‘SGBs can work with this,’ says FEDSAS about feasible, practical ‘new’ BELAB

25/04/2024 - Fedsas

Clear rules of engagement are at the heart of the version of the Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill, or BELAB, that was approved by National Council of Provinces’ Chosen Committee on Education, Technology and Sport today (24 April 2024).


 “There are comprehensive changes to the version that was approved today,” says Dr Jaco Deacon, CEO of FEDSAS (the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools). The initial amendments pertaining to language and admissions policies, which would have shifted the decision-making authority to the provincial Head of Education, have been adapted to the extent that it now remains a function of the school governing body. “It does give limited oversight to heads of education but with clear guidelines as to how this should take place.”


Deacon says the amendments emphasise the importance of public participation. “Legislative processes can be slow, and some actions might feel like a futile exercise. However, as far as BELAB is concerned, this is an example of how a healthy, democratic process should work. FEDSAS is also grateful towards the Department, Minister and politicians who handled the thousands of public inputs with due seriousness. The participation of schools, citizens and several organisations was crucial to the changes.”


FEDSAS was involved with the BELAB process since 2017. “Although the organisation often expressed its opinion in the public sphere on some of the more controversial amendments, the organisation continued to be involved as an education partner and by using the organisation’s experience at grassroots level to make contributions in terms of the feasibility of some of the amendments.”


The proposed amendments now allow public schools to remain public schools governed by school governing bodies. This was the original vision of the South African Schools’ Act and the current version, in contrast to previous versions, embodies this spirit. 


 “From the start, FEDSAS was against the proposed amendments on admissions and language policies, central purchasing, public declarations of interest and excessive financial reporting. In the latest amendments, the SGB still determines admissions and language policies without the requirement of approval by a provincial Head of Education. Where a Head of Education must make a final decision about admission, it must be in accordance with the school’s policy, it should be done in consultation with the SGB, and the administrative decision should be reasonable, legitimate, and procedurally fair.” The amendments are now also in line with the Constitutional Court’s rulings in the Rivonia and Ermelo cases where a precedent has already been set about the powers of decision-making when it comes to language and admission.


Deacon says the next step should be the announcement of regulations on the determination of a school’s capacity. “FEDSAS has already done a comprehensive presentation to the Minister in this regard. Such regulations will set objective criteria to be used to determine whether a school has reached capacity. Where a Head of Education wants to incorporate another language into a school, there is now a prescribed process to be followed, which gives more protection to schools.”


FEDSAS is also satisfied that central purchasing from the Department is no longer compulsory. SGBs may still consider all the best options for the school when purchasing learning material. Similarly, the stipulations that all SGB members as well as their immediate family members must disclose their full financial interests were scrapped. The law already makes provision for declarations of conflict of interest.


“FEDSAS supported some of the stipulations from the start. These include a new definition of corporal punishment, stipulations that bring more clarity to discipline, the inclusion of a compulsory Grade R and the handling of learners without the necessary documentation, for example learners without birth certificates or international learners without study permits.”


Deacon explains that BELAB must now be approved by the National Council of Provinces. Since it includes comprehensive amendments, it will be referred to the National Assembly again. If the National Assembly approves BELAB, it will be sent to the President for his signature.


“It is not the end of the road yet and with the general elections around the corner it remains a challenge. However, FEDSAS is satisfied that substantial progress has been made,” says Deacon.


“BELAB has been in the news for a while, and rightly so. However, it is important to remind ourselves continually that the entire process with all the comments, criticism and concerns has only one goal, namely providing access to quality education for all the children of South Africa.”

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