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

Daily Dispatch - - FEATURES - 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

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