Shortcomings and missed opportunities: A critical look at the draft school admissions policy

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There is an urgent need for effective cooperation and communication between key stakeholders such as provincial HODs, district officials, and SGBs to ensure that learners are quickly enrolled. (Getty Images)
There is an urgent need for effective cooperation and communication between key stakeholders such as provincial HODs, district officials, and SGBs to ensure that learners are quickly enrolled. (Getty Images)

Education activist groups, Equal Education (EE) and the Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) have made a joint submission on the Department of Basic Education's (DBE) draft amended National Admissions Policy for Ordinary Public Schools (the draft amended policy). Here they share their thoughts on the draft's shortcomings, offering solutions for improvement. 

While the DBE has made some positive draft changes to the admissions policy, like the anti-discrimination clause, some of the proposed amendments should be carefully reconsidered by the DBE to ensure that the right to basic education is realised for all learners. 

The policy's purpose is to provide provincial education departments and school governing bodies (SGB) with a framework for developing their own admissions policies.

We know too well that parents and guardians struggle to get their children placed at a suitable school.

In Gauteng and the Western Cape especially, parents and guardians have, year after year, asked us to help them with overly complicated admission processes.

At the beginning of each school year, many children are stuck at home for weeks without any access to basic education.

The amendments to the admissions policy are an opportunity to significantly impact the placement of learners in schools and the realisation of their right to basic education. 

Also read: Will children be denied admission to public school if not fully immunised?

Below is a summary of the comments that we submitted to the DBE on key areas of the draft changes. 

The draft amended policy is silent on the obligation of Education MECs to ensure learners are placed at schools

It is the responsibility of the Education MECs to ensure that there are enough places for all the children in their province to attend a suitable school.

In our submission, we recommend that to ensure proper accountability of MECs and proper oversight by the DBE, and to protect the best interests of learners in line with the Constitution, this obligation placed on MECs, must be clearly stated in the amended admission policy.

In addition, we believe the amended policy must compel each MEC to publicly release an annual report on how they plan to fix the shortage of school spaces in their province. The report should be released 30 days after the start of each academic year, as required by section 3(4) of the South African Schools Act (SASA). This report must outline:  

  • The number of unplaced learners in their province;
  • Reasons why learners were not placed; 
  • Steps that provincial education departments will take, in consultation with education districts and schools, to fix the problem and ensure that all learners in a province are placed in suitable schools. 

We also call on Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, as the custodian of the basic education sector, to set a reasonable timeframe by which all learners in the country must be inside a classroom. 

The draft amended policy fails to tackle the problems with the admission administration system

A critical factor that contributes to the delayed placement of learners is a flawed admission administration system.

There is too little coordination and communication between education districts and schools, where districts often fail to keep accurate records of unplaced learners, resulting in these learners falling through the cracks.

There is an urgent need for effective cooperation and communication between key stakeholders such as provincial HODs, district officials, and SGBs to ensure that learners are quickly enrolled.

The draft amended policy misses an opportunity to clarify who has the final decision on the admission of learners to school. There is also confusion on the application process itself.

For instance, an online application system is currently being used in some provinces, like Western Cape, Gauteng, and Northern Cape.

Some schools require that additional documents and forms be submitted to them directly by parents or caregivers over and above the online application's completion.

These requirements often lack uniformity and are not made clear to parents/caregivers. Also, parents and guardians are often left without access to assistance to help them navigate the online application system. 

Our submission recommends that the draft amended policy make it clear that education district officials and schools have a responsibility to make sure that learners are in the classroom. We call for the amended policy to mandate that the application process be the same across all schools. 

The draft amended policy allows learners who experience learning barriers to be excluded

According to SASA, ordinary schools must take active steps to admit and support special educational needs learners.

However, each year parents and guardians appeal to the EELC for help because learners with special needs, especially learners with disabilities, are often refused admission to ordinary public schools, without the school making any effort to consider ways to accommodate the pupil.

Learners are often left out of classrooms while they are placed on long waiting lists for admission to special schools. Our submission argues that the amended policy must clearly state that there is an obligation on all ordinary public schools to admit learners with special educational needs and promote inclusive education. 

The amended policy continues to fail undocumented learners

Various parts of the draft amended policy introduce the requirement that a long list of documents must be submitted by parents and guardians when applying for enrolment of learners who are foreign nationals.

Many of these documents are not required by the current admissions policy. To now include a list of documentary requirements in various clauses creates confusion over whether learners can be admitted if their parents or guardians cannot provide these documents.

In addition, the amended policy says that when parents or guardians cannot provide certain documents or where specific information cannot be verified, that the school must report it to the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) or even the Department of Justice and Correctional Services (DJCS). 

In our submission, we remind the DBE that no undocumented pupil can be turned away from school and call for all clauses to be deleted that require schools to report cases where children are without the required documentation to the DHA and DJC. 

Submitted to Parent24 by Equal Education.


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