the closing date and more than 16 000 applications were made after 1 January 2022. Placement was a big issue for the province because of the growing population and demand for places in schools, for example, there were schools where there were 200 places and over 3 000 applications. The WCED essentially placed learners’ in schools which had the spaces to accommodate the learners’ to avoid the oversubscription crisis.

Mr Walters asked Ms Sukers for more details on the sports facilities in Strand Primary School and the Helderberg area and said the WCED would follow-up on the issue.

Mr Archie Lewis, Deputy Director-General: Institution Development and Coordination, WCED, said Dr Thembekwayo had not mentioned Peter Langeveldt Primary School in the previous meeting, she had said she would raise the issue separately with him, and Mr Lewis shared his number with the Committee so she could do so. Mr Lewis said he had not received any communication from Dr Thembekwayo and was willing to share his phone to be analysed to prove this.

Regarding the safety of schools, he said the Department’s core function was education and the issues of safety and criminality in the schools was a community-bound illness which spread into the schools. The WCED had a small budget of around R34 million to deal with such issues and it, unfortunately, could not deal with the safety of all the schools in the Province.

The Department worked with the schools through a range of stakeholders who assisted the safety of teachers and learners in the schools. The School Safety Committee (SSC) was established at all schools and it included members of the communities, to get community members involved in protecting the schools. There were also Community Policing Forums (CPFs), the South African Police Service (SAPS), and the Safer Schools Programme where schools were assisted financially to augment the schools' alarm systems and appoint security guards for the schools. He said the issue of safety in schools could only be resolved when criminality and the safety of citizens in communities were dealt with.

The WCED established sports facilities at all the schools in the province. Every new school built was normally accompanied by either a soccer field or rugby field, depending on the code of sport exercised by the school. The challenge was not the provision of the facilities but the sustainment of the facilities, and part of the inability to sustain the facility was the cost of municipal services such as water. The schools could not afford to sustain and maintain sports facilities, and over time the facilities suffered.

Regarding the Peter Langeveldt matter, Mr Meyer said the District Office Director and the Circuit Manager had three interview sessions at the school as part of its investigation into the school. It met with various members of staff and was still to meet with the SGB of the school, and would produce a report indicating the outcome of the investigations.

He and Mr Lewis took two circuit managers with them to Strand Secondary School the previous year to investigate what was happening at the school. Ms Sukers described gangsterism and drug use and it was a true reflection of what was happening at the school and the entire Helderberg district. He said the Department repaired the fence of the school more times than he could say. It made it difficult for the WCED to continuously go back to try to fix the fence when the community members would break it down repeatedly. This was a broad problem and he would raise it in the next joint provincial department meeting, and ask the CPF to play a more proactive role in mitigating incidents of violence, theft, and vandalism at the School.  

There were challenges with appointing a principal to the school and it took the Department a long time to do this. When the Department finally successfully appointed the principal, the principal took early retirement. The Department was in the process of appointing a new principal for the school once more. Regarding the vacant teacher posts at St Mary’s Primary School, he said the new establishments would only be issued in August of the current year and posts would be allocated to schools for the 2023 school year. He said he would visit the School in the coming weeks to see what is happening and would give feedback to the HOD.

MEC Maynier said he would certainly join the DBE in future meetings with the Committee and looked forward to getting to know all the members of the Committee and working with committee members.
Regarding the expulsion, he said Ms Sukers could inform the parties of their rights to appeal the expulsion if the parties were unhappy with the decision.

Dr Thembekwayo thanked the MEC for the update and said his presence in the WCED would yield positive results.

The Chairperson thanked the WCED for understanding the delayed start to the meeting and for taking the Committee’s recommendations and responding to it timeously. She said the Committee would visit the province again to assess the progress it made.

Briefing by Department of Education (DBE) on its fourth quarter report 2021/22
Mr Hubert Mweli, Director-General, DBE, said there would be a two-part presentation. The first part would look at the performance indicators and targets, and the second part would be a financial report. The chairperson of the audit committee said the Department had its best performing year ever, with the Department making a neat finish on infrastructure and recording performance which went above its set targets. The Department made key financial improvements in the last financial year. He complimented the Minister and Deputy Minister of Basic Education for the leadership shown. The Minister and Deputy Minister were involved in the Department’s operations and ensured the Department reported back to the Executive weekly on performance of infrastructure. He also credited the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education for holding the Department accountable when necessary. 

