Draft changes to Gauteng school admissions an important step towards equity and spatial justice
School admission policies can play an important and transformational role in South African education. Unfortunately, they are often used for gatekeeping access to certain schools and entrenching apartheid-era inequalities in education.
This is particularly true for schools where school feeder zones (the geographical area from which a school admits learners) have been narrowly drawn around some of the country’s historically privileged schools, limiting access to learners from the surrounding, often historically segregated, neighbourhoods.
This is something that the Gauteng Department of Education (GDE) is seeking to address in its proposed amendments to the Regulations Relating to the Admission of Learners to Public Schools (“Admission Regulations”). Equal Education (EE) and Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) have made a joint submission to the GDE on its proposals. The full submission is available here.
While EE and EELC have critiqued aspects of the proposed amendments, we welcome the shift in the approach of the GDE in re-imagining spatial justice and equity in education access through new criteria for determining the feeder zone of a school.
The proposed amendments follow a Constitutional Court judgment in 2016, in which EE, as a friend of the court, highlighted the manner in which the current feeder zone determination reinforces racial disparities in access to education.
In addition to the determination of feeder zones, our joint submission addresses aspects of the proposed amendments relating to discriminatory practices against undocumented learners; inclusive education; and the empowerment of communities in the review of admission policies.
Determination of feeder zones
We welcome the GDE’s efforts to shift away from the use of a 5km radius as the sole criterion in the determination of feeder zones. The GDE’s proposed amendments allow for a more in depth consideration of the circumstances in which learners are accessing schools, and highlights the need for geographical and spatial transformation.
As highlighted by EE’s submissions in the Constitutional Court case, in light of the ongoing effects of apartheid, the determination of feeder zones based solely on one’s home or work address reinforces and perpetuates unequal access to education. EE has maintained that geographical and spatial transformation must be prioritised in the determination of feeder zones and it is encouraging that this has been taken up by the GDE within the proposed amendments. This is particularly important for learners from township schools, who are especially affected by narrow feeder zone determinations.
Widening participation in the determination of feeder zones
It is commendable that the draft regulations promote participation in the determination of a school’s feeder zone. However, EE and EELC are concerned that the pool of stakeholders able to make representations on the proposed feeder zones is too narrow. Members of the community within which a school is located, and the broader public, have a vested interest in the effects of the delineation of a school feeder zone. EE and EELC therefore propose that the pool of stakeholders must be widened accordingly.
Discriminatory practices against undocumented learners
EE and EELC further raise concerns around provisions of the draft amendments which require that principals report and submit a list of undocumented learners to the education department, which in turn would be submitted to the Department of Home Affairs.
All children have the right to basic education including undocumented children. Various laws within South Africa protect this right. The reporting of undocumented learners to government departments involved with immigration control is a complex issue. EE and EELC recognise the importance of collaboration and information sharing between departments, however the State must ensure that this process does not threaten access to fundamental rights, such as basic education, by undocumented and migrant learners.
It is concerning that the draft regulations make no reference to the processes regulating the admission of special needs learners to public schools. It is crucial that admissions policies promote the inclusion of special needs learners and the required support mechanisms to accommodate and assist these learners in accessing the appropriate schools.
Empowerment of communities to review discriminatory admission policies
EE and EELC propose that a mechanism must be included in the Admission Regulations to enable members of the school community and the broader public to request the review of a school’s admission policy. This will serve as an additional measure to prevent discriminatory practices by school governing bodies in the determination of admission policies.
The deadline for submissions from the public has been extended to Friday 14 September 2018. EE and EELC encourage members of school communities and the general public to submit their comments on these important amendments and to join us in holding government to its commitment to ensure justice in the South African education system.
Issued by Angela Bukenya, EE Researcher, 14 September 2018