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New school rules in South Africa – significant implications for homeschooling and language policy

Reference: Published by Luke Fraser (BusinessTech), 26 September 2023

The Basic Education Portfolio Committee has approved the contentious Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill, which will now be referred to the National Assembly.

The Bill has been in the works for more than two decades, but it has received conflicting reactions from legislators and the general people.

Among the Bill’s proposals are:

  • The new required school-starting age is Grade R.
  • Parents who do not ensure that their children attend school face penalties.
  • Confirmation that corporal punishment is no longer permitted in schools, with consequences for those who are found guilty of such offenses,
  • A public school’s language policy, as well as any amendments to it, must be submitted to the Head of the Department for approval. The language policy must also include the language demands of the larger community.
  • After consulting with the school’s governing body, the Head of Department has final power to admit a student to a public school.

Some of the proposed adjustments to homeschooling were partially accepted. The change will allow the Head of Department to send an official to perform a pre-registration visit while reviewing an application.

If the parents do not agree to such visits at their homes, the site visits might take place at any location of their choosing.

A trained educator will also be required to review the learner’s proficiency in a report at the end of each step.

Some additional measures have not been approved, most notably the amendment prohibiting the selling of alcohol on school grounds after hours during functions. During the Bill’s public participation phase, this proposal was received with fierce criticism.

The proposed amendment requiring members of governing bodies to disclose all of their financial interests, as well as the financial interests of their spouse, partner, and immediate family members, was also dropped due to lack of support and being deemed too administratively complicated.

According to Committee Chairperson Bongiwe Mbinqo-Gigaba, the Bill got support from the majority of committee members, with three voting against its passage.

“In some instances, all members of the committee agreed that certain proposed amendments did not belong in the Bill and ensured that it was removed,” stated the chairperson.

“In other cases, the committee vigorously debated clauses, with the majority of committee members agreeing to keep such clauses.” All of this is done to improve the educational landscape for the next generation.”

“The committee held extensive public hearings across the country, we heard oral submissions in Parliament from stakeholders and thousands of written submissions were considered when debating and drafting this legislation.”

The Bill and the committee’s findings have now been referred to the National Assembly for debate and consideration.