Proposed new Education Act

biased scales of justiceOn Friday 13 October 2017, the South African Government Gazette published a Bill which aims to amend the South African Schools Act of 1996. The proposed amendments are wide-ranging, but do include some significant clauses which aim to regulate homeschooling, including homeschooling for grades 10 to 12. As it stands, the Bill requires parents who homeschool their children for grades 10 to 12 to register with an accredited service provider for a programme leading to the National Senior Certificate exam. By definition, this excludes the possibility of homeschoolers obtaining a school-leaving qualification through Cambridge International.

What does this mean for you if you are seeking a Cambridge qualification, and what can you do about it?

 What the Bill says

There are a number of issues in the Bill that pertain to homeschooling in general, but the following clauses are relevant to students and families involved with Cambridge International. The Bill states:

(5) A parent may, after a learner, has completed grade 9, enrol the learner at a public school or independent school for the completion of grades 10 to12.
(6) A parent of a learner who wishes to continue with home education after the learner has completed grade 9, must make use of the services of a private or independent service provider, accredited by Urnalusi, established in terms of section 4 of the General and Further Education and Training Quality Assurance Act, 2001 (Act No. 58 of 2001), to register for the Senior Certificate Examination through an independent or private assessment body.

I spoke today (Monday 16 October 2017) to Advocate Rudman from the Department of Education, and he envisages that this Bill will be signed into law by the middle of 2018.

[Update, 6 November 2017: I spoke to Ian Ollis, the DA's Shadow Minister of Basic Education, a few days after speaking to Adv. Rudman. Ian Ollis didn't think it possible that the Bill would be passed into law before early 2019. Of course, it depends on the extent of public debate and consultation, so let's make sure as many people as possible submit objections to the Bill.  See here for instructions on how to submit an objection.]

What it means

Apparently, the Bill requires homsechooling families who wish to continue with homeschooling after grade 9 (the last year of compulsory schooling) to register with a provider who is (a) registered as a Further Education and Training (FET) service provider in accordance with South African law; (b) accredited by Umalusi; and (c) offers as school-leaving qualification the National Senior Certificate (i.e. the certificate issued to students in government schools).

As it stands, the Bill does not allow homeschoolers to use an international qualification like Cambridge International or the International Baccalaureate. This obviously has tremendous implications for families who  are currently busy with Cambridge studies, or who intend to use Cambridge International as their accrediting body for school-leaving exams. Given the recognized superior quality of the Cambridge system, and the track record of many South African homeschoolers who have completed their schooling through Cambridge and who have gone on to excel in university studies, the Bill represents a severe limitation on the legal options available to homeschoolers for grades 10 to 12.

How the Bill relates to existing laws

It is difficult to understand how this Bill could stand in law, given the existing laws. After discussion with Karen van Oostrum of the Pestalozzi Trust, I would highlight two issues:

Compulsory school attendance

Firstly, the South African Schools Act of 1996 (sec 3[1]) makes parents responsible for sending their children to school up to the age of 15, or the completion of grade 9:

Subject to this Act and any applicable provincial law, every parent must cause every learner for whom he or she is responsible to attend a school from the first school day of the year in which such learner reaches the age of seven years until the last school day of the year in which such learner reaches the age of fifteen years or the ninth grade, whichever occurs first.

Children who are registered for homeschooling are exempt from this requirement.

It is difficult to understand how it is legally acceptable for parents to keep their children at home doing nothing after grade 9, but unacceptable for them to homeschool their children in the Cambridge system (using a service provider, a solo approach, or any other approach they choose). And what if a young person who has completed grade 9 wishes, of his/her own accord to register as a private candidate for Cambridge exams? Surely the basic right to education cannot prevent that!

Private schools

Secondly, private schools are permitted to choose their own curricula; the Department of Basic Education's document entitled The rights and responsibilities of independent schools (2008) explicitly states:

Independent schools, in addition, may also choose to write international examinations, such as the International Baccalaureate, the Cambridge examinations, O and A-levels from the United Kingdom or the Scholastic Aptitude test (SAT) from the United States, which do not fall under Umalusi’s control, but are approved by Higher Education South Africa (HESA) for admission to tertiary institutions in South Africa.

It is inconsistent, to say the least, to allow students at private schools to use an international certification system, but to require homeschoolers to use registered providers who work only with the South African national curriculum.

How should we respond?

The Bill allows for comments and representation from interested parties until 10 November 2017. Karen van Oostrum has advised that homeschoolers who are using or who wish to use the Cambridge system should make their voices heard. It seems that the most effective approach is for a large number of individuals to make submissions, giving their own personal concerns and experience. Karen suggested that we draw up a template which everyone can use, and to which individuals can add their own personal experience and concerns. This may be more effective than a petition, where the existence of  the signatories cannot necessarily be verified.

I will endeavour to do some research on this issue, and make a template available to everyone who wishes to make representation (together with instructions for how to do so).

If you have any information or perspectives that might be helpful, please send them to me by email ().

Links

Here are links to the important documents:

The Draft Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill, 13 October 2017

South African Schools Act, 1996

Rights and responsibilities of independent schools, 2008