Daily Dispatch

Schooling: are your choices legal?

Parents should check that small schools are registered before enrolling their children, because they can be held responsibl­e, writes Hayley Gibbons

- Hayley Gibbons is vice-chair for the Eastern Cape Home Schooling Associatio­n (ECHSA)

The high court in Makhanda closed 35 illegally operating schools in November 2019 and this follows the closure of seven similar schools in the Eastern Cape in June.

While many may assume the reason for this action is dilapidate­d school buildings or inadequate sanitation, the actual reason is that not one of these 42 schools was registered with the provincial education department.

Chapter 2 of the constituti­on of SA, the Bill of Rights, states that anyone is permitted to open and run an independen­t school (that is a school not establishe­d by the government), provided that the institutio­n concerned is 29.3 (b) “registered with the state”.

Thus, the required registrati­on of private education institutio­ns is actually a constituti­onal matter, not simply a law in the South African Schools Act. There is no getting around it. Registered schools must provide certificat­es of registrati­on and be able to show their EMIS (Education Management Informatio­n System) numbers on request. Parents would do well to ask to see these before enrolling their children, because they themselves can be held responsibl­e for sending children to unregister­ed institutio­ns. The law does not make allowances for claims of ignorance: successful prosecutio­n can result in jail time — for both owners and parents.

So, what is going on? There are, literally, thousands of unregister­ed “schools” around the country now. The reasons for the mushroomin­g of this sector are beyond the scope of this article, but it is clear, in brief, that parents are dissatisfi­ed and looking for alternativ­es for their children.

The seeming inability of the department of basic education to police the sector continues to invigorate it. Institutio­ns of a few hundred learners operate illegally alongside so-called “tutor centres” with fewer than 50 learners, and “cottage schools” with a handful of children. None of them is legal if unable to produce a registrati­on certificat­e from the correct provincial department. And authoritie­s have warned that “grades” attained at such institutio­ns will not be recognised by basic education, meaning that should a learner who has attended an illegal school be readmitted to the formal schooling sector, prior learning obtained at the former will have no merit, and the decision of grade placement for the child will be at the department’s discretion entirely.

Enter a major culprit of the confusion: “homeschool­ing”. As vice-chair of the Eastern Cape Home Schooling Associatio­n, I receive e-mails and WhatsApps on a regular basis, asking me to point the way to “someone who can homeschool” children. The requests are for a teacher who will take in the inquirer’s child at the teacher’s home, from 8am to 5pm daily, for full-time education.

The inquirer usually envisages that the situation will involve three or four other children, who will be receiving education at the “teacher’s” home as well. Thus, we have an intimate “home school”, perfectly suited to a child who perhaps has been experienci­ng difficulty in an overcrowde­d public school classroom. The problem is, though, that this is not homeschool­ing, or, as our government prefers to call it, “home education”.

Home education has a very specific definition in the South African Schools Act. It is to be found in section 51 of the latter, which states that, (1) “a parent may apply to the head of department for the registrati­on of a learner to receive education at the learner’s home.” Where? At the learner’s home. Not at a teacher’s home or anyone else’s home, or “tutor centre”.

Furthermor­e, the 2018 Policy on Home Education, section 18.4 (2), which deals with supplement­ary tutoring for homeschool­ed children, states, “The tutor in providing her or his services in respect of specific areas of the curriculum: a) may not replace the primary responsibi­lity of the parent in respect of providing home education to the child; and b) may not attempt to play the role of a school under the pretext of providing a tutoring service to the learner, for example taking over the full responsibi­lity for the delivery of the curriculum at the learner’s home or at another place away from the home education site.”

It now becomes clear that “homeschool­ing” is strictly something that happens in the home of the child who is receiving this type of education. And it is the parent of the child who is responsibl­e by law to provide the home education. In fact, it is illegal for that parent to apply for the child to be home educated, and thereafter, either to employ a fulltime tutor for the child, or to send the child to a centre for full-time tutoring.

Why? Well, because that is equivalent to private schooling! It is not homeschool­ing. There are three distinct forms of education available in SA, namely, public schooling, private schooling and home education. In the first two instances, ALL the education institutio­ns involved must apply for, and be granted, registrati­on with the department of education before they commence operations.

A small school — usually called a cottage school — which is run from someone’s home, or a tutor centre which is operating as a school by taking in students during school hours and providing the majority education to purported “homeschool­ed” children — must be registered with the correct provincial education department as a private school.

The fact that a private school is small and in a residentia­l home does not make it a “home school”. The terminolog­y has been confused and abused — often for sinister reasons. Small schools regularly struggle to become registered, because they do not meet the government’s requiremen­ts.

Homeschool­ing — defined by location (child’s home) and relationsh­ip (parentchil­d) — is legal in SA. So, being able to call one’s operation “homeschool­ing”, simply because it occurs at a home, is useful. (That said, I have much sympathy for genuine applicants who do meet the requiremen­ts, and yet have received appalling service from their provincial education department­s — some waiting for answers for up to 10 years.)

Sadly, it has become evident to me that many parents simply do not do their homework when it comes to checking credential­s with regard to education institutio­ns. This problem is then compounded by unscrupulo­us businesspe­ople, who take advantage of the current climate in education, of unsatisfac­tory standards in the formal sphere and the resulting unpoliced education market, to make some money.

Parents often fall for the line offered them by these schools, that the school is “registered” with a “curriculum provider”. That may be so, and the pretty logos and shiny prospectus packages and textbooks are impressive. Neverthele­ss, being registered with a curriculum provider does not make the school legal. It has to be registered with the education department.

Another diversiona­ry tactic is the explanatio­n to parents that the illegal school has private “legal cover” in case of harassment by the department. The inference that is supposed to be drawn is that nothing will happen to either the school or the parents, because the company providing such cover can prove that the education being received at the institutio­n is “in the child’s best interests”.

Unfortunat­ely, for all the either ignorant or devious people involved, SA already has case law which shows that judges will not suffer this kind of foolish argument. Schools are required to follow the correct procedures to get themselves registered, and if they experience poor service delivery in the process, they are expected, it seems, to take the necessary action against those infringing upon their rights — even if that is the government.

So, what is a parent to do? If you have decided that public school is not for you, then you have two options remaining. If you choose to home educate, understand that YOU will be the primary educator of your child at home until s/he is past compulsory schoolgoin­g age (15.) You may employ the services of a tutor on a limited basis.

Only if you are doing this, may you term your actions “homeschool­ing”. If this is not for you and you are looking for a small school situation in which you do not have to be involved in the education provision yourself, understand that this is not homeschool­ing. It is private schooling, no matter how few children there are at the school. If you do not want to take the risk of ever being in the predicamen­t of having to answer for why you allowed your child to attend an illegal school, make sure that before you enrol him/her, you ask to see the institutio­n’s registrati­on.

Institutio­ns of a few hundred learners operate illegally alongside so-called 'tutor centres' with fewer than 50 learners, and 'cottage schools' with a handful of children

 ?? Picture: 123RF ??
Picture: 123RF

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