The Western Cape Education Department is being accused of violating a child’s right to education for failing to place more than 5000 pupils in schools.
The ANC in the Western Cape says it has asked the South African Human Rights Commission and Public Service Commission to investigate why thousands of children are unplaced and out of school every year.
The WCED revealed last month that 6 594 children in the province were not in school. Last week the number had dropped to 5344.
Khalid Sayed, the ANC’s provincial spokesman on education, said non-placement of pupils largely affected schools in working-class communities, where up to 60 pupils were often squeezed into a classroom.
As of March 8, he said, 6 594 children of compulsory school going age were unplaced in the Western Cape, including 891 Grade 1 pupils and 3 024 Grade 8 pupils.
The problem cropped up every year, and it was time to challenge the WCED, he said.
“It is unacceptable that children are still out of school,” he said. “They have missed out their first term of the new academic year, and this happens every year.”
Mr Sayed accused the WCED of “failing the pupils and failing the parents”.
Residents of Albow Gardens in Brooklyn asked Mr Sayed to visit their block of flats to see children aged 7 to 17 roaming the streets during school hours.
Shanaaz Button, who spoke on behalf of the parents who sat in her lounge with Mr Sayed present, said more than 10 children at the block had been turned away from school, either because they had not been placed or because their parents could not afford the fees at local schools.
Pupils from Buren High School were sent home nearly every week because they could not afford to buy the school’s textbooks and pay for copy paper, she claimed.
Most Albow Gardens parents were unemployed and survived off grants, but were still expected to pay school fees in full, she said.
“Our kids are being sent home because we cannot afford to pay for their textbooks and school supplies,” she said. “This is unfair and causing many children to drop out of school.”
Children were being victimised and treated badly at school because of their financial situation, she said.
Parents who had lost their jobs during the Covid-19 pandemic found it impossible to apply for school-fee exemptions, she said, because they couldn’t get all the documents required by the school governing body: a letter from their previous workplace, a list of expenses and an IRP5 tax form.
Buren High School also required pupils to apply for the school’s feeding scheme. “If you don’t apply, you don’t get a meal,” she said.
Khanyiswa Jordwan, of Milnerton, said her son, who was in Grade 10 at Bloubergrant High School last year, was suspended in the first term of 2020 for bad behaviour.
He was expected to return to school for the second term but then the country went into lockdown. She had decided to keep him at home for the whole year because she had feared for his health, but then the school had rejected his application for this year and he was still at home, she said, adding that her son now saw a social worker and a psychologist and his behaviour had improved.
“I don’t understand why they will not accept him,” she said.
She said she applied at Buren High School, Maitland High School, Kensington High School and Windermere High School but she had been told there was no space for her son.
WCED spokeswoman Bronagh Hammond said there was a high demand for schools in the area, and late applications were to blame for the 5344 unplaced children. The department was still receiving applications, she said.
Ms Hammond said Buren High School did request money for textbooks and copy paper, but parents were not compelled to pay. No pupil could be sent home for not paying fees, but schools could take action against parents who owed fees and did not qualify for exemptions.
“Some schools employ debt collectors,” she said.
If a parent is in arrears in paying school fees by one month or more, the governing body had to investigate whether the parent qualified for an exemption, she said.
Parents qualified for exemption if the school fees were more than 10% of their combined annual income, she said.
Regarding the Grade 10 boy, Ms Hammond said he had been automatically deregistered because his mother had not informed the school’s principal about him returning to school this year.
During Covid-19, a parent could apply for exemption of public schooling but they needed to fill out a form indicating that, she said.
“The responsibility to apply to schools is on the parent. If the parent is only seeking schools now, then it is a late application,” she said.