Media Release
Minister of Education Donald Grant
Western Cape

15 October, 2012

School closures: Minister Grant to announce plans to improve education opportunities for learners.

Statement by Minister Donald Grant, Minister of Education, Western Cape

As the Government of the Western Cape we want to improve the education opportunities of all our children.

Tomorrow I will present a plan aimed at improving the lives of over 4 000 learners in this province. This includes measures to enhance the quality of education at some schools and to transfer learners to other schools that are better equipped to provide a quality education.

The plan has been developed to accommodate the needs and improve the lives of learners at schools that were identified and recommended to me by the Western Cape Education Department for possible closure.

The Department identified the schools for a number of different reasons, all of which can impact negatively on learner outcomes. These reasons include, for example:

  • dwindling learner numbers;
  • multi-grade teaching;
  • high drop-out rates; and
  • unsuitable schooling facilities.

The plans and proposals brought to me by the Department in respect of each of the schools, together with the many representations I received from the governing bodies of the schools concerned and members of the public, have been essential in helping me to decide whether or not to close the schools and what would be in the best interests of the learners concerned.

This has not been an easy process. I have had to make some very difficult decisions, but I am convinced that these decisions are in the best interests of all the learners concerned.

The process

During the course of this year, the Western Cape Education Department and the Ministry have carefully followed the processes and procedures prescribed by the South African Schools Act and other applicable legislation when considering each of the schools for possible closure.

This has included giving the relevant school governing bodies the opportunity to make representations to me in relation to the possible closures, as well as public hearings at which members of the various school communities and other parties had an opportunity to have their say.

To ensure that members of the public had every opportunity to share their views on the proposed school closures with me, I went beyond the prescribed public participation process and issued a public call to every learner, parent, teacher and community member who had an opinion on the possible school closures to share these with me.

As Minister, I received all representations and submissions made during the public participation processes and carefully considered these together with all the arguments for and against the continued operation of each of the schools.

I would like to thank everyone for participating in this process and can assure you that your voices have been heard.

Included in the representations received were some very powerful arguments both for and against the closure of particular schools. I have carefully considered these arguments and have allowed them to shape my final decisions where they support the best interests of the learners.

For example, the issue of learner safety was raised in the case of some schools. This is an issue which this Government takes seriously and which has ultimately influenced my decision with regard to the closure of particular schools.

I have, throughout this whole process, been determined to consider the Department's past role in assisting and supporting each school, questioning whether the Department has done enough to assist each school in improving the factors that ultimately have led to them being considered for closure.

After taking into consideration each and every representation made to me by schools, their communities, civil society groups and the Department, I gave careful consideration to the placement plans developed by the Department for each of the schools concerned.

While the final decision to close a school rests with me, the role of the Department in preparing for tomorrow's announcement has been immense and has played a pivotal role, amongst others, in allowing me to feel confident and excited about my final decision.

The placement plans are essential in determining whether a school closure will benefit all the learners concerned. The placement plans developed by the Department have assisted me to determine the following:

  1. Should I decide to close a school, would the learners be placed in schools that are better equipped to provide quality education?
  2. Should I decide not to close a school, what plans would be in place to address the reasons behind the Department's recommendation for closure in the first place?

In arriving at a final decision in each case, I have carefully considered a number of operational factors that impact on the opportunities available to learners should their schools close. These factors include:

  • the availability of alternative schooling;
  • learner transport;
  • school fees;
  • the cost of buying new school uniforms; and
  • the availability of alternative posts for employees of the Department (including educators and support staff).

Over and above this, I interrogated the Department's plans to support schools should I decide not to close them. In other words, I have determined in each case what can be done to address the very concerns that prompted the Department to recommend each school for possible closure.

This has required me to examine each of the school's prospects for future sustainability, and what plans and measures would be implemented should I choose not to close a school. How would the Department contribute to improving learner attendance, performance and the school environment at the schools?

These are also factors that have influenced my final decision.

Any decision I have made has been made with restraint, has been informed and is ultimately guided by what is in the best interests of these learners.

I am confident that my final decision in each case will ultimately improve opportunities for the learners concerned.

Moving forward

With regards to the schools that are to be closed, the Department has customised a draft plan for each school which includes the following:

  • the placement of learners at alternative schools;
  • the placement of educators and support staff at alternative schools;
  • the provision of learner transport (where required);
  • the provision of new school uniforms; and
  • making provision for school fees where learners move from a no-fee school to a fee-paying school.

These will be finalized in consultation with the schools concerned.

Each decision to close a school has been carefully considered and I believe that - together with the placement plans developed by the Department - the outcome of the entire school closure process will benefit each learner from the affected schools.

In finalising my decisions, I have been mindful of the timing and logistics involved in any school closure and am confident that the Department's plans, which have been prepared timeously in advance, will ensure the smooth transition of learners and educators to their new schools for the 2013 school year.

I am also pleased with the Western Cape Education Department's proposals to assist and support schools that will not face closure so as to improve the lives of those learners who are currently attending those schools.

In some cases we will need to address infrastructure concerns and help support the school in improving their learner enrolment numbers. In other cases, academic support and assistance will be needed to help improve the academic performance of the schools concerned or provide them with better resources to deliver the full curriculum. Our aim is to ensure that the lives of the learners will be improved because of this process.

I am fully aware that, in some cases, communities may be upset with my decision to close their school given the historical and cultural significance that these schools have in their respective communities. I am mindful of this, but am equally mindful of what is in the best interests of the learners concerned. As the Provincial Minister of Education, it is incumbent upon me to ensure that wherever possible this Government improves opportunities for all learners.

We strongly encourage each affected parent or community member to read the plan for their affected school carefully so they understand fully how it will benefit their child or children.

During the last few months, I have been deeply disturbed by attempts to hijack this issue for cheap, political gain, when we are talking about improving opportunities for children.

The facts simply speak for themselves. School closures are not unique to the Western Cape. Provincial governments across the country have closed thousands of public schools to date, many of which affected children in the poorest of communities.

For instance, the Sunday Times has reported that since 2000 provincial governments across the country have closed down more than 1100 schools in the Free State, more than 640 schools in North West, more than 590 schools in the Eastern Cape, approximately 215 schools in Mpumalanga, more than 110 schools in the Northern Cape and more than 170 schools in Limpopo.

Improving the opportunities of learners is not about winning votes - it is about what is in our children's best interests and how we can improve their life chances.

It is about prioritising the needs of learners, not ignoring them.

It is about creating opportunities, not blocking them.

School closures are a common occurrence yearly throughout the country and internationally. They are part of any provincial department's education strategy when re-evaluating and assessing the size, shape and needs of their education system.

Many educationalists would agree that closing a school is sometimes a necessary step in improving an education system.

In saying that, many educationalists would also agree that a decision to close a school should be made with restraint taking into consideration every possible position and only after following proper procedure - procedure that was developed and passed by the national government.

In the case of these schools, we have done exactly that and I believe we have made the right decisions.

Like many people in this province, I want the best for our children.

And that's why we are building new schools, expanding and replacing existing schools and even closing schools if there is a better alternative available for a child.

Our children deserve nothing less than what it takes to provide them with quality education and with it the opportunities to make the most of their lives.

(Details on the time and venue of the announcement will be made later today)

For enquiries, contact Bronagh Casey:  021 467 2377 or bronagh.casey@westerncape.gov.za.


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2012 Western Cape Education Department