No place for pupils at schools

Education MEC Debbie Schafer

The Mitchell’s Plain Education Forum (MPEF) has called the shortage of space at schools in the area a “criminal injustice to our children”.

In a letter, dated Monday July 30, and written to Minister of Higher Education and Training Naledi Pandor and Education MEC Debbie Schäfer on behalf of hundreds of pupils battling to be placed at schools in the area for next year, they said: “We aver that it is their constitutional right to basic quality education.”

Colleen Daniels-Horswell, chairperson of the MPEF, said the situation was unacceptable, “in bad taste and untenable as we move closer to the new school year in 2019”.

“Parents are frustrated as this will further place them in an invidious position and cause an unavoidable financial burden on an already stringent budget, should they be required to send their children out of the area to attend school in 2019,” reads the letter.

It also raised safety concerns, specifically crime and other social ills as a result of pupils not being placed at school.

Ms Daniels-Horswell said the situation was not unique to Mitchell’s Plain as the plight of parents in the previously disadvantaged areas who were unable to find place for their children at schools, was highlighted daily on social media and in newspapers.

She said the forum had also been approached by parents from Retreat and Belhar, for assistance.

“We hereby request that you as the MEC of Education, furnish us with a comprehensive response of your plans and intervention to address the plight of the many children in Mitchell’s Plain, who will face the prospect of not being placed in a school for 2019,” read the letter.

Ms Daniels-Horswell told the Plainsman they had received numerous calls from various organisations and parents highlighting that despite early applications at more than one school, their children had not been allocated places at school for 2019.

In the letter, the forum placed on record that they had tried to engage with the WCED since 2009.

In 2011 they took up the cause of more than 4 000 children, who had not been placed in schools in Mitchell’s Plain, particularly in Grade 1 and Grade 8 (“Lack of high schools”, Plainsman, June 29, 2011).

Ms Colleen-Horsewell said a few suggestions were proposed, including pupils being bused to other suburbs, where schools were not overcrowded; bringing back afternoon school; using empty civic or church buildings as classrooms, and building prefabricated classrooms at overcrowded schools.

“We place on record that all our proposals were brushed aside with the response from your department that too much red tape was involved in terms of using or implementing any suggestion and or proposals, as the decision did not rest solely with WCED,” the letter said.

She explained that the department then became proactive in asking parents to register children before certain deadlines but this resulted in overcrowded classrooms to accommodate the numbers and that several children were not placed at a school.

“We have classrooms of more than 45 pupils in a classroom, which is not conducive to learning,” she said.

Parent Dorian van der Berg wrote to the Plainsman in June, complaining that applications for his son to attend Mondale High School, in Portland, and Spine Road High School, in Rocklands, had been unsuccessful. They received rejection letters from Spine Road High School and Mondale before the winter school holidays.

Their son, 12, a Grade 7 pupil at Liesbeeck Primary School will now be travelling to Athlone.

“This requires transport money and time to travel to and from school,” he said.

Both the Rocklands and Portland schools, are mathematics and science focus schools, which require that applicants complete admissions tests.

Principals from Rocklands and Portland high schools, Nigel Pelston and Ridwaan Williams, respectively, told the Plainsman that they receive up to 1 000 applications each but only have place for a third of those pupils.

Mr Pelston appealed to parents to confirm their children’s attendance at a specific school.

“This could be place for another pupil,” he said.

Mr Williams said the reality was that Mitchell’s Plain needed more high schools and that existing schools were at breaking point.

Bronagh Hammond, head of communication for the WCED, said there were 43 primary schools, two intermediate schools and 15 high schools in Mitchell’s Plain.

RocklandsandMondale are Dinaledi mathematics focus schools, Spine Road is a maths and science focus school, Cedar is an arts and culture focus school while Princeton and Oval North are engineering focus schools. Special needs schools in the area, known as LSEN (Learners with Special Educational Needs) schools are Lentegeur Training Centre, Beacon School in Westridge and Agape School in Tafelsig.

The Mitchell’s Plain School of Skills offers literacy, numeracy and skills training to pupils aged between 14 and 18 years, who have special needs.

She said generally high schools were much bigger and could accommodate more pupils, than primary schools and that while the department tried to retain as many pupils as possible, the reality is such that pupils do drop out of the system for a variety of reasons”.

“Therefore the cohort of pupils that started in Grade 1 eleven years ago, is lower in Grade 12 today,” she said.

Ms Hammond said the growth of the pupil population, lack of appropriate land for new schools, financial constraints due to current economic conditions, and an increase in enrolment of pupils from other provinces contributed to the lack of space at schools.

She said in 2018/2019, the WCED had invested a large allocation towards school infrastructure to meet the growing demand for schooling in the province, as well as to replace schools built with inappropriate materials. The amount allocated to new and replacement schools is R531 million. In the financial year in question, seven new schools are to be completed and three schools replaced in the province.

Ms Pandor’s office failed to reply to questions or confirm receipt of the Plainsman’s enquiry by the time this edition went to print.