Response of decision to close Uitzig High School
After much consideration, I have decided to close Uitzig High School with effect from next year. My decision was made after due process in terms of the South African Schools Act was complied with, and mindful of the fact that high court litigation has already been initiated in this matter.
The threats of litigation notwithstanding, I believe that my decision is in the best interests of both the educators and the learners of this school and the Province. The conditions in which they currently teach and learn will be vastly improved if they move to another high school in the area, which has better resources, infrastructure, subject options and learner numbers.
As with any closure of a school, I have not made this decision lightly. This specific case has been considered over several months.
On the 3rd of March 2017, I approved that consideration be given to the closure of Uitzig HS in Elsies River.
In April 2017, a public hearing was held at Tygersig PS in terms of Section 33(2)(c) of the South African Schools Act.
The minutes, a voice recording and transcript were all provided to me for consideration. I applied my mind to the initial reasons provided to me for the possible closure, as well as the representations provided by the community.
After a proper consideration of all of these, I decided to close the school.
Some of my reasons include:
- The school has a learner enrolment of only 94 learners, compared to the average of around 1300 learners in a city high school. These numbers have dwindled in the last four years from 460 to 94. No sustained future growth in learner enrolment is envisaged.
- The main school building has been significantly vandalised over the period of many years now and is in a state of partial demolition due to extensive theft and continued vandalism. None of the original classrooms can be utilised. Notwithstanding constant running repairs that have been done by the Department. 94 learners are being taught in mobiles provided by the Department and in, terms of the court order, safety, personnel and mobile toilets are being paid for on a monthly basis.
- It is clear that the condition of the existing building is not conducive to continued teaching and is hazardous. The building has been cordoned off and is not used currently due to these risks, which include exposed asbestos, and compromised roof and wall structures.
- The WCED has spent R453 517 on emergency ceiling and electrical repairs for the period April 2012 to March 2015. R2 699 298 was spent in 2016/17 for the placement of mobile classrooms. The WCED has also had to provide private security which was in excess of R200 000 this past financial year. Despite this, a safe environment has not been possible, with continued vandalism of the school building while teaching and learning continues in the mobile classrooms.
- Teachers have expressed their disquiet as to their continued safety.
Given the low attendance figures, the lack of appreciable growth potential and the severe state of disrepair which the main building is in, it would be financially imprudent to initiate the building of a completely new replacement school at a current cost of around R60 million to accommodate 94 learners in the following provincial context:
The total infrastructure budget over the next MTEF period (2018/19 - 202/21) is R4, 9 billion. Due to the annual increase in learner enrolment numbers the WCED plans to spend approximately 60% of the total infrastructure budget on ensuring that all learners in the Western Cape Province have access to education. The WCED projects to spend over the MTEF between 16 - 20 % on the building of new schools; 14% on the provision of additional classrooms at existing schools and 29% of the total infrastructure budget on replacing schools built with inappropriate material (plankie- schools).
The WCED will also spend approximately 36% of the budget on maintenance. This amount is insufficient to deal with all the maintenance needs at WCED schools, but the department needs to retain the fine balance in the budget to continue to provide additional teaching space, whilst at the same time ensure that the integrity of school buildings is not compromised.
The demand for new infrastructure is especially high in the following areas:
- Plettenberg Bay/Knysna/George
- Nomzamo/Lwandle /Strand
- Du Noon
- Hout Bay
- Marconi Beam/Joe Slovo
- Ocean View
It is within this budgetary, historical and social context that I needed to consider the appropriateness of building a new school at Uitzig to accommodate less than a 100 learners. I concluded it was not.
I also have to consider the safety of these learners and educators in an environment which is clearly not safe - both in its physical infrastructure and from outside perpetrators.
In reaching my decision I first ensured that all the current learners will be accommodated at alternative schools. The WCED has arranged for these learners to be placed at other schools within a 4km radius, including Ravensmead HS, St. Andrew's Secondary and Florida HS. Ravensmead HS, which is the Department's preferred choice, is just over 1km away.
In addition I took into account that:
- Each of these schools has agreed to exempt the learners from Uitzig HS from paying school fees. Therefore, the learners will retain their no-fee status even though they will now be attending a fee-paying school. This agreement will hold throughout the duration of their school career at these schools. This means that any allegation made by politicians or trade unions to the contrary is simply untrue and is being said to try and gain media coverage or political advantage around this matter.
- The fact is that there have been many learners over the past 4 years who have moved to Ravensmead HS from Uitzig HS out of choice. These learners have integrated well and there have been no reported incidents regarding their safety while walking to and from their new school. Many learners who live in the vicinity of Uitzig HS attend Ravensmead HS already; and there is hence already a well-established existing flow of learners both to and from these areas daily, without incident.
- Educators and learners at Ravensmead HS teach and learn in a safer school environment, with better infrastructure and extra-mural activities and facilities. The results at Ravensmead HS are also excellent. In 2016, the school obtained a 98.2% pass rate and 36.7% bachelor rate, compared to 70.6% pass rate and 20.6% bachelor rate at Uitzig HS.
Given the above, whilst I am quite sure that some persons may well still choose to make various statements of outrage regarding the reasons or basis of my decision, what I have set out above are the full and correct reasons why I came to a decision to close this school, which I am confident was the right one.