New school rules for South Africa heading to Ramaphosa to be signed into law

 ·16 May 2024

The National Assembly has adopted and passed the amended Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill, sending it off to the desk of President Cyril Ramaphosa to be signed into law.

The NA passed the bill after it was adopted by the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education on Wednesday (15 May), accepting the amendments made at the National Council of Provinces.

The NCOP adopted the bill on Tuesday (14 May) after deferring the bill last week on a technicality.

The passed bill, the amended D-bill, was adopted by all provinces except the Western Cape.

Several key issues were raised in the processing of the bill by the provinces—particularly around language and admission policies—which led to further amendments to the laws by the Select Committee on Education and Technology, Sport, Arts and Culture.

This resulted in the D-bill, which has now been passed by the National Assembly and sent to Ramaphosa for assent.

Some of the major changes coming to schools in the D-Bill include:

  • Allowing schools to determine and develop their own language and admission policies, but giving the Department of Basic Education the final say;
  • Regulating various aspects of school governing bodies;
  • Making Grade R the new compulsory school-starting age;
  • Criminalising parents who do not ensure their children are in school;
  • Regulating home education;
  • Confirming the ban on corporal punishment.

Some of the biggest points of contention in the coming laws are the language and admission policies, which saw major opposition from school groups and opposition parties.

According to the DA, which has pushed back against the bill in all committee meetings and again in the National Assembly, minor amendments were made to the bill in an attempt to address this.

This change was to allow schools and school governing bodies to determine their own admission and language policies – but these still have to be submitted to the provincial heads of department (HODs) for approval.

Wording in the bill also lays out that HODs will have to make any changes in consultation with the schools and communities affected. However, they have the final authority to disapprove and change these policies.

“The BELA Bill persists in centralising power in the hands of unelected bureaucrats, undermining the critical role of parents, educators, and local governing bodies in shaping the educational landscape of their communities,” the DA said.

Other opponents to the bill, such as Union Solidarity, have already indicated possible legal action should the bill be signed into law.

The union said on Thursday that the adoption by the National Assembly was the start of a legal battle against the laws.

“We are now seeing the dawn of a tragic new era. This is capturing of schools. The newly amended BELA Bill leaves no doubt that the head of the Department of Basic Education has the final authority of language and admission,” it said.

Read: Government pushes through new school rules

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