MEDIA STATEMENT – 2020-07-24

Posted by Nicki Schmidt
on 24th Jul 2020


Following days of speculation, member schools of the Governing Body Foundation were hoping for clarity. They had been struggling for weeks with inconsistent implementation of directions and standard operation procedures and the absence of sufficient support from the provincial education departments only to be left in the dark by the President’s announcement.

The President has announced closure for all public schools, with special arrangements for schools with learners with special education needs. The closure is not applicable to independent schools. If it is considered unsafe for schools to be open, then the closure surely needs to apply to all learners and staff in all schools. This decision seems irrational unless the basis of closure is not motivated by Covid-19 safety concerns.

To the extent that the decision was based on seven provinces not being able to provide the necessary masks, sanitising products, water and adequate sanitation, what plans are in place to rectify all these shortcomings in the next four weeks? There were reports in consultation meetings some weeks back that all provinces had almost 100% compliance with requirements and where it was not possible to meet the requirements, arrangements had been made for learners at those schools to attend other schools.
We recognise the difficulties faced by some of our member schools who supported the closure of schools for legitimate reasons and are committed to helping them obtain what is necessary for them to open safely.

Many of our member schools have worked very hard to make their schools safe places for the return of learners as per the applicable directions and some have gone further and exercised the provision for deviation from the scheduled dates. With the support of the majority of their parents and learners, they already have learning for all continuing under conditions that are as safe as possible under the circumstances. This working situation has now been interrupted without sufficient warning or time to prepare learning materials and complete other management tasks.

The Governing Body Foundation continues to hold that schools, both public and independent, should remain open on condition that they can do so adhering to Covid-19 safety requirements. Schools should be allowed the flexibility to exercise professional judgment taking into account the circumstances prevailing in their community and acting in the best interests of the school and all its learners.

The Governing Body Foundation supports the continuation without any disruption of the School Nutrition Programme as a matter of urgency but needs details concerning who will be responsible for implementing
it and doing the actual work.

Our organisation also supports ongoing teaching and learning from home during school closure but does not know how that will be managed given the sudden closure of schools and the fact that very many schools have not been able to do this effectively over the last two months and limited or no assistance has been given to them to do so by provincial departments.

The Governing Body Foundation also does not oppose a short break of one week for everyone, but its sudden announcement means that proper preparations for closure could not be completed. It acknowledges that school staff are exhausted from the stress of managing the combined unknowns of the Covid-19 pandemic and changing education sector arrangements. However, it notes with concern that the School Management Team is supposed to use the first week (27- 31 July) for wrapping up work
at school. Some of these educators will then be required to teach grade 12s from 3 August, without having had a break?

There are also contradictions in the announcement that grade 12s should have a one-week break and grade 7s a two-week break. Is it to be interpreted that all other grades return together on 24 August?

That situation is unlikely to be easily managed safely by most schools.
Clarity is needed regarding the school calendar. Surely it was not intentional that the grade 7s return to school on a public holiday within the short official published school holidays. Have these holidays fallen
away for the grade 12s and grade 7s and their teachers? Is it really possible that teachers of two grades work without break and that some teachers have not had to teach at all since the 18 March until at the earliest 24 August? Will there still be a September break as in the published calendar (24 September to 2 October)?

The Governing Body Foundation asks whether a new calendar will be published to provide complete clarity about the announced extension of the 2020 school year into 2021. Besides questions relating to curriculum trimming and promotion requirement matters, it is of the view that this will create enormous complications for the organisation of a school’s financial year, school budgets, and in fee-paying schools, the collection of fees and payment of staff salaries and other contractual and financial commitments.

The Department of Basic Education has not consulted school governing body associations on any of these matters.

A decision must be taken regarding the dates for the National Senior Certificate examinations. While the Governing Body Foundation understands the difficulty of making this decision under the current
circumstances, it is necessary and urgent for the psychological well-being of these learners to know when their very stressful and academically difficult year will end. There is a limit to the uncertainty that they
should be suffering.

The Governing Body Foundation member schools need answers to these questions.

The Minister of Basic Education said there would be task teams set up to resolve on some of these practical matters. We demand that school governing body associations be included in these teams and not excluded as we have been from much of the decision-making over the last four months.

** End of statement**

Dr Anthea Cereseto (Chief Executive Officer) – 061 091 2374 / 011 886 0031 / 082 610 5756

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Media statement – 2020-07-23 – GBF school closure

Posted by Nicki Schmidt
on 23rd Jul 2020

The Governing Body Foundation notes, with reservation, the decision announced today by the President concerning the closure of all public schools in the interest of the safety of learners and school staff.

Anthea Cereseto, CEO of the Governing Body Foundation, acknowledges that the Minister of Education had a difficult decision to make balancing Covid-19 infection risks to children and school staff if schools remained open with other risks to children and the impact on society if schools were closed.

We appreciate the fact that the Minister consulted widely with stakeholders, including the Governing Body Foundation, in order to assist her in preparing a report for the President and Cabinet. Pressure has been exerted by the teacher unions, supported by some civil society groupings, to close schools for the reasons they advanced, and they have prevailed. However, the Governing Body Foundation, along with other stakeholders such as the South African Council for Human Rights, education and economic researchers, and medical and scientific organisations, believed that children in South Africa would be better served if schools remained open, provided they could do so safely.

Covid-19 is going to be a factor in our lives for an extended period and therefore it is not helpful to halt children’s learning and the other benefits of their being at school until all danger, or even the peak (in itself a problematic concept), has passed.

Dr Cereseto stated that the Governing Body Foundation is concerned that insufficient detail has been provided and that only one day has been given for preparing for the closure. Our member schools have flooded us with questions which need to be answered within the next few hours, especially with regard to extending the school year into 2021 and management matters such as the utilisation of staff during the closure period.
It is imperative that the Department of Basic Education, provincial education departments, and the Department of Health use this period to fix the problems that have been identified by stakeholders. This standoff with the teacher unions could have been avoided if the responsible parties had acted more purposefully over the last four months, and indeed over the last years, where infrastructure is concerned.

Dr Cereseto said: “After this break, there can be no further delays in returning all grades to school. The inefficiencies and inconsistencies across the country must be dealt with. Officials must do their jobs competently and diligently. All education districts must be completely functional in order to provide the necessary support when it is needed. Telephones must be answered whether officials are in the office or working from home.”
The Governing Body Foundation will continue to support and advise its member schools as they care for the country’s most precious people – the next generation of South Africa. How will its youth remember their elders’ conduct over this Covid-19 crisis? There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children. Nelson Mandela

** End of statement**

Dr Anthea Cereseto (Chief Executive Officer) – 061 091 2374 / 011 886 0031 / 082 610 5756

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