The Star Late Edition

School governing body war starts heating up

Parents argue they are being denied a say in running of schools and choice of principals


Parents worry about the government’s quiet December notice that puts the power in the department’s hands when it comes to bonuses, extra teachers and hiring principals

TWO CHANGES to the South African Schools Act, and another in the pipeline, will wrest power from parents and give total control to the Department of Basic Education.

School governing body associatio­ns claim the department is systematic­ally eroding the relationsh­ip of equal partnershi­p between parents and the state, which was the original intention of the Schools Act.

The associatio­ns say that if their powers are degraded, the quality of education will drop, top public schools will be lost and there will be no safeguard against corruption.

Tim Gordon, the CEO of the Governing Body Foundation, raised the issue after a government notice signed on December 15 changed the way school governing bodies (SGBS) pay teachers overtime and bonuses.

Now SGBS have to get permission from the department before paying teachers extra (whether in monetary value or through perks like cellphones), and motivate why teachers should benefit from such remunerati­on. In the past this was not enforced.

This comes after a court order last month limited the rights of schools to set admission criteria.

The third worrying change, said Gordon, was Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga’s remarks on the appointmen­t of principals.

“Sometimes you find that school governing bodies and provincial heads of department aren’t keen on the same candidate, and this causes friction. So we will try to find a way that in certain cases we can give power to heads of department to appoint principals,” Motshekga said.

These changes “are worrying indication­s that the government has embarked on a concerted drive to curtail the rights and influence of government bodies”, said Gordon.

Department spokesman Panyaza Lesufi said it was “unfortunat­e” that governing bodies felt this way as the ministry did not intend this when they made the changes.

“We made the changes to extra remunerati­on of teachers simply to ensure parents get what is due to them, to make previous laws clearer. Our aim in everything we do is to provide greater access and quality education. We would not do anything to undermine that,” Lesufi said.

But Gordon said the undercurre­nt in meetings with the department was very different.

“In meetings recently there have been many off-the-cuff remarks made by officials saying ‘you might be able to do this now, but maybe not for long’.”

He said there was a sense that the government wanted governing bodies to stop interferin­g in the management of schools.

“My biggest worry is that, with very few exceptions, it is fee-paying schools who are producing quality teaching and schooling. These are schools that are mainly managing themselves,” Gordon said.

“By taking away the responsibi­lities of parents, there will be a reduction in quality of top state schools, and the country cannot afford that.”

Marks Ramasike, from the National Associatio­n of Parents in School Governance, agrees that the power of SGBS is being eroded, saying it is happening on a deeper level than just changes in regulation.

“Increasing­ly, the government has been calling us to meetings, but there is a difference between consulting with parents and telling them what will happen. We are being told a lot and not really listened to,” Ramasike said. He said this would be particular­ly pertinent

It is fee-paying schools who are providing quality

this year because SGB elections were taking place and the government already appeared to be trying to control this process.

“We are losing the battle because many of the black SGB associatio­ns don’t have money to challenge the department. Those members who are vocal in education are also being called aside in their communitie­s and being called anti-anc, turning the issue of governance into something political,” Ramasike said.

The thought of not having effective SGBS was worrying because it meant poorly run schools were more susceptibl­e to corruption, especially from principals, because no one from outside the state could see what was going on, he added.

“Amid all of this you have to try to recruit new parents to join, to encourage them to take part in their children’s education. It’s not easy..”

Kathy Callaghan from the Governors Alliance said that while she did think SGBS were being undermined in general, the changes to extra remunerati­on for teachers was not an attempt to do this. She believed the regulation was welcome as there were grey areas in the old legislatio­n.

“This affects a tiny minority of schools. So few could afford to give teachers extra pay, and this just stops a few from taking advantage,” Callaghan said.

The potential change in the appointmen­t of principals however, which may stop SGBS from making suggestion­s for preferred candidates, is being met with disfavour.

SA Democratic Teachers Union general secretary Mugwena Maluleke believed this was at the heart of the tension between SGBS and the state. “Sadtu often has to play the role of the middleman here,” Maluleke said.

He added that the union didn’t mind how principals were chosen, as long as they were good managers who would turn their schools into quality institutio­ns.

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