Gains made in placement, but late applications are a reality
As of 20 December 2022, 99% of our Grade 1 and 8 learners had been placed at schools for the start of the school year, with 680 learners still requiring placement.
This was a massive achievement for our department considering that in previous years, we had thousands of Grade 1 and 8 learners needing placement at the same time of the year.
Due to an R830 million increase in the infrastructure budget this financial year, we immediately focused on addressing classroom delivery. The Western Cape undertook to build 842 classrooms to accommodate 26 000 additional learners for the 2023 school year. This commitment, and dedicated service by our officials and contractors, saw us making gains in placing over 50 000 more Grade 1 and 8 learners than the same time the previous year. We are also appointing up to 1 143 additional teachers this year.
While these gains are remarkable, it certainly does not mean that placement is complete. We know that we will receive further late applications, despite ongoing and very public appeals to parents to apply timeously last year. This is the reality we face, a reality faced by other provinces, as seen this past week, to which we are sympathetic.
An understanding, however, of the systemic conditions for placing each child is required, which is made tougher, and trickier, when it comes to late applications.
The challenge with late applications is that we do not know:
- how many late applications we will receive,
- where placement will be required,
- for what grades, language and ages, and
- for what subjects or specialized needs.
We also need the system to settle to determine where there are places available– places that we can then fill. This is a vital part of the process as it will result in the placement of many late applications.
The WCED deliberately opens up its application process as early as March the previous school year in order to finalise as many applications by June of that year so that appropriate planning can commence. This data and planning is crucial, and is partly why we were able to reduce the number of learners unplaced for 2023 so significantly.
Late applications, however, maks planning and placement very difficult for a variety of reasons:
- Some communities have grown so rapidly and are so dense to the extent that there is no land left to build or expand any schools. Alternatives in other nearby communities need to be sought, which may require transportation.
- There are some schools with grade cohorts bigger than others. Each school and community are unique, and some grades are larger than others due to population figures at that time. While a Grade 4 cohort may have plenty of availability with low class numbers, the Grade 5 cohort could be overpopulated. This makes placement in a particular grade within that immediate community difficult.
- A learner could have a specific language preference that is not accommodated at their closest school. Each school determines their Language of Teaching and Learning (LOLT), however, a particular school’s LOLT may not accommodate the needs of a particular learner, even if they live across the road from the school.
- Subject choices also need to be considered as not all schools offer the same subject streams. A learner may require a particular set of subjects, such as the technical stream, which may not be offered in the nearest or nearby schools. All high schools simply cannot offer all the subjects offered in the curriculum. Thus a suitable match is required.
- Specialised needs of learners also need to be taken into account. A learner which has specific disabilities needs to be accommodated at a school that can accommodate their specific needs.
All the above requires forward planning to address. It may require additional classrooms, teachers, transportation or a new subject or language stream, which also requires discussion and agreement with the school’s governing body (SGB). Discussions with schools can take weeks, if not months, to find agreement to also accommodate their needs.
This takes time.
We are also seeing parents refuse placement offered to them as it is not their first school of choice. While we understand that parents have preferences on what school they would like to send their child to, the reality is that some schools are more popular than others and receive hundreds, if not thousands of applications, for just 100-200 spaces.
While we would ideally want every learner placed on the first school day, the late applications of learners makes this an impossible task to achieve without having the necessary data of the learner to plan and execute appropriately in advance.
While alternative arrangements are being made by the department to mitigate this, where possible, there will be some areas in which we will require some time to address.
In this instance, the tenth school day is essential to us. Learners can only be legally deregistered from a school after being absent for 10 school days in cases where no valid reason is given. Some learners who have confirmed placement at schools do not arrive and can be deregistered after the 10th school day allowing for the placement of learners that have applied late. While there may be empty seats for learners in some of our schools – seats that fit the profiles of some of our late applications – we cannot use these seats until the 10th day survey results are accurately assessed and approved. In other words, we need the system to settle, before further placements can be made.
We understand that this is a stressful and anxious period for these parents. As a department, we are asking parents to work with us as we try to accommodate their child(ren) as soon as possible. We will leave no stone unturned.
One important element is that parents provide correct and reliable contact details. All too often we find a place for a child but cannot get hold of the parent to confirm placement. This delays progress.
While these are pressurised and stressful circumstances for us all, we are in a better position than previous years, beginning the year with a significantly reduced amount of learners requiring placement than previous years.
We thank all parents who did apply timeously, giving us the time to reflect on reliable data and discuss with roleplayers, so that we can plan appropriately to place their child.
(Please note an update of placements and infrastructure delivery will be provided this week, ahead of the opening of schools, once data has been verified for release.)