New laws for schools in South Africa – big changes for homeschooling and language policies move ahead

 ·26 Sep 2023

The Portfolio Committee on Basic Education has adopted the controversial Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill, with the Bill now being sent to the National Assembly.

The Bill has been more than two decades in the making but faced mixed responses from politicians and the public.

Some of the Bill’s proposals include:

  • Grade R is the new compulsory school-starting age,

  • Penalties for parents who do not ensure that their children are in school,

  • Confirmation that corporal punishment is no longer allowed at schools with penalties for those found guilty of such offences,

  • Governing bodies must submit the language policy of a public school and any amendment thereof to the Head of the Department for approval. The language policy must also take into consideration the language needs of the broader community,

  • The Head of Department, after consultation with the governing body of the school, has the final authority to admit a learner to a public school.

Regarding homeschooling, some of the proposed amendments were partially agreed to. The amendment will allow for the Head of Department to, when considering an application, send an official to conduct a pre-registration visit.

If the parents do not agree to such visits at their homes, the site visits can happen at any place a choice.

A report at the end of each phase will also need a qualified educator to review the learner’s competency.

Some other proposals have not made their way through, especially the amendment regarding the sale of alcohol on school premises after hours during functions. This proposal was met with vehement opposition during the Bill’s public participation process.

The proposed amendment regarding members of a governing body that must disclose on an annual basis all their financial interests and the financial interests of their spouse, partner and immediate family members was also scrapped after not receiving support and being deemed too administratively complicated

According to Committee Chairperson Bongiwe Mbinqo-Gigaba, the Bill received support from most members of the committee, whilst three members voted against the adoption of the Bill.

“In some instances, all members of the committee agreed that certain proposed amendments did not belong in the Bill and ensured that it was removed,” the chairperson said.

“In other instances, the committee vigorously debated clauses which saw the majority of members of the committee agreeing to retention of such clauses. This is all to ensure that we better the education landscape of the next generation.”

“The committee held extensive public hearings across the country, we heard oral submissions in Parliament from stakeholders and thousands of written submissions were considered when debating and drafting this legislation.”

The Bill and the report of the committee will now be referred to the National Assembly for debate and consideration.

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