Department abruptly closes schools

Anthony Benadie MPL

Spokesperson – Department of Education

The abrupt closure of two private schools in Mpumalanga last week will have a devastating impact on the learners of these schools. According to reports, the Mpumalanga Department of Education withdrew financial subsidies from the Barberton Academy with 200 learners and the Shammah College in Tonga with over 400 learners, plunging these schools into a financial crisis and forcing them to shut their doors, leaving the 600 learners stranded.

While the reasoning for the subsidy withdrawal is unknown, reports suggest that the Department of Education withdrew the subsidies on the basis that the schools had performed below the provincial average.  This fact alone questions the validity of the closures, taking into consideration that Shammah College obtained a 69.2% pass rate for Grade 12 in 2013.

The Government Gazette Notice 2147 clearly states,

“(4) An independent school that has been considered for a subsidy referred to in Regulation 7(2), must-

(a)          In the opinion of the Head of Department, maintain satisfactory scholastic standards;

(b)          In the opinion of the Head of Department, meet the educational and cultural needs of a cultural or religious group which are not adequately met by public school;

(c)           Where there is sufficient proof of under-performance in the school, consent to participate in the department’s diagnostic testing for Grade 3, 6 and 9 linked to ordinary public school;”

If the MEC based the withdrawal of subsidies on performance alone, then it must be asked what steps will be taken against the 184 schools which performed below the average provincial pass rate of 72%.

This action by the MEC is also in stark contrast to the ‘kids glove’ approach adopted against the Cefups Academy who has on more than one occasion contravened the South African Schools Act, yet has been given ample opportunity to argue against its closure.

The DA will submit written questions to the MEC asking her to provide sufficient proof of the under-performance of these schools and whether the schools were given the opportunity to take part in the department’s diagnostic testing process.

Furthermore, the department must clarify whether the schools were given written notice of the intention to terminate or reduce their subsidy and whether they were given the opportunity to make written representations as to why the subsidy should not be terminated or reduced.

The most tragic result of all of this is that 600 learners have had their academic year and exam preparations disrupted and have to deal with this instability at this very critical stage of the academic year.