New laws for schools in South Africa ready to take the next step

 ·12 Jun 2023

Parliament’s portfolio committee on basic education says it has concluded all the public consultations for the new Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill, and will now move on to processing the feedback to take the laws forward.

The committee has spent the past few months getting public feedback on the bill, which proposes controversial changes to South Africa’s school systems that will have wide-reaching consequences for parents, teachers and governing bodies alike.

Broadly, some of the key amendments that the bill aims to make include:

  • Making grade R the new compulsory school starting age, as opposed to grade 1, as is currently the case.
  • Forcing homeschooled learners to be registered for this type of schooling.
  • Criminalising parents who do not ensure their child or children are in school, with fines or jail time up to 12 months.
  • Holding school governing bodies more accountable for disclosures of financial interests – including those related to their spouses and family members.
  • Prohibiting educators from conducting business with the state or being a director of public or private companies conducting business with the state
  • Abolishing corporal punishment and initiation/hazing practices.
  • Allowing schools to sell alcohol outside of school hours.
  • Giving government department heads power over language policies and the curriculums a school must adopt.

The final consultations took place in the Eastern Cape, where the feedback received matched most of the divisive views seen in other parts of the country.

Several key changes have emerged as lightning rods for debate and contrary views – including language policies, regulations around homeschooling, and centralising control over schools within government, away from school governing bodies.

However, other proposals have found consensus among the public – in either being completely rejected or embraced.

One proposal that has found strong support among the public is the formalisation of pre-schooling – known as Grade R – into the school system. Parents and communities generally support having Grade R become a compulsory part of schooling in the country, even though questions around funding, admin and capacity remain.

On the other side of the spectrum, the proposal to allow schools to sell alcohol outside of school hours – like at evening events etc. – has found no support among the public. This proposal has been widely rejected, with many questioning how it would even work given the current legal framework and drive to get liquor as far away from schools as possible.

The Eastern Cape generally held the same divided positions on other proposals as seen in the other provinces.

There is support for school governing bodies to be supported by the government, but worries over giving the government too much control – particularly around language policies.

While registering and formalising homeschooling is important to ensure that quality and monitoring takes place, concerns linger that additional admin and bureaucracy will kill parent choice in how to educate their children.

Given the divided feedback from every province over the consultation period, it is clear that the bill, in its current form, needs a lot of work and is unlikely to pass.

The committee said that now that the public participation process has been concluded, it will consider all the submissions made and proceed with its processes to consider the bill.

“We will now compile an inclusive report on all the public participation processes, including the oral presentations made by organisations and oral and written submissions made during the provincial hearings,” it said.

“We are satisfied with the quality of inputs made, and we are certain that they will guide the committee as it considers the bill.”

The feedback from the public will be compiled and presented in a similar manner as the stakeholder consultations and presentations in 2022. This review clearly outlined the proposals rejected, approved, or partially accepted by various stakeholders and industry bodies.

The full review of this feedback can be read here: Big changes for schools in South Africa – these are the laws being accepted and rejected.

Read: Big storm brewing over home schools and language policies in South Africa

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