Local schools have hit back at plans by the government to increase class sizes and remove their ability to appoint staff and control their finances.Representatives of school governing bodies (SGBs) at Maritzburg College, Longmarket Girls’ School, Girls’ High School, Alexandra High School, as well as some of the feeder primary schools in the city, held an urgent meeting with the Governing Body Foundation to express their concerns about proposed amendments to the South African Schools Act (1996).These include:• making changes to admission criteria, which would give the minister for Basic Education the power to make schools accept more pupils;• giving Education officials more power over the appointment of staff at public schools, especially those in senior positions, principals and deputy principals; and• requiring SGBs to submit detailed financial statements to the department on a quarterly basis.Dr Anthea Cereseto, chief executive officer for the Governing Body Foundation, said the prospect of larger class sizes may have to be accepted by schools, whether or not they have invested resources in building extra classrooms and employing more teachers to ensure good pupil-to-teacher ratios. But, it’s not something school governing bodies are willing to accept.Kavith Harillall, a member of the Longmarket Girls’ School SGB, said parents who pay extra money in school fees have the right to have a say in their children’s education. “We currently help sort out the facilities and bring in extra teachers to improve pupil/teacher ratios, and we pay extra to be able to do this,” he added.Doug Mundell, acting chairperson of the Maritzburg College SGB, said that while amendments to the Act were helpful to around 90% of the government schools in the country who don’t have the benefit of proactive SGBs, they could have a hugely negative effect on schools who do have effective SGBs and a committed parent body.“We are at a T-junction and if we don’t make the right decision now, it could damage the system so much that it could take years to recover, if ever.“We want to protect education because that is where the future of our country lies, we need to work together to find solutions.”Hector Molale, chairperson of the GHS school governing body, says there is no evidence that SGBs have failed in all 25 000 public schools countrywide. “Taking away authority from the SGB to appoint management staff such as HoDs or principals diminishes their role tremendously,” he added.“At the same time it begs the question whether appointment of senior management is more important than, say, level one teachers, hence the demotion of SGBs.“Participation in SGBs is likely to diminish as less authority and accountability will discourage those wanting to contribute to school development. Schools will not be better served. Period.“Having been a chairman of one SGB or the other for over 10 years, my observation is that successful SGBs are not a result of the school being well resourced, but of willing and able parents, strong governance systems and above all a strong chairman and executive committee and other SGB members playing a strong oversight role.”Changes ‘to strengthen governance’Responding to questions from Weekend Witness, Elijah Mhlanga, the spokesperson for the Department of Basic Education, said the proposed changes were being made to strengthen governance in schools.“The intention is to close gaps that have existed resulting in all sorts of malpractices taking place. Generally change makes people uncomfortable but it is for a good reason,” he added.“The government has a responsibility to look after all the schools to address the historical factors that have led to current inequalities.”Mhlanga said that the amended bill was the result of a process which started three years ago.“A team considered all the inputs from South Africans who submitted input. It took the task team 18 months to go through all the inputs from members of the public.“This is not the start of the process but the final phases and of course Parliament will have its own phase of public participation.”Both the Governing Board Foundation and SGBs hope that Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga, who met with members of the foundation this week, will reconsider some of the amendments. Molale said they all wanted to find “sensible outcomes” that would strengthen both education and school governance.Mundell agreed, saying that College was keen to find a positive way forward and was happy to work in collaboration with other public schools in the Maritzburg and KZN Midlands to ensure that all children benefited from an improved education system.