The department of basic education has published the Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill for public comment.
The bill proposes a number of changes to the South African Schools Act and the Employment of Educators Act, to “align them with developments in the education landscape” and to ensure that “systems of learning and excellence in education are put in place in a manner which promotes and fulfills the right to basic education enshrined in the constitution”.
According to the bill’s explanatory memorandum, all provincial education departments were consulted on the draft bill, which was also presented to the Heads of Education Departments Committee and the Council of Education Ministers.
The department also briefed numerous organisations, such as school governing body associations and unions involved in the education sector.
These are some of the biggest changes the bill plans to introduce:
Harsh punishment for keeping kids from school
The bill seeks to increase the penalty from six months to six years in jail (or an equivalent fine) in the case where the parent of a learner, or any other person, prevents a learner who is subject to compulsory school attendance from attending school.
The clause also makes it an offence for any person to wilfully interrupt or disrupt any school activity or to wilfully hinder or obstruct any school in the performance of the school’s activities, and a penalty clause is provided for.
“This is necessitated by recent incidents, in several provinces, in which communities, or portions of communities, prevented learners from attending school in an attempt at making a political or other point,” states the bill.
Control over where you get to go to school
The head of department (HOD) now has the final authority to admit a learner to a public school.
It also provides that the governing body of a public school must submit the admission policy of the school, and any amendment thereof, to the HOD for approval.
The policy needs to be reviewed every three years or whenever the prescribed factors have changed, when circumstances so require, or at the request of the HOD.
These amendments have become necessary as a result of the confusion that arose as to where the locus of authority lies in respect of admissions to public schools, the bill said.
The school’s governing body is now required to submit the language policy of a public school to the HOD for approval.
The governing body must review the language policy every three years, or whenever the prescribed factors have changed, when circumstances so require, or at the request of the HOD.
The clause will also allow the the HOD to direct a public school to adopt more than one language of instruction, after taking certain prescribed factors into account, and after the prescribed procedures have been followed.
Various considerations including the best interests of the child, the interest of the community, and classroom space will be factored into the making of this decision.
What kids are learning
Clause 5 will empower the minister to appoint outside agencies or persons to advise the minister on matters relating to a national curriculum statement and a national process and procedures for the assessment of learner achievement.
This will allow the Minister to obtain inputs from a broader spectrum of people.
This goes hand in hand with a further amendment which will empower the HOD to centrally procure identified learning support material for public schools, after consultation with the governing body and on the basis of efficient, effective and economic utilisation of public funds or uniform norms and standards.
This amendment is proposed to bring about economies of scale.
Making room for diverse religions and cultures
Clause 6 provides that the code of conduct of a public school must take into account the diverse cultural beliefs and religious observances of the learners at the school and makes provision for an exemption clause, making it possible to exempt learners, upon application, from complying with the code of conduct if they show legitimate grounds.
If an application for exemption is refused, the learner or the parent of the learner may appeal to the HOD against the decision of the governing body.
The clause also provides for an informal process when dealing with disciplinary matters, and stipulates that the proceedings should adhere to the principles of justice, fairness and reasonableness prescribed by the Constitution.
Clamp down on alcohol
Clause 7 confirms the prohibition of liquor and prohibited substances on school premises.
It also makes it clear that a school has the right to search, not only a group of learners, but also an individual learner.
“This amendment is necessitated by the fact that learners have increasingly been found in possession of, or abusing, liquor and performance- enhancing substances, and there are many cases of learners being expelled because of such abuses,” the bill states.
Scrutinising governing bodies
A number of changes have been made to school’s governing bodies, including how they must be elected, who may be elected, budgets, and what powers the HOD has.
These changes have been made to prevent any abuses of the governing body system and prevent any members from using it as a “get rich quick” scheme.
It also confirms that governing body members may not be paid for their time, outside of legitimate reimbursements.
Clarity on home schooling
Currently, the legislation is silent on what is required of parents where they wish to home school learners in Grades 10 to 12.
The amendment makes provision for the parent of a learner who wishes to continue with home education after completing Grade 9 by making use of the services of a private or independent service provider to register for the National Senior Certificate with an independent or private assessment body.
The private or independent accredited service provider will ensure that the study material used for education at home will be of the required standard and at the correct level.
The examination that the learner will write through these providers at the end of Grade 12 will be set by the Department of Basic Education or the Independent Examination Board, and will be certified by Umalusi.
Furthermore, the HOD is authorised to cancel the learner’s registration for home education under certain circumstances and after due process has been followed.
You can read the full bill here.