Overview – Other Campaign

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On 20 September 2012, Equal Education (EE) picketed outside the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) over its plans to close three schools on the basis of underperformance. Underperformance is an insufficient and impermissible reason for school closure, more so where the WCED has made inadequate interventions to remedy the situation.

In 2012 the WCED notified 27 schools they may face closure by the end of the year. Public consultations took place to determine the fate of the schools.

In some cases school closures may be legitimate and necessary; however, school closures should not be viewed as a reformative mechanism. EE has been in contact with all of the 27 schools and gathered information about their unique situations. While in some cases closure may be in the best interest of the learners, many school closures will have a negative effect on learners’ right to a basic education.

Three of the 27 schools were identified for closure on the grounds of underperformance: Peak View Secondary School, Beauvallon Secondary School and Zonnebloem Nest Senior School. “Underperformance” is a technical term used by the WCED which connotes a school whose overall National Senior Certificate (NSC) pass rate has fallen below 60%.

The South African Schools Act stipulates that “the Head of Department must take all reasonable steps to assist a school in addressing the underperformance”. From the documents provided to EE by the WCED, it is clear there have been no comprehensive, sustained and targeted interventions implemented by the WCED to improve learner performance at these schools.

The WCED is required under the South African Schools Act to ensure effective school management (by both the principal and the School Governing Body) when assisting an underperforming school.  At Beauvallon it has failed in this regard. The school has been made to operate without a permanent appointment to the principal post for over two years.  By failing to fill this post, the WCED precluded the possibility of strong and effective leadership which is needed to turn a school around.

In the case of Zonnebloem, the WCED later changed its motivation for closure to exclude underperformance. With a pass rate of 73% in 2010 and 85% in 2011, Zonnebloem, by the WCED’s own classifications, is not an underperforming school. This brings into question the level of research that the WCED conducted to identify schools for possible closure.

There is a heightened obligation on the part of the WCED to do everything in its power to save schools such as Beauvallon, Zonnebloem and Peak View which service underprivileged, disenfranchised and poverty-stricken communities in desperate need of empowerment through education.

Closure of schools for underperformance is of particular concern to EE because many of our members attend underperforming schools. These closures would have very real implications for EE’s membership, and for many learners attending similarly placed schools across the country.

The picket started outside the WCED on Lower Parliament Street in Cape Town. Picketers were addressed by Zonnebloem Nest Senior School’s principal Jonty Damsel, EE’s spokesperson Ntuthuzo Ndzomo, and learners.

The Equal Education Law Centre (EELC), acting on behalf of Equal Education (EE), has filed an internal appeal against the Western Cape Education Department’s (WCED) refusal to release information relating to the possible closure of 27 schools.  The WCED has failed to provide adequate reasons for withholding the information. EE has launched an online petition and released a documentary on one of the schools facing closure, Zonnebloem Nest Senior School.

On 13 June 2012 EE made a request for:

The names of the 27 schools that the WCED is considering closing at the end of the year;
The 2010 and 2011 National Senior Certificate (NSC) pass-rates and/or the Annual National Assessment (ANA) results of the 27 schools;
A list naming all the underperforming schools in the Western Cape for the past two years and their NSC pass-rates and/or ANA results for both 2010 and 2011;
Any letters, correspondence, documents, policies and other applicable materials reflecting the measures/interventions taken by the WCED to support the 27 schools;
Copies of the letters sent by MEC Donald Grant and addressed to the governing bodies of each of the 27 schools informing them of the possibility of closure and disclosing the basis upon which the decision to consider closure was made and;
Any documentation indicating the steps/processes the WCED intends following with regards to the closure of the 27 schools.

PAIA Appeal

The WCED’s refusal to grant EE’s request for information was made in terms of section 44(1)(b)(i)(bb) of PAIA. The reference to this section inferred that releasing the information may in some way frustrate the consultative process.

In an appeal filed, the EELC argued that the referenced section was not a valid basis upon which to deny access to the requested information. The appeal stated that “it fails to disclose any grounds, let alone sufficient grounds, as to why the release of the documents would be detrimental to the consultative process involving the fate of public bodies like schools and a public issue involving the potential closure of such schools.”

The consultative processes are underway and it is imperative that this information is released. The EELC has highlighted that “…the information requested would enhance rather than inhibit any deliberative process involving the potential closure of 27 schools”.  It is vital that the public be fully informed about the facts and circumstances surrounding the proposed closures so that the public is able to effectively voice their concerns.

EE accepts that closing schools can be justifiable and acceptable. However, by withholding the information, the WCED is preventing EE, learners, teachers, parents and communities from engaging meaningfully in the consultative process.

The WCED has refused to release information relating to the interventions or measures it took to support the schools prior to the decision to consider closure. It is important for the WCED to demonstrate that all options, other than closure, have been attempted. The closure of schools should not be viewed as a reformative mechanism for underperformance.

Earlier this month MEC Donald Grant refused to meet with EE to discuss its concerns about the closures.  MEC Donald Grant used the appeal of the PAIA request as a basis for refusing to meet with EE.  It is disappointing that the WCED would use its own refusal to provide access to legally accessible information to further shut off dialogue with a civil society organisation that is actively engaged in working to protect the interests of the learners at these schools.

Zonnebloem Nest Senior School

One of the schools facing closure is Zonnebloem Nest Senior School. It was informed by the WCED that it was facing closure because of underperformance. Last year it achieved a pass rate of 85% and in 2010 it achieved a pass rate of 73%. It is unacceptable that the WCED would cite underperformance as a reason for possible closure and then refuse to release the information that they based their decision on.

Zonnebloem’s principal Jonty Damsel has alleged that the school is being closed because the WCED is no longer willing to finance the school’s rental on a property close to the city centre. Concerns have also been raised that schools are being closed because their learners, who mostly live in townships, come from outside the “school-community”. This is what the WCED has officially told, for example, Peak View High School. To rebut such concerns it would be helpful to the public to see the relevant correspondence, as well as the remedial measures undertaken.

EE believes that the integration of our cities is crucial to the future of the country, and that a school, in the city centre, providing a reasonable quality education to township youth, should be protected.

EE calls on the public to support this petition and keep Zonnebloem open.