School closures: summary of key points
- The aim of school closures is to improve opportunities for learners by placing them in schools better equipped to provide a quality education.
- At the start of the 2012 school year, the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) identified 27 schools for possible closure. The WCED recommended that the Provincial Minister of Education consider these for possible closure at the end of 2012.
- Minister Grant, as the Provincial Minister of Education, accepted these recommendations and initiated the school closure process set out in section 33 of the SA Schools Act. This process requires the Provincial Minister of Education to do the following before he may close a public school:
- Inform the governing body of the school that he intends to consider the school for possible closure and provide reasons therefore
- Grant the governing body of the school an opportunity to make representations in relation to the possible closure
- Hold a public hearing upon reasonable notice at which the community are free to make representations in relation to the possible closure
- Carefully consider all representations made
- Minister Grant followed this process and complied with the relevant provisions of the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act before making his final decision in each case.
- Minister Grant went beyond the prescribed public participation process and called on anyone with an opinion on the possible closures to make representations to him.
- Included in the representations received were some very powerful arguments both for and against the closure of particular schools. Minister Grant carefully considered these arguments and allowed them to shape his final decisions where they supported the best interests of the learners.
Summary of decisions
- After considering each and every representation made to him, Minister Grant decided to close 20 of the 27 schools. Each decision made by Minister Grant was made with restraint, and was informed and ultimately guided by what is in the best interests of the learners.
- Included below is a summary of the decisions made by Minister Grant in this regard:
- Of the 20 schools that will close, 16 are in rural education districts and 4 are in urban education districts.
- Fifteen of the schools (75%) are small farm schools in rural education districts with learner enrolments ranging from 7 to 87, and with an average enrolment of 41.
- Schools in rural education districts: The learners at the rural schools typically attend multi-grade classes, with children in several grades in the same class. The WCED plans to place these learners in schools that provide access to single-grade classes, better facilities, extramural activities and team sports, and to schools that provide better literacy and numeracy development opportunities.
- Schools in urban education districts: Of the 4 schools in urban districts that will close, 3 are primary schools and the other is a high school. The primary schools have experienced a decline in learner numbers where the learners can attend nearby schools. The placement schools offer better facilities and achieve better literacy and numeracy results. The high school has been severely vandalised and is no longer suitable for learners. This impacts on the ability of the school to retain learners. The receiving school can accommodate the learners in safer and better facilities and offers a greater chance of success.
- Minister Grant has stressed that parents of learners at schools that will close do not have to worry about enrolment for the 2013 school year. The WCED is currently working with the relevant schools to accommodate their child/children.
- Some important factors of the plan include the following:
- The WCED respects and follows its responsibilities to its employees - both teaching and administrative. Where the Provincial Minister of Education closes a school, the WCED will, after consultation, make suitable placement arrangements wherever possible for all educators and support staff employed by the WCED. WCED employees will generally follow the learners concerned. Where this is not possible, for whatever reason, the WCED will make alternative arrangements for the employees concerned.
- Where during the public participation process communities expressed their concerns regarding learner safety in areas experiencing high levels of gang activity and/or learner safety in relation to dangerous roads, Minister Grant noted these concerns and will raise them with his colleagues in the Ministry of Community Safety and the Ministry of Transport and Public Works to determine what can be done to address these concerns.
- Where necessary and possible, the WCED will provide the following where learners are required to move to a new school:
- School uniforms
- Learner transport within the parameters of the WCED's existing policy
- School feeding
- Where necessary and possible, the WCED will cover the school fees payable for the 2013 school year for learners who are required to move from a no-fee school to a fee-paying school or a school at which higher school fees are payable. Where necessary, the WCED will also assist parents to apply for fee exemptions for future years.
- 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, attempts have been made to hijack this issue for cheap, political gain. 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.
- 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.
- Minister Grant has followed a legally and educationally sound process in making his final decisions. He is confident that his final decisions will improve opportunities for the learners concerned.