Ms Carol Nuga-Deliwe, Chief Director: Strategic Planning and Research, DBE, presented the performance indicators and targets on the DBEs fourth quarter report for 2021/22. On the major highlights, she said there was a 0.2% improvement in the overall performance of the class of 2021 in the National Senior Certificate (NSC) achievements, compared to 2020, which was at 76.2%. The Minister handed over the Virtual Classroom Distance Learning Solution, aimed at maximising access to digital education content for learners in rural and urban areas alike. This was part of the COVID-19 Disaster Regulations imposed by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) to support online learning and ease congestion on the country’s telecommunication network. The DBE also welcomed the decision by Cabinet to allow schools to return to full-time learning at all schools and to return to normal timetabling from 7 February 2022.  

Regarding the quarter four performance indicators for 2021/22 on all programmes, she said the Department achieved 90% of its targets and the remaining 10% was partially achieved.

Indicators not achieved
Programme 2:
-2.1.12 Full-scale implementation of the GEC will take place in 2025, pilot is conducted 2021-2024
-2.3.7 Budget issues, ICASA imposed obligations on the mobile network operators to provide all the public Special Schools with ICT equipment, assistive devices, and connectivity.
Programme 4:
-4.2.6 PIRLS and SEACMEQ reports are not available due to postponement of studies a year after the scheduled date.
-The PIRLS 2021 study report for South Africa will be released in December 2022 and will constitute the National Report linked to the NAF for 2022/23 financial year.
-4.3.4 Data collection challenges at provincial level, (SISCOs) have been deployed in all provinces to monitor and collect monitoring instruments since May 2022.

Indicators partially achieved:
Programme 2:
-2.1.13 Non-submission and incomplete reports from EC and KZN-Escalated to DDGs

Programme 3: 3.1.1 The 4% deviation is attributed to the fact that 2021 was the year of elections. SGBs were new and could not perform at optimum level-A meeting was convened on 7 June 2022 to streamline the process for target setting.

Mr Patrick Khunou, Chief Financial Officer (CFO), DBE, presented the DBEs financial report for the fourth quarter.

See attached presentation for further details

Deputy Minister Mhaule said the fourth quarter started in January and ended at the end of March 2022. It included several activities, such as the announcement of the matric results, and the full moving of learners back to classrooms. She said moving learners back to schools in full also came with its own challenges. The Department would present those challenges to the Committee in due time, including the overcrowding, and the Department’s plan to resolve those issues. The Department would also present regarding the Department’s plans and the impact of the KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape floods.

Discussion
Ms Adoons wanted to know how the Department managed to overspend on compensation of employees. She also asked if the Funza Lushaka graduate placements were made because of the vacancies which already existed, or if it was for new recruitments.

Ms Sukers wanted to know how directors were rewarded or punished in relation to the performance assessments, and how school principals were held accountable for the performances of respective schools the principals headed. She said she would ask the rest of her questions in writing.

The Chairperson wanted to know the nature of the ten legal cases referred to in programme one, and entities involved. She asked who was responsible for developing the online content for the learners and who the service providers were. She also asked if there was a procurement process undertaken to support the online learning process and if there was a tender process followed. She asked if urban and rural district schools had online learning equipment, and asked the Department to send the list to the Committee Secretary.

She wanted to know about the selection criteria for the people allowed to sit on the bid specification committee, and the list of names of the people who were part of the committee. She also wanted to know if there were schools which did not have sufficient Learning and Teaching Support Materials (LTSM), and how the Department prepared learners for the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) assessments. She wanted to know, once the results were released, how the feedback was communicated to the learners who were participants, the parents, and to the SGBs.

She also asked the Department to provide the Committee with a copy of the participation consent form for the PIRLS assessment and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) for data collection purposes. She asked about the support provided by the Department to underperforming schools. Lastly, she wanted to know if the Director-General held accountability sessions with officials and when these were held.

Response by DBE
Mr Mweli said the Funza Lushaka graduate placements were both for new recruits and for filling the vacant posts. There was a phenomenal increase in enrolment in the 2021/222 financial year despite the impact of COVID-19. It was not true the Department lost up to 500 000 learners, but what happened was parents kept learners from going to school, which distorted the numbers and the Department was able to release the numbers at the beginning of the year. The overall enrolment increased from 12.6 million to 13.1 million, roughly about 400 000 learners. The Department needed to appoint new teachers and also replace teachers who passed away because of the pandemic. Social distancing issues also necessitated the appointment of more teachers.   

