The Gauteng department of education has had to strengthen its controls to avoid manipulation of its online admission application system. This is allegedly one of the reasons the system has opened later than in previous years.
Since its inception in 2016, the online application system for grades 1 and 8 opened in April or June. However, Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi has waited until today to announce when applications for next year will open.
According to a statement released on Tuesday by the provincial department of education, he will also announce changes and improvements to the 2022 online admission process.
City Press understands that the changes include a new way of applying for pupils starting Grade 8.
The department launched the online admission system in 2015. It was set up to prevent parents from having to stand in snaking queues outside schools from the crack of dawn to apply for places for their children.
However, since its inception, the system has experienced challenges, causing frustrated parents to congregate at the department’s district offices seeking explanations for their children’s late placements or to protest about their placement in schools not of their choice.
City Press has learnt that some school principals and district officials were manipulating gaps in the system to place their own children, or those of friends and relatives, in schools.
In the process, they were using spaces reserved for other pupils who had applied on time.
An informed source told City Press that the department needed to ensure it had resolved these problems before it opened admissions for next year.
He said schools would block applications and lie that no more spaces were available so that those applications were redirected elsewhere – enabling the schools to admit their preferred applicants instead.
“Even if you applied late, if you had a family member working at the school or knew someone there, your child would be admitted. So the system was manipulated. The department said it wanted to deal with all the loopholes it identified last year before reopening the process.”
He alleged that it was not only principals and other staff who manipulated the system, but also district officials.
Another individual who works closely with the department said he had been able to get pupils into schools that had already been declared full – and had realised that the schools had lied.
“There were different things that people were starting to undermine because the system was starting to mature and people could pick up where there were gaps. Now the department’s trying to close those gaps,” he said.
However, Gauteng department of education spokesperson Steve Mabona denied that the system had been manipulated, saying only that, since its inception, the department had been attempting to enhance it for optimum efficacy.
He also said the online admissions process was not running as late as was “perceived”.
“We wish to reiterate that our main challenge is capacity, rather than the system itself. We normally receive more applications than space allocations at our schools during the application period.
“The assertion that there are shortcomings in the system, and alleged manipulation of it by our officials, is unfounded,” said Mabona.
DA Gauteng spokesperson for education, Khume Ramulifho, said that, since earlier this year, the party had been calling for the admission system to open to ensure that pupils were placed in schools before the start of the academic year.
He said that if the process began early, it would help parents plan properly and give them a chance to appeal if their children had not been allocated to their schools of choice.
This year alone, the department only placed some pupils in March – a month after schools had reopened.
Meanwhile, parents waiting to apply to schools for placement of their children said they had been left frustrated and anxious by the department’s silence regarding when the online application system would open.
Two parents whose children are starting Grade 8 next year told City Press that they had been visiting the department’s website every week since May to check whether the system was open for applications.
A father on the West Rand said he had regularly visited the websites of the two schools he was applying to for his son, but all he had found was a message that the system was not yet open.
“It’s just been a mess, especially because they haven’t been communicating with us. And financially, I might suffer. If I don’t get my son into that R4 000-per-month school I’m eyeing, I’ll have to take him to a more expensive one – and I don’t have the money for that. We’d have more time to find a suitable school if they opened the admission system now,” he said.
A mother in Soweto said she went on to the website every second day.
“There’s also the anxiety that we might end up settling for a school that we don’t want because the schools will also be under pressure, so they won’t be doing proper investigations of where a child lives. They might not even consider the work address of parents, because we now work from home.
“They might not put too much effort into looking at our application. They’ll probably just note that the address is somewhere in Soweto and then [trash the application form],” she said.
CHANGES TO THE SYSTEM
A person close to the department said the changes it would be introducing today would include the way pupils who need to begin Grade 8 would apply.
He said these pupils would no longer have to go through any tedious processes. Instead, the information pertaining to them would be uploaded into the admission system and parents would simply have to accept or decline the offer of a specific school.
He said the department already had information about pupils who were in Grade 7, including their report cards and profiles, and all it would now be doing was moving those pupils’ files to schools within reach of their homes.
Gauteng’s deputy provincial manager of the Federation of Governing Bodies of SA Schools, Riaan van der Bergh, told City Press that governing body associations had met with the provincial department of education last week, when they were also informed of the changes to the system.
He said the meeting had taken place after “months of silence” about what was happening with online applications.
At the meeting, he said, the department was not “100% clear” about the reason it had delayed opening the online admission application system. However, it had said that it wanted to make changes to the administration of the process and was only awaiting a final sign-off on those amendments.
Van der Bergh also confirmed that the changes included the way pupils who were moving up into Grade 8 would apply for space at a school.