School partner uproar

YOLANDE DU PREEZ – While Western Cape Premier Helen Zille praised the Collaboration Schools pilot project in a statement last week, teachers and parents at the Oranjekloof Moravian Primary School are sceptical.

In November last year, parents voted to be part of the pilot programme along with Silikamva High School, Langa High School, Forest Leadership Academy in Eersterivier and Happy Valley Primary in Blue Downs.

But since then, concerns of the school being privatised, the initiation of school fees and a change in admission policies at the school as well not being involved in decision making have left the parents worried.

The pilot programme – planned to run for the next five years – was initiated by the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) to test a new model of schooling which involves managerial and training resources from the private sector to assist with education in public schools that are in need of support. The programme runs on a non-profit basis in full agreement of the participating school governing body (SGB) (“Two schools to test new partnership model”, Sentinel News, November 20, 2015).

Earlier this year, the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) expressed concerns in the media about the schools being privatised and run by business consortiums on public land, using taxpayers’ money as well as the violation of the provisions of the South African Schools Act.

This resulted in the temporary withdrawal of Mellon Educate, an international volunteer-based charity which agreed to partner with the schools on the project. The school was also given until Tuesday March 15 to decide whether to continue with the projects or to withdraw from it by means of voting.

But voting did not go according to plan and parents and community members feel they have been given a raw deal.

Community member and former chairman of the SGB at Oranjekloof Moravian, Morris Nonggabe said he was disappointed with the turnout of events on Tuesday as voting did not take place.

He said the meeting facilitator refused to engage in any discussions about the programme, insisting the meeting was to cast a yes or no vote only, leaving parents with more questions than they came with.

“The idea was to get clarity on some of the questions that the MEC (Debbie Schäfer) did not answer. As a community we feel that we have not been suitably informed about the collaboration programme and we need answers,” he said.

Mark Allen, a project manager representing the private sector partners – who attended the meeting – confirmed that voting did not take place and said the most fundamental aspect that has changed between now and November last year is misinformation in the community.

He said he received information that parents were intimidated not to attend the meeting on Tuesday and past attempts to communicate facts and information to the community have been sabotaged.

“Information pamphlets have gone missing and did not make its way to the parents and information sessions have been disrupted,” he said.

He emphasised that the school will remain a public school and its admission policy will not change. The WCED has also confirmed that school fees will not be initiated by the school and the school will remain a no-fee school.

Mr Allen said he wanted to make parents aware that their vote for the collaboration project is not a once-off vote.

“Parents will get the opportunity to vote annually. This will insure that the partners are accountable to the parents and will allow continual engagement with between the parents and the partners,” he said.

Spokeswoman for the Western Cape Education Department, (WCED) Jessica Shelver confirmed that “there has been some instability within the community regarding the schools participation in the collaboration schools pilot project.”

She said the schools that form part of the collaboration project chose to become part of the R30 million pilot programme and submitted requests to the WCED to change their composition to include representatives of the donor partners.

“As this was voluntary, should a school no longer wish to form part of the programme, they may withdraw from the project by informing the WCED,” she said.

Ms Shelver said she could confirm that the programme was working well at the Silikamva High School.

Silikamva High School principal, Angus Duffett said the programme offers sustainable support for public schools in the form of additional academic, financial and extra mural support.

“So far, we have found benefits in all those areas. We have appointed additional support staff which will ensure that our pupils are given a greater opportunity to perform and excel in education,” he said.

He said the school’s partner, Mellon Educate have a team of education specialists who provide resources and additional academic skills development.

Mr Duffett added parents and teachers have been entirely supportive and teachers now have additional academic support in class as well as development of their own skills and development content.

However, Sadtu spokesman, Jonavon Rustin disagreed with the praises of the programme.

He said Sadtu was happy that Oranjekloof was considering withdrawing from the “ill conceived programme,” and said there were two fundamental problems.

Firstly, the programme is a violation of the provisions of the South African Schools Act. He said the Act covers private and public schools only. “You cannot violate the Act by bringing about a school that is not stipulated in the Act. How can you have a public school where parents and the SGB have no say but instead the majority voice belongs to a private body,” he said.

And secondly, the WCED want to relinquish their responsibility of taking care of the school by handing it over to a private entity.

Ms Zille’s earlier statement addressed union accusations saying Oranjekloof is an example of how the often intimidating voice of Sadtu and a small number of self-interested teachers can derail progress toward quality education.

“A misinformation campaign is currently doing the rounds amongst parents, with lies being peddled about the so-called ‘privatisation’ of the school, and the intention to charge high fees and enrol learners from outside the community,” it read.

Oranjekloof acting principal, Nokuzoa Mgqweto and Mellon Educate declined to comment.

A date for the next vote is yet to be established.