Regarding online learning, he said the digital content was developed with service providers involved in network operations and the process was started by the former Deputy Minister. The process did not require any money from the Department and some officials were also involved in the development of the digital content. There was no tender for the process. It was purely collaboration between the DBE, provinces, and the network service providers. The content was available for various grades and several workbooks were digitised. The intention was to eventually digitise all the traditional test materials used in schools.

There were still learners and schools that had shortages of textbooks. The information could be provided to the Committee as it was collected annually, and looked at retention and textbook recovery. Bid specification also involved people in the line function because it was about the details of bids which would have to be put out. People would need to know the details of the line function. The bid evaluation looked at experience and provided training to individuals who were appointed to the bid specification committee. The bid committee consisted of people who had served in the public service in the past.

The Department would continue to educate one another about the role of Parliament as Members of Parliament played an important role in the Department’s work. The Department would educate all its colleagues about not having the luxury of ignoring parliamentary requests for information, because Parliament represented the people of the country and must be given the respect it deserves.

Regarding performance management, he said all employees in the Department were assessed through a Performance Management Development System (PMDS) which covered all employees in the public service, starting from the lowest standing to the highest standing in any part of the Department, including its entities. The performance of schools also formed part of this assessment. There was a comprehensive package for underperforming schools and districts. These were assigned mentors, which worked tremendously well because they improved performance thereafter. The Department also dealt with underperforming schools as provided for by the South African Schools Act where School Management Teams (SMTs) and SGBs were called to account by the HOD. The Department wrote to individual provinces to submit reports on the actions it took on underperforming schools.

Mr Paddy Padayachee, DDG: Teachers, HR and Institutional Development, DBE, said on Funza Lushaka, the 27% in the fourth quarter represented 2021 graduates. The percentage went up in the past two weeks to about 40% and this would appear in the First Quarter of the current financial year. The loss of about 3 000 to 4 000 educators because of COVID-19 was tragic, However, with about 4 000 Funza graduates each year and possibly about 20 000 who come out of higher education through other forms of funding, it was hard to notice the impact of those losses. There were still vacancies because of other reasons such as specialisations.

Mr Khunou said there was no experience required for people to be appointed for the bid committees, but from a supply chain and management perspective, the Department provided training for members before joining the Committees. Regarding the overspending on compensation of employees and goods and Services, he said the spending was on the Accelerated School Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI) grants. The grant was received from Treasury and it was broken down according to capital and non-capital expenditure.

The Department had to ensure the total grant did not overspend, which was the reason for the under-expenditure on buildings and other fixed structures for R172 907, covering the overspending on compensation of employees and goods and services. According to the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA), if there was overspending on one programme, there had to be a programme which would have underspending and this compensated for the overspending on Compensation of Employees.

Adv Shalili Misser, Chief Director: Legal and Legislative Services, DBE, said the Department received ten legal cases in the last quarter. In two of the ten cases, no relief was sought against the Minister, and in four of the ten cases, the matters were defended on the basis the Minister was wrongly cited. The Minister was cited as a respondent by virtue of her being the Executive Authority for Basic Education, therefore she gets cited in almost every case which is instituted, even in the provinces. Adv Misser listed each of the ten cases filed against the Department and noted she would send the list to the Committee.

Deputy Minister Mhaule said there was no official immune to facing consequence management in the Department from the bottom level to the highest level, being the Deputy Minister and Minister.

Mr Rufus Poliah, Chief Director: National Assessments and Public Examinations, DBE, said both TIMSS and PIRLS were national studies. The schools selected, represented the country. A chosen school represented the performance of the schools of the country collectively. The feedback was not provided to individual schools, but the report was a national report and the statistics were broken down into provinces.

The power of both studies was, they provided a diagnostic report which looked at the released test items and how the country performed on those released items, which were internationally benchmarked. A detailed report on each of the items was then provided to each school to inform it of its areas of weakness, and provided proposals for remediation. The consent form copy for the most recent study, PIRLS 2021, could be provided to the Committee.

The Chairperson said when the Committee started working with the Department in 2019, it was performing at 61% and it was now performing at 100%, which was very good. She said this was something the Department should pride itself on and she congratulated the Department. She hoped when the quarterly reports are presented, this would be the performance level the Committee would continue seeing from the Department. She thanked the DBE and the Deputy Minister for being present at the meeting and for participating in the meeting.

Committee Minutes

The Committee considered and adopted the minutes dated 7 June 2022 with no amendments.

Deliberation on Mpumalanga Oversight

The Committee deliberated on its oversight visit to Mpumalanga province from 14 to 19 August 2022.

The Chairperson thanked the Members for attendance and participation in the meeting.

The meeting was adjourned.
 

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