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Placement challenges in Western Cape schools

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By Lee-Yandra Paulsen

The Western Cape Department of Education (WCED) recently reminded parents that they have until mid-June to confirm placements for their children entering Grade 8 next year. This follows rising concerns and criticisms regarding the placement and accommodation of learners in the province.

Criticisms from Parents for Equal Education South Africa

Founder of Parents for Equal Education South Africa, Vanessa le Roux, voiced her concerns during an interview on VOC Breakfast, on Thursday. She highlighted multiple issues contributing to the ongoing crisis in learner placements, stating, “In the Western Cape, we are not just facing one crisis. Placement issues have been escalating yearly. Termination of teacher contracts is a significant factor, with some principals reporting a loss of up to 35 teachers in their circuits.”

Le Roux illustrated the impact of teacher shortages by comparing it to closing a school in each circuit, estimating that with an average class size of 40 learners, the reduction in teaching staff significantly disrupts student education. She argued that the WCED’s claim of late applications causing placement issues is misleading, asserting that parents often apply to multiple schools, only to find their children rejected due to insufficient school capacity.

Additionally, Le Roux criticized the WCED’s approach to budget management. “The department didn’t face budget cuts; they returned money to the treasury. This disproportionately affects schools in poorer communities. We shouldn’t settle for the Rapid Build Programme, which uses mobile classrooms and is unsafe for our children,” she remarked.

Le Roux also pointed out the disparity in public support, drawing a parallel with international solidarity movements. “When I see marches for Palestine, I am jealous because, on the Cape Flats, our children are also suffering. Where are these people when our children need their support?” she questioned, urging the community to advocate for local education issues with the same vigour.

 

WCED’s response to the allegations

In response to these claims, the WCED Acting Head of Ministry, Kerry Mauchline, addressed the concerns about school infrastructure, teacher contracts, and budget cuts.

Infrastructure and school expansion efforts

Mauchline acknowledged the pressure on the education system due to the annual influx of 19,000 new learners but emphasized the department’s efforts to expand capacity. “Since 2019, we’ve built 35 new schools, 15 replacement schools, and added 1,312 classrooms to existing schools despite severe underfunding by the national government. Our Rapid School Build programme allows us to construct new schools faster in high-demand areas,” she explained.

She highlighted the importance of timely applications for effective planning and resource allocation, noting, “Last year, we placed 99.4% of applicants by year-end. However, we received nearly 4,000 additional applications well after the deadline, making it challenging to accommodate these late arrivals.”

Teacher contract and staffing issues

Addressing the issue of terminated teacher contracts, Mauchline clarified, “No teachers or teaching posts have been terminated. The department has supported schools with over 900 temporary appointments to fill vacancies and expedited the appointment process with special vacancy lists. This year alone, 1,600 permanent posts have been advertised.”

Budget management and financial constraints

On the topic of budget management, Mauchline refuted claims of returning funds to the treasury. “The National Government implemented significant in-year budget cuts for all provincial education departments last year, which cannot be disputed. Although our budget saw a marginal increase, it does not cover the rising costs, leading to a budget deficit. We spent 99.9% of our budget, and any claims of underspending or returned funds are factually incorrect,” she stated.

VOC News

Photo: Pixabay


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