Pupils struggle for place in school

A Beacon Valley Grade 8 pupil is one of 620 pupils in Mitchell’s Plain and surrounding areas, who have not yet seen the inside of a classroom this year.

Last year she completed Grade 7 at Imperial Primary School, one of the 46 primary schools in Mitchell’s Plain.

In February last year her mother, Michelle Richards, applied online to five of the 17 high schools and the one intermediate school in Mitchell’s Plain.

“It said they are all full,” she said.

On Friday February 28, Ms Richards checked on placement with the Metro South Education District (MSED) offices, in Lentegeur.

“Before the end of this month the first quarter of school closes. How is the child going to write exams,” she asked.

Ms Richards, who is unemployed, said her daughter roamed the streets, when she did odd jobs.

After her applications were declined online, Ms Richards walked from school to school in the area to confirm placement in March last year and again in January this year but to no avail.

“They (the education department) just tell us to wait,” she said.

Colleen Daniels-Horswell, chairwoman of Mitchell’s Plain Education Forum, said there were not enough high schools in the area to accommodate the number of primary school pupils passing Grade 7.

“This problem mainly impacts our children in the poor communities.

“We need to ensure that all of our children get into school.”

She said they had connected with residents in other areas and were trying to get everyone on board.

“I don’t think anybody is able to give a concrete answer at the moment,” said Ms Daniels-Horswell.

Kerry Mauchline, spokesperson for Education MEC Debbie Schäfer, confirmed that 3 000 pupils across the province had not yet been placed at schools.

The Western Cape Education Department’s (WCED) survey completed by schools and districts annually on the 10th day of the school year, concluded in January that a total enrolment for 2020 at 1 077 927 pupils.

This was an increase of 16 848 pupils from the 2019 total — the greatest enrolment increase being in the Metro North and Metro East districts.

In early February a further 6 027 pupils were reported as being unplaced as at Thursday January 30.

“This number is changing constantly. We are placing learners every day, but we are also receiving new late applications,” said Ms Mauchline.

She said within a month the number of unplaced pupils had more than halved.

In Metro East 1 250 pupils and in Metro North 770 pupils have not yet been placed.

Ms Mauchline said the greatest demand in Metro South was for placement of Grade 8 pupils and that the district office was working to place pupils as quickly as possible.

“Many schools in Mitchell’s Plain attract pupils from other areas, making it an area of demand. Late applications also make the situation more difficult.”

She said the department expected to resolve the last remaining unplaced pupils as planned. “Our district staff are using all their resources to find extra space for learners wherever it can be found. We are also opening up extra classrooms where we can to make more room.”

She said they appreciated that parents, teachers and schools were frustrated.

“We are also frustrated. It is not that we do not want to allocate extra teachers and build new schools. We are simply unable to without money,” said Ms Mauchline.

In a media statement issued on Thursday February 27, ANC deputy chief whip Khalid Sayed contended that more space need to be urgently found for thousands of mostly poor pupils, not yet in school this year.

To prevent annual dropout in the province, he proposed that former Model C schools, who have unused space, take in the overflow of pupils.

Mr Sayed said the next step after the State of Province Address (SOPA) two weeks ago was to find funds within the province to build more schools and retain the more than 41 000 pupils (45% of entrants) who disappear from the system between Grade 1 and 12.

“There are overcrowded classes, with some having between 50 to 60 pupils.

“The teacher to pupil ratio in such schools is way above one is to 40.

Mr Sayed suggested that the WCED engage the former Model C schools to take up at least 10 extra pupils per class.

In response to this proposal Ms Mauchline said to simply “place” 10 pupils in each of these schools was irresponsible.

“Each school has different admission policies and circumstances.

“As a department we also have to abide by the applicable law.

“The school governing body (SGB) of a school determines when a school is full.

“To just enforce placement at all of these schools is against the law, there are prescribed processes that need to be followed and done on an individual basis,” she said.

Ms Mauchline said the overwhelming majority of the first-time registrations for 2020 were from the Eastern Cape, totalling 14 904 pupils (87%).

“Sadly, the budget for these pupils does not follow them to our province until much later, if at all, making planning and provisioning very difficult,” said Ms Mauchline.