The race to place pupils in schools

Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi says that unplaced pupils will have a school before the end of this month. Photo: Rosetta Msimango
Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi says that unplaced pupils will have a school before the end of this month. Photo: Rosetta Msimango


Provincial education departments are racing against time to ensure that they place pupils in schools before the end of the first term.

Inland schools opened this week and those on the coast will follow suit on Wednesday.

Some inland provinces (Gauteng and the Free State) still need to find spaces for pupils, while coastal provinces such as the Northern Cape are confident that, come Wednesday, all children will have been placed.

On Thursday, the Gauteng education department said there were fewer than 590 pupils in grades 1 and 8 who still needed to be placed in schools in the province.

On Wednesday, Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi said the department was working on having all unplaced pupils in class by the end of the month.

This week, as has been the case every year since the launch of the online application system in 2015, parents formed snaking queues outside district offices to enquire about the placement of their children.

Some of the parents alleged that they applied in time but had not received a response, while others rejected the schools their children were placed in, claiming that they were far and saying they wanted their children to be placed in neighbourhoods where they resided.

“We are aware that our district offices are pressured, with parents who seek assistance on late applications and those who are unhappy with schools they were offered.” Lesufi on Thursday said: 

Our officials are working tirelessly to assist all parents. We also appeal to the public not to threaten officials with violence; it is really unfair to them.

Joining Gauteng last year, the Northern Cape launched its online admissions system for grades R, 1 and 8.

Northern Cape education spokesperson Geoffrey van der Merwe said that the online admission system received 22 585 applications and that all the pupils had been placed.

However, he said that the department had received 1 214 appeals from parents who were requesting alternative placement for their children.

“Only 57 appeals were deemed substantive, during which the placement criteria were met for the school applied to. The school placements of pupils whose parents have not applied timeously remains the biggest challenge, as it creates delays in terms of the placement of these pupils.

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The department established district admission operation centres to deal with all admission challenges and queries. The department is finalising outstanding appeals before schools commence on January 19,” said Van der Merwe.

Western Cape education spokesperson Bronagh Hammond said the province was yet to place 575 Grade 1 pupils and 3 014 Grade 8 pupils.

She said there were also more than 1 000 pupils in other grades who were enrolled at other schools, but their parents had requested that they be placed in schools of their choice or were seeking a transfer.

READ: Angry parent slams Gauteng education for ‘incompetence’

“While we celebrate a reduction in numbers, we are also fighting a moving target, given that every day we are receiving more late applications of pupils who did not apply last year within the allocated enrolment period.

“More than 32 000 late applications have been received, which makes planning very difficult. We will continue to endeavour to assist all parents and ask for their patience. Metro north, south and east remain the biggest challenges,” Hammond said, adding that the department was still receiving late applications.

Other provincial departments are battling with placing pupils in schools in time, and have also said that late applications are their biggest headache.

Hammond appealed to parents to answer phone calls from the department when it calls with an offer of placement.

She said: 

We are still finding that parents are uncontactable when we want to offer places. If your contact details have changed, please notify your district office immediately.

Basic Education department deputy director-general responsible for provincial monitoring and oversight Simone Geyer told a briefing this week that late applications and parents ignoring the closing dates for application were a challenge for the sector when it came to admissions.

Geyer said the tension between the rights of school governing bodies to determine the admissions policy in terms of the SA Schools Act and the right of parents to access education for their children at schools of their choice was also a challenge for the sector when it came to placing pupils.

She said that, in provinces where pupils were admitted on a first-come, first-served basis, disadvantaged locals who did not apply in time later had challenges with placement.

In the Free State, 1 956 pupils still needed to be placed.

Free State education spokesperson Howard Ndaba said the towns that faced the greatest challenge with placing pupils were Kroonstad, Bethlehem, Bloemfontein, Welkom and Sasolburg.

Ndaba said informal settlements that spring up around established communities make it difficult to predict expected numbers of pupils ahead of a new school year.

He said these were prevalent in Bloemfontein and Welkom.


Bongekile Macupe  

Senior Education Journalist

+27 11 713 9001
69 Kingsway Rd, Auckland Park
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