New Education Bill Passed in the Provincial Legislature
I am greatly pleased and proud to announce that the Western Cape Provincial School Education Amendment Bill has been approved by the Western Cape Provincial Legislature.
There is no doubt that this is a truly significant piece of legislation for the future of education in the Western Cape.
The amendment bill is aimed squarely at ensuring that the highest quality of schooling possible is available to all learners in our schools - and schools that are staffed by committed, competent teachers.
This bill will provide the provincial government with a number of tools to help improve the provision of quality education to all the learners of the Western Cape and to hold educators and officials accountable to the highest possible professional standards.
This bill is therefore an essential element of this government's overarching objective of improving learner outcomes in this province.
I originally announced my intention to amend the Western Cape Provincial School Education Act in my first budget speech to this house in June 2009.
The time taken to reach this point is a reflection of the seriousness with which this process has been taken.
It also points to the complexity of the legal, educational and other issues involved and the degree to which the existing legislation had become out of date in relation to an ever changing education landscape.
The need to amend the existing Provincial Act was occasioned by a range of factors.
These include the following:
- A need for a stronger emphasis on quality outcomes and accountability along with rights.
- The existing legislation was promulgated on 9 December 1997 and had never been changed since.
- The national equivalent has been amended eight times since then (and number nine is in the pipeline).
- New national concepts needed incorporation.
- Need for more appropriate use of regulation, instead of constant legislative change.
Therefore different categories of amendments have been included in the Bill. These include:
- Those that update the legislation in line with amendments at national level.
- Those that strengthen the ability of the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) to monitor performance, most especially in the classroom where it matters most.
- Those that strengthen the capacity of the WCED to deliver quality outcomes.
- Miscellaneous items, such as the creation and composition of an Education Council.
We were also very cognizant of the need to consult with all the relevant role-players in education in the Western Cape.
To this end I am very grateful for the range of constructive input that has been made into this process.
We have had a lengthy period of public comment and an extensive consultation process with school governing body organisations, educator unions, school principals, representatives from higher education organisations, as well as with the honourable members of this house, through the standing committee.
The robust and constructive debate these processes elicited has served to strengthen this amendment bill and to help further our objective of improving learner outcomes.
The amended preamble of the Bill best encapsulates the overriding objectives of the bill:
"Whereas, to this end, it is essential that all learners have access to the highest quality of basic education that the province can provide and which will uphold the principles and values of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996, particularly the rights of children, while requiring the highest standards of accountability from those learners, their parents, school governing bodies, educators and officials."
This bill is vitally important then because it:
- Puts the rights of learners to a quality basic education first. This is after all the prime responsibility of a department charged with delivery on a constitutional mandate.
- Builds greater levels of accountability for teachers, principals and officials.
- It is gives us more power to ensure the delivery of a quality curriculum.
The bill achieves these objectives by, among other things:
- Affording us the right to visit and inspect schools with the view to assess teacher's performance in the classroom in line with national and provincial norms and standards.
- Allows for increased accountability - principals and deputy principals will for the first time have performance contracts directly linked to the learner outcomes achieved at their schools. This provision will in turn strengthen the ability of the provincial government to act decisively against schools that are serial underperformers.
- The bill gives rule-making authority to the Head of Department to strengthen the conduct of schools based assessments. This will allow for far more effective remedial action at underperforming schools and where appropriate for academic mentor or substitute principals to be appointed.
- The bill refines the definition of specialised education to include schools with a specialised focus, such as for example, maths and science, business and arts and culture. This will in turn strengthen the ability of the provincial government to provide specialised education in these critically important learning areas.
- In line with the Labour Relations Act, the bill reduces from ninety (90) to thirty (30) days the time period to lodge certain labour grievances, thereby ensuring the finalisation of appointments more quickly in the best interests of stability in our schools.
- The bill will help improve school safety by placing further prohibitions on dangerous objects, illegal drugs and alcohol on school premises and by providing more clearly defined powers to conduct search and seizure operations at schools. While at all times, respecting the personal integrity of learners.
- In an increasingly complex environment the Minister will also be able to regulate more appropriately conditions for the handling and management of school discipline and learner behaviour.
- The bill clearly and explicitly prohibits political activities at schools during school time, thereby limiting the prospect of disruption to teaching time and the abuse of compulsory school attendance for political ends.
- The bill will helps create an important forum for the sharing of ideas and expertise on the provision of a quality education in the Western Cape by regulating anew the establishment and the functions of an education council for the province.
- Finally, the bill includes provision for the Provincial Minister, by regulation, to determine the minimum teaching hours per school, per week or school day. This could in time and after negotiation, see the school day extended to include, for example, compulsory supervised homework after school.
These provisions, read against a number of others contained in the bill, are all aimed at increasing levels of accountability in the system and improving learner outcomes.
In many cases the bill builds on existing national legislation, including the South African Schools Act, the National Education Policy and the Employment of Educators Act. However, this bill, within the parameters of the constitution, strengthens many of these provisions and provides the Western Cape with more tools to deliver a quality education.
I am very conscious that the provincial government's drive to improve dramatically learner outcomes in this province is still a work in progress and that this bill is simply one important step in this process.
For you can no more legislate quality and accountability in a school system than you can legislate discipline in a school.
However, sound legislation is the enabler of good policy, and ultimately, of best practice.
Therefore, this bill, combined with the already significant progress we have made in other areas of improving the provision of education in the Western Cape holds the very real promise of building the truly world-class education system we are determined to create in this province.
In this regard, it is heartening that two days ago the highly respected international consultancy firm, McKinsey and Company in its report entitled, "How the world's most improved school systems keep getting better," recognised the Western Cape as an example of good practice.
Finally, I would like to thank the Chair and members of the Standing Committee for their work in processing this bill and underscore that I look forward to working with them, as together we work to make our a vision a reality of access to quality education for the close to one (1) million learners of this province a reality.
Minister of Education, Donald Grant
Tel: 021 467 2377
Cell: 072 724 1422