New bill for comment

Kerry Petrie, Norkitt Education Leadership Initiative (NELI)

The Department of Basic Education has released the Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill (BELA) for public comment. The draft proposes some radical changes, drastically limiting the role parents and educators have to play in governing and supporting our education system.

While NELI agrees that some of the proposed changes are necessary to promote equity and drive transformation, many are worrying. We are very concerned by both the changes that propose re-centralising power in a department that is already struggling to deliver on its current mandate; and the spirit of the amendment that excludes vital stakeholder input and oversight from our schools.

It seems that the department is addressing very complex governance challenges in the education system using a singular and myopic solution. The response to some dysfunction in the system is not simply to strip SGB responsibilities, but to rather capacitate parent and educator governors more effectively so that they can perform the function of community oversight that is fundamental to a public education system.

Some of the particular clauses that we believe should be reconsidered include:

The proposed limitation of governing body recommendations for senior staff appointments

Currently SGB members are included in the candidate interview process for teachers and principals. The SGB has the opportunity to identify the candidates they believe are most suited to the position. This provision recognised the need for stakeholder input in critical decisions. The current amendment strips this power away and would centralise this process at an education department level.

The proposal that Section 21 schools will no longer have the ability to source their own learning and teaching support materials. The inability of government to deliver text books is a well-covered crisis in South Africa.

The proposed criminal sentence of six years for disrupting school activities.

This would apply to parents who do not send their children to school, but also to parents and community members who, in a state of desperation, are forced to close a school in response to violence in the area or in an attempt to garner attention from political leadership.

A copy of the proposed bill in full can be downloaded from our website at www.norkitt.net/BELA .

We are working to publicise the changes so that the public can have their say.

This is your opportunity to get involved and have your voice heard. We are developing a guiding template to help you make your submission, which will be available on our website.

Make sure your school knows about the proposal, talk to your fellow parents and consider how you feel about the proposed changes.

You have until Friday November 10 to submit any concerns for consideration in the parliamentary review process.