Minister Grant Comments on School Closures
Media Statement by Donald Grant, Minister of Education
Governing is about providing decisive leadership and it is incumbent upon me, as the Minister of Education, to make numerous decisions that are based on what is in the best interests of our entire education system as it serves the needs and impacts on the life chances of our children.
I make these decisions, however, only after following due process and consulting with all roleplayers.
I made a commitment in 2009 that this government would improve the life chances of all the children in the Western Cape through the provision of quality education.
To this end, we prioritised the need to ensure that as many learners as possible remain in school and finish their NSC and that they achieve optimal results.
To do this, we need to provide a quality education system, and at the heart of any education system are our schools.
If we are to improve the education outcomes of our schools, then we must make steps to protect and promote the educational viability of our schools as part of a constantly evolving and fluid education system.
How do we determine the educational viability of schools?
When we determine the educational viability of any school - being the capacity and need of that school to produce quality learner outcomes - we must take full account of the unique circumstances of that school.
This requires us to consider a combination of school-based indicators, including but not limited to:
- Learner enrolment levels.
- Learner retention rates.
- The quality of curriculum provisioning.
- The extent to which learners have access to the school.
- The suitability of schooling infrastructure.
- Whether sufficient support has been provided to the school by the provincial education department.
When we determine the educational viability of a school, we must all consider the unique context within which that school operates. This means taking into account the following factors:
- Present and predicted human settlement patterns.
- Present and planned local municipality developments.
- The availability of transport, school nutrition, learning and teaching support materials (including furniture and desks), staffing and human resource development.
- The language needs of the school community concerned.
- The religious and/or cultural preferences of the school community concerned.
- The availability of alternative school placement options for the learners and educators at the school.
- The financial resources available to meet the schooling needs of the province.
Where, for example, a school has poor schooling infrastructure, low learner enrolment levels and persistently low learner outcomes and the learners and educators at the school can be suitably accommodated at other schools (despite efforts by the WCED to improve these indicators), that school may very well be found to be educationally unviable.
The shape and size of our education system needs to adapt to the constantly evolving environment within which our schools operate. This means that we need to apply our resources effectively and efficiently to accommodate the many realities that exist in the Western Cape (including, for example, population shifts, improved learner retention and a greater demand for skills development).
What is the process for school closures?
This year, after carefully assessing all schools across all districts in the Western Cape during the first half of this year, the WCED made recommendations to me, as the Provincial Minister of Education, regarding those schools in the province that should be considered for possible closure at the end of the school year.
The reasons for considering schools for possible closure will differ on a case-by-case basis, as each school has unique circumstances within which it operates. Some of these reasons include but are not limited to ageing school infrastructure, dwindling learner numbers and persistently poor learner outcomes.
The final decision to close a school rests with me, as the Provincial Minister of Education. But before any decision of this nature is made, prescribed public participation procedures and processes must be followed.
Based on the recommendations made to me by the WCED, I notified each school governing body concerned of my intention to consider the school concerned for possible closure.
Once a school governing body is informed of my intention to consider them for possible closure, the governing body is given the opportunity to make representations in relation to the proposed closure. The governing body is free to submit written representations and oral representations for me to consider.
After considering the representations submitted by the school governing body, I must decide whether it is appropriate to proceed with the school closure process and, if so, a public hearing is arranged at which members of the school community are given the opportunity to submit written and/or oral representations regarding the proposed closure for me to consider.
Upon completion of the public participation process and after careful consideration of all representations submitted, I am required to make my final decision.
This decision is not taken lightly.
I care deeply about the outcomes of the individual learners affected by any decision that this government takes to close schools. My final decision is therefore made with restraint and is ultimately guided by what is lawful and what is in the best interests of our learners.
Why are there so many schools this year as compared to previous years?
The applicable legislative framework supports the need for a flexible education system. It provides for the establishment of new schools of different types, as well as the closure, merger and conversion of existing schools.
Without these provisions it would not be possible to align our schooling system with the needs of society.
This means that we have to build or expand schools in rapidly growing communities and simultaneously close, merge or convert schools in communities where education needs have changed. School developments and expansions are simply not financially possible unless the shape and size of the system is adapted through appropriate use of school closures, mergers and conversions.
As part of our infrastructure expansion and improvement programme, we undertook in 2010 to build 45 new permanent school structures within three years (including 25 new schools and 20 replacement schools).
To date, the WCED has completed the building of 23 new schools and has replaced eight schools built of inappropriate materials. The WCED expects to complete the building of three new schools and 13 replacement schools in the 2012/2013 financial year.
Once these schools have been completed, the WCED will have built 26 new schools (accommodating approximately 30 000 additional learners) and 21 replacement schools (accommodating approximately 27 000 learners). We will have therefore exceeded our original target!
While we are identifying areas in which new schools have to be built, we are also need to be monitoring the educational viability of all our schools and, where appropriate, identify schools for possible closure.
The identification of schools for possible closure is done on an annual basis at district level to ensure that the shape and size of the education system is better aligned to the demands of society than before.
This year the selection criteria did not change. As mentioned above, there are various indicators that are taken into account such as learner enrolment levels, the suitability of schooling infrastructure and the quality of curriculum provisioning. Some of these indicators change on a yearly basis.
It is here that the WCED is now able to draw on its recently launched Geographic Information System (GIS) for Infrastructure Planning to interrogate and diagnose systematically school provisioning issues that require attention in the province.
Using the new GIS as part of this process ensures that we are now better equipped to make informed decisions with regard to the consolidation and expansion of school infrastructure in the Western Cape.