Collaboration schools within the law and our best option
THE Letter (“Caution over Collaboration Schools”, Cape Times, November 9) refers. There is no denying that learning outcomes in historically disadvantaged areas are, in general, still unacceptably low.
Despite having many excellent schools and having implemented a wide range of initiatives to improve access to quality education in disadvantaged communities, the fact remains that people in these communities are often not able to gain access to the same quality of education as those who can afford to pay for additional resources.
They are also not always able to access the skills required to govern a school.
The collaboration schools pilot is evidence of our commitment to building partnerships with the private sector, the donor community and civil society in the best interests of these children. The purpose of the pilot is to prove it in our context.
Critics cite examples of cases in the UK and US in which such schools have not worked. There are just as many, if not more, cases where they have worked. We prefer the “glass half full” approach. The fact that there have been failures and successes in other countries puts us in the advantageous position of being able to learn from these and thus avoid them.
We do not believe that we have the monopoly on running good schools, and are thus committed to partnerships with relevant stakeholders to maximise resources and expertise.
It is time to clarify the ongoing allegation that we are acting outside the law. Equal Education should be aware that basic education is an area of concurrent national and provincial competence, as provided in Schedule 4 of the constitution.
Section 146 of the constitution sets out very clearly that, save in a few defined instances, if national and provincial legislation conflict, it is the provincial legislation that will prevail.
The Western Cape has enacted our own education legislation, namely the Western Cape Provincial School Education Act, 1997 (Act 12 of 1997) (“the Western Cape Schools Act”).
Section 12(1)(g) of that law provides that the provincial minister (MEC) may establish as a public school “any other type of school that he or she deems necessary for education”.
Exercising this legislated power, I have established a different type of public school termed “collaboration schools” with a different funding and governance model.
The MEC is empowered to make policy. As such, I have developed a policy for collaboration schools. We have in place a memorandum of agreement with the funders. The head of department (HOD) has a service-level agreements in place with each operating partner for each collaboration school, and the funders, likewise, have agreements with the operating partners.
The fact that SA Schools Act does not make provision for this type of public school does not mean that the province cannot legislate thereon.
The approach of Equal Education and some others appears to be based on the premise that national legislation governing education is permitted to “cover the field” in a manner which leaves no or minimal room for a province to exercise its concurrent competence. This cannot be the intention of the constitution. We do not believe that our legislation falls into the exceptions provided for in s146.
Another falsehood is that the education department transfers funds to the operating partners. Money is transferred directly to the schools.
Initial indications are that this project is yielding exciting possibilities. Parents have unanimously voted to continue with it in one of the schools where we had the most resistance. They are clearly seeing the benefits.
The funders are committed to improving education. The operating partners are not allowed to make a profit. And the project is taking place only in poor communities.
The question, therefore, that needs to be asked is, why Equal Education appears intent on casting aspersions on it, instead of supporting our attempts to provide better learning opportunities for the disadvantaged.
They continually criticise us for not doing more to help poor communities.
They demand things that are unaffordable, largely because of the large-scale incompetence and corruption of the national government and some other ANC-run provinces.
And yet, when we embark on a project to uplift disadvantaged communities, with the commitment of private citizens who are prepared to put their money into it, they criticise that also.
Given the levels of corruption in many places in the government, one cannot blame the funders for wanting some measure of control to ensure that their money is being properly utilised.
We will not be deterred by the likes of Equal Education, who cannot come up with any feasible plan to address the inequalities that still exist as a result of our apartheid legacy. Debbie Schäfer Education MEC