Equal Education

Why did the Western Cape Education Department want to close 27 schools?

In June 2012 the Department said they wanted to close 27 schools in the province. 20 of these schools were in rural areas and 7 were in urban areas.  The Department gave different reasons for wanting to close the schools. These included: low learner numbers, poor school infrastructure, a majority of learners at one school coming from outside the area, and underperformance.

Why did EE get involved?

EE accepts that sometimes the Department has to close schools. Sometimes this is in the best interests of learners, particularly in the case of small rural schools with poor resources. However, we were unhappy with the closure of certain schools for these reasons:

  • Three schools were going to be closed for underperformance: Beauvallon, Peak View and Zonnebloem high schools.  EE argued that underperforming schools should not be closed, but that they should be properly supported by the Department.
  • In some cases, the schools which the Department wanted to place learners in would provide them with a worse quality of education. In some cases, the learners would not even be able to learn in their Home Language anymore.
  • One of the reasons the Department gave for closing Peak View was that most of the learners, who are black, come from outside the area. EE believes that children should be free to go to school wherever they choose and that people should not be divided by race.
  • EE was very unhappy with the timing of the school closure process because the Department took such a long time to make its final decision. This put learners, parents, teachers and principals in a very uncertain position.

What did EE do?

EE, supported by its lawyers, the Equal Education Law Centre (EELC), did the following:

  • When the Department announced that it wanted to close schools, we asked for more information. When the Department refused to give it to us, we fought this decision and in the end the Department gave us the information we needed.
  • We made contact with the principals of all 27 schools and met with principals, teachers and learners to find out what was happening at their school and to offer our support.
  • We met with the Department to discuss the specific problems we had with the school closures. We made it clear that if the Department did not deal with these issues, we would take them to Court.
  • We marched to Parliament and picketed outside the Department’s offices in town to make our voices heard.
  • We did TV and radio interviews and wrote an article in the Cape Times to raise people’s awareness about what was happening.

The department's decision

In October 2012, the Department announced that seven schools it had planned to close would remain open. Because of the efforts of principals, teachers, parents and learners at these schools, they were kept open. It was also because of the hard work of EE and the EELC and other organisations like the Save Our Schools Coalition.

Two school closures which we thought were particularly unfair – Zonnebloem and Peak View – and around which we campaigned the hardest, were reversed.

EE called for the Department to support Zonnebloem and Peak View in improving their results. The Department promised to work with these two schools to improve them.  Following EE’s suggestion, the Department said that it would approach the private owner of the land on which Zonnebloem is located to improve the condition of the school buildings.

The Department initially said it would not transport learners from Denneprag Primary to the placement school.  EE pointed out that Denneprag learners would have to walk a dangerous route to reach the placement school.  The Department will now provide transport to Denneprag learners and to all rural learners where transport is necessary.

The Department promised to pay for school uniforms for all relocated learners. It also promised to cover school fees for the 2013 school year (for learners moving to a school with higher fees). 

Urgent Interdict 

In November 18 of the schools facing closure, their governing bodies and SADTU applied for an urgent interdict to keep 18 of the remaining 20 schools open (two school s did not want to be involved in the case). The application was successful – the Cape High Court ordered MEC Donald Grant to reinstate leases and basic services to 17 of the 18 schools. These schools will therefore remain open until a final decision is made on the matter. Judge Desai, who presided over the matter, will release his judgment in March.

Follow up

In December, EE met with the Department once more to ensure that its promise to improve the education of learners at the 20 closing schools was being kept to. EE promised to work together with Zonnebloem and Peak View to ensure that the situation at these schools was improved, and to monitor progress made.

EE continues to monitor the situation at these schools.