Dear Minister, 11 000 SA children with disabilities are not in school

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This week, the Department of Basic Education (DBE) met with the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education to check in on the Department's progress in the implementation of inclusive education.

Progress has been made, but a lot more still needs to be done to meet the Screening, Identification, Assessment and Support (SIAS) policy deadline of 2019, plus government's commitment to see no children with disabilities out of school by 2021.

What is inclusive education?

"Inclusive education recognises the right of ALL children to feel welcomed into a supportive education environment in their own community," explains Laetitia Brummer, on the IESA info sheet to parents. "It refers to the capacity of ordinary schools and ECD centres to respond to the needs of ALL learners, including those who need additional support because of learning or physical disabilities, social disadvantage, cultural difference or other barriers to learning."  

What is the SIAS policy?

The Screening, Identification, Assessment and Support (SIAS) policy was adopted by the DBE back in 2014 and aims to standardise the procedures all schools and districts must follow to support all children to learn. Read more about SIAS here.

During stage 1, each child is screened and any concerns noted in their Learner Profile.

Stage 2 kicks in when the child is not progressing as expected for their age. The teacher tries a range of strategies to support the learner, using the Support Needs Assessment 1 (SNA 1) form to guide and record the process. Support can include anything from occupational therapy to braille writers, enlarged print, extra time, wheelchair ramps, or curriculum differentiation, meaning the teacher adapts lessons, assessments and so on to help the child to develop to his potential.

Should the teacher feel the child has additional support needs, the School Based Support Team (SBST) should be approached for advice. They will, with the parent and teacher, develop an Individual Support Plan for the learner (form SNA 2). 

Stage 3 is reached when support given to the learner at school level does not meet the learner’s support needs. The SBST approaches the District Based Support Team (DBST) for support (guided by and recorded on the SNA 3 form).

If these interventions fail, the child will be placed in a Special School.

The report's shortcomings

In response to the Department's feedback this week, Inclusive Education South Africa (IESA) and Right to Education for Children with Disabilities Alliance (R2ECWD) issued a statement.

"While we would like to thank the Department of Basic Education (DBE) for their considered response to the civil society report on the Government of South Africa’s implementation of inclusive education, the DBE’s 2016/17 report falls short of reporting on certain drastic measures," says Robyn Beere, director of IESA. 

Key issues that the DBE does not report on are:

  • Progress in the funding and budgets for inclusive education, other than that for Special Schools and the education of learners with Severe and Profound Intellectual Disability;
  • The quality and functioning of full service and ordinary schools;
  • The quality, cost, safety and accessibility of transport for learners with disabilities and the number of learners who are out of school.
  • The quality of implementation and training of teachers.

These issues that need urgent intervention:

1. Waiting lists 

Beere points out that the February 2016 DBE Report on the Implementation of Inclusive Education indicated that 5 552 children with disabilities were on Special School waiting lists.

The DBE statistics for 2017 indicate that 11 461 children with disabilities are on waiting lists.

"This increase of 300% points is either due to continued inaccuracies in data collection or a downturn in the Department’s ability to provide access to education for children with disabilities," she says.

2. Funding

"While the conditional grant of R477 million for Children with Severe and Profound Intellectual Disability (CSPID) is welcomed, it is as the result of a court case finding against the DBE, not as a result of improved funding efforts for inclusive education," Beere points out.

"None of the Special Schools have been declared no-fee schools, leaving the burden of costs to parents."

Beere highlights that the DBE makes reference to "rigorous quarterly monitoring on inclusive education budgets", but these are not separate to budgets for Special Schools. "No disaggregation of expenditure for the expansion of inclusive education as distinct from funding for special education is available, and it is therefore impossible to monitor spending and accountability for inclusive education."

3. Appropriate training of educators

Beere continues: "While the orientation of 29 000 educators is welcomed, this equates to educators from only 14.5% of all public schools having received orientation to SIAS and differentiation. The DBE has not accounted for how the remaining 85.5% of schools will be trained before their SIAS implementation deadline of 2019."

4. Transport for special-needs learners

Another criticism against the report is that it points out the number of buses provided for transport, but does not indicate whether this is sufficient to meet the numbers of learners who require transport, she says.

It also doesn't report on the quality and safety of the transport or whether the transport is adapted to the needs of learners making use of it.

5. Hostels

The DBE reports on the numbers of learners accessing Special School (SS) hostels. "This data is absolutely meaningless on its own," says Beere. "It does not show whether or not the hostel accommodation is sufficient for the numbers of learners requiring accommodation.

"Nor does it indicate the level of care children receive, adequacy of facilities or training of staff. It also does not address the critical absence of post provisioning norms and standards for Special School hostels, which remain chronically understaffed and unable to adequately care for learners," she continues.

6. Special Schools (SS)

Beere acknowledges and applauds the increase in the number of Special Schools that have been capacitated to act as Special School Resource Centres, from 89 the year before to 108 in 2017.

7. Full-service schools (FSS)

In its previous 2015/16 report, the DBE stated that 781 FSS had been designated. But in its 2016/17 report, this number dropped to 715.

"Once more, this either reflects poor data collection or a decline in the conversion of ordinary schools to FSS," explains Beere.

8. Unit classes 

"The reporting of Special Classes/Units in ordinary schools is of concern as this segregatory model is neither the model of inclusion promoted in White Paper 6 nor national or international best practice," says Beere.

The way forward:

Beere isn't confident that the DBE will meet its deadlines. "It remains to be seen exactly how the DBE plans to meet President Zuma’s commitment to zero children with disabilities out of school by 2021, when the Government of South Africa is unable to provide accurate data for planning, lack of funding for the expansion of inclusive education, and no evidence of genuine monitoring and accountability.

"Children with disabilities in South Africa do not have 16 more years to wait while the DBE plans for their education," she concludes.

The R2ECWD Alliance published an independent report in March this year, with numerous recommendations to improve conditions for children with disabilities. These span everything from admissions policies and practices to suitable transport for children. The report can be viewed online at

Do you have a child with disabilities, special needs or other barriers to learning? Has the school supported them or escalated the child's needs in an appropriate way? Were you as parent involved in the process and decision-making? Send your stories and comments to and we may publish them, anonymously if you wish.

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