30 March 2023
Statement: Release of Equal Education research report on school safety in Western Cape schools: iSafety Ngoku, Seeking Sanctuary In Western Cape Schools
#SafeSchools #iSafetyNgoku #FixOurSchools
“It is not easy to learn in an unsafe environment, you become emotionally, physically, mentally not okay…you are always paranoid.” — Mzolisa Ilitha, Grade 12 Equaliser
Tomorrow, 31 March, Equal Education (EE) will release our report on school safety in the Western Cape—iSafety Ngoku: Seeking Sanctuary in Western Cape Schools. This report is the result of a series of school inspections done in August and September 2019 to assess safety conditions at 40 schools across four school districts in Cape Town. Many of these schools are located in working-class communities where crime is a common problem.
In 2015, prompted by calls from EE’s high-school members (Equalisers), EE’s audit of school safety in the Western Cape—Of loose papers and vague allegations—revealed many violent incidents that learners experienced or witnessed on school grounds, including physical and sexual assault. It also revealed that violent incidents at school often mirror those within the communities where these schools are located, touching on the structural nature of school violence.
In 2019, we visited and interviewed members of the school management at 40 schools across four education districts to get a better understanding of school violence and the causes of its recurrence. We also examined the safety measures in place at these schools to assess compliance and the effect of relevant national and provincial policy interventions meant to protect learners’ safety and well-being. Our school inspections found that little had changed in the safety experiences of learners since the 2015 audit.
Learner-on-learner physical assaults resulting in significant injuries, stabbings, sexual harassment, and learner-on-teacher physical assaults resulting in significant injuries were among the numerous violent incidents at schools that school officials reported during the interviews. The use of drugs and alcohol, burglary, gang violence, theft of private property, and significant vandalism were among the major reported threats to learners’ safety and wellbeing. It also became clear that following school safety guidelines was mostly a formality and a box-ticking exercise at best.
Both the national Department of Basic Education (DBE) and the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) have recognised school violence and other safety challenges as growing concerns that threaten learners’ enjoyment of quality schooling. In its Provincial Strategic Plan 2020-2025, the WCED identifies safety as a key element to enhancing and expanding enabling environments in the province. Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga has also recently claimed that school safety remains a priority for the DBE.
To address the growing violence and safety issues in schools, swift action is urgently needed. From our findings, the following four safety pillars can be useful in addressing current and potential threats in schools to ensure the safety and well-being of learners and teachers:
Pillar 1: Security measures in line with the school infrastructure law
The basic security infrastructure in the Minimum Uniform Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure (school infrastructure law) must be followed, including installing perimeter security fencing of at least 1.8 metres high and at least one other form of safety and security, such as burglar-proofing, a security guard, or an alarm system linked to a rapid armed response.
Pillar 2: Functional school-based safety structures
If properly implemented, the nine-point safe school process outlined in the provincial manual “Managing Safety and Security within WCED Institutions” will ensure that schools are able to proactively address and effectively respond to safety-related challenges. The process includes setting up school safety committees, appointing safety officers, and creating safety plans.
Pillar 3: Adequate provision of psychosocial support
It is crucial to provide adequate psychosocial support services (e.g. counsellors, social workers) to ensure learners’ mental health and well-being, especially when they have experienced or witnessed violence at school.
Pillar 4: Knowledge of and use of existing policies
School communities and key stakeholders will be able to identify and manage school safety risks and incidents of violence and effectively address these challenges if existing school safety policies are well-understood and fully implemented.
The 40 schools that were sampled all had one or more of these four safety pillars, but overall conditions for safety were far from ideal. According to our research, we urge immediate attention for the following:
- the DBE must order a revised round of the National School Violence Study;
- the WCED must coordinate with the DBE to ensure full compliance with the security measures in the school infrastructure law;
- the WCED must support schools in starting functional school safety committees;
- the WCED must assist schools to increase learners’ access to psychosocial support services; and
- the WCED must improve schools’ internal capacity for safety interventions such as the National School Safety Framework and the Safe Schools Programme.
The release of our safety report will take the form of an online panel discussion on Facebook Live on EE’s Facebook page, where our Researcher, Stacey Jacobs, will discuss the main findings of the report with EE learner members and Organisers. We will also hear directly from learners about how safety challenges at school have affected their well-being and school experience.
Date: Friday 31 March 2023
Time: 3:00 pm to 4:00 pm
Panelists: Stacey Jacobs – EE Researcher, Nosicelo Ngomana – EE Community Leader, Yonela Zembe and Lukho Nozaza – Equalisers
Moderator: Nontsikelelo Dlulani – Head of Western Cape Organising, Equal Education
To arrange a media interview, contact:
Jay-Dee Cyster (Equal Education Communications Manager) firstname.lastname@example.org or 082 924 1352