Big changes are coming to SA schools in 2017 – starting with language policies

The department of education has instructed two Afrikaans schools to change their language policies, following a landmark 2016 Constitutional Court decision which will limit school governing boards’ control over policies, admissions, fees and dress codes.

Pretoria-based Overkruin and Montana High Schools have issued urgent interdicts against Gauteng’s Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi, following proposed changes to their language policies.

The two schools which currently teach in Afrikaans have reportedly been instructed by the Department of Education to accommodate more English speaking pupils.

With government schools opening for the new year, these are thought to be the first in a line of opening salvos as the Education Department plans to bring government schools around the country to be more in line with national interests as provided for by a recent Constitutional Court decision.

School governing boards and provincial education have often found themselves at loggerheads, leading to protracted and expensive litigation.

The Con Court decision handed down in FEDSAS v Member of the Executive Council for Education in 2016 hoped to alleviate this, with the court finding that provincial education departments would have the authority to exercise reasonable control over admissions and capacity in public schools.

The ruling emphasised that schools are public assets and must be used to ensure that all children are afforded access to education.

“[Public] schools are not rarefied spaces only for the bright, well-mannered and financially well-heeled learners. They are public assets which must advance not only the parochial interest of its immediate learners but may, by law, also be required to help achieve universal and non-discriminatory access to education,” the ruling said.

While it’s believed that the government will focus primarily on language and equality changes, other changes they could influence (which previously were solely presided over by school governing boards ) include:

  • The setting of compulsory fees,
  • Lease, burden or alter immovable public property,
  • Hiring additional teachers,
  • Permitting business activity on their premises,
  • Admissions criteria, and
  • Dress code.

Discriminatory policies at South African schools were thrust into the spotlight in 2016, when girls at Pretoria girls school protested hair policies which banned ‘natural’ hair. The protests drew the attention of the Gauteng department of education which, after an investigation, found the school’s policies to be intrinsically racist.

The school has since changed its hair policies, allowing for learners to wear their hair in what they deem their natural state.

Other investigations done by the education department have found that a number of schools hold discriminatory policies, which including penalising learners who speak African languages on campus.

In 2016, Lesufi stated that tackling schools on its racist and discriminatory policies would be a priority for his department in 2017.

Read: These are the 20 most expensive schools in South Africa in 2017

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Big changes are coming to SA schools in 2017 – starting with language policies