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Tuesday, May 1, 2007
Tell teacher

Since independent schools operate their businesses in a free market environment without government involvement they can see no harm in competing for resources, especially for teachers. Their success clearly depends on results and reputation.

Trouble is the public schools must compete in the same market. Government funding helps to a certain point: it directly pays the salaries of those appointed to ‘government posts’; but that is not enough to stave off the competition. Wishing to keep classes down to more manageable numbers ex-Model C schools appoint additional teachers. Salaries for these so-called ‘Governing Body’ posts are not controlled by government. They have to be funded by the parents.
The upshot is that the system – if you could call it that – involves three types of teachers: private school teachers, government post teachers, and governing body appointed teachers. The salary balance between the three creates its own pressures. Not wishing to lose its teachers, public schools tend to find ways to raise the earnings of government-appointed teachers (again at the expense of the parents): for example, paying an additional fee for taking on sports field duties, or after care, perhaps, or for additional administrative functions – anything to keep everyone happy.
At the same time public schools do not want to lose good teachers to the private sector, so even their governing body-appointed posts may need salary review from time to time. Indeed, some public schools have gone so far down the line with this that they are as near to being a private educational body as you can get without saying it. The worse problem is that parents are being forced effectively to fund their children’s education at great expense, as if they were dealing with a private school — despite the fact they precisely decided against that years ago because they could not afford private schooling.
Included in Government policy is that all children should have equal opportunity to education. While this is good philosophy the trouble is the government does not seem able, or prepared to pay for it. Instead it is shovelling the responsibility onto the public schools. Public schools cannot (legally, at any rate) refuse to take on a child, even if its parents are unable to pay part or all of the school fees. Such schools naturally try to wend their way around the law to avoid taking on too many non-fee paying parents.
For example, they might use the ‘there are no more places available’ ploy; or they might say, ‘you must take your child to your nearest school’. Neither would work with a persistent parent. Indeed, in the Western Cape the nearest school option is not strictly available. According to provincial admissions policy (it differs from province to province) there is no ‘feeder zone’ system. In other words any child from anywhere in the Western Cape can go to any school, no matter where they live. This means that schools perceived as better quality are inundated by applications from all over the place. Such schools also end up with fair numbers of partial or non-paying fee parents, the cost of which has to be entirely born by the other parents of that particular school.
For one thing it means even higher school fees, and will bring them even closer to within range of private school cost structures. The big question is this: when will the point be reached — and it will be reached — when a parent faced with similar fees between public and private be inclined to move their children to the latter, away from the pool of non-fee paying parents into the pool of better qualified privately funded teachers?
Another factor, of especial concern in the Western Cape (I can’t at this stage talk about the other provinces) is that without a feeder zone system, parents are not guaranteed a place in their local school. If sufficient numbers are bussed in (perhaps spending three hours a day travelling) others will be forced to travel in another direction in search of a school place. Take a recent example. A mother whose child would have had to walk only 50 metres to school was refused a place at Rondebosch Boys’ High School, and is now transported about 15 kms south to Wynberg. It’s crazy.
Instead, we need a complete review of school admissions and funding policy. The simple principle is this: if something is not sustainable, then it is not right; it is not workable, certainly not in the long run.
And, by the way, while it is compulsory for your child to attend school from the age of 7yrs to 15yrs*, it is also legal for the parent to opt for ‘home schooling’. The simple rule is that you can teach, or have taught your own children in your own home, but no one else’s child. The fact that government has dedicated home school inspectors must be telling us something about this trend. By Nigel Benetton
*Footnote: actually from the year in which the child reaches the age of 7 in that year, so technically the youngest starter is 6 years 1 day.

Copyright © Insurance Times and Investments® Vol:20.4 1st May, 2007
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