What is the Gauteng Department of Education smoking?

City Press reported on 29 June [1] and IOL reported on 10 July 2014 [2] that the Gauteng MEC for education, Panyaza Lesufi, plans to merge former Model C schools with township schools. This is new. The Gauteng Department is smoking. The HSF has observed the smoke signal and we are trying to interpret it. In our efforts, we have posed ourselves the following questions:

1. Is this process to be voluntary or compulsory?

The MEC said: “I can’t preside over a tweaked apartheid education system, with poorly resourced schools existing side by side with rich ones.” So we conclude that the system may be (a) compulsory or (b) initially voluntary, but then made compulsory if a voluntary process does not deliver the envisaged results.  

2. Will the process involve independent schools or will it be confined to public schools?

Older folk will know independent schools as private schools and public schools as government schools. According to the Master List of Schools in the last quarter of 2013, 1 110 (34%[3]) out of  3 180 [4] schools open in Gauteng were independent. The MEC said that he intended to merge Sandton [presumably Sandown] High with Alexandra Secondary School and Waterkloof High School [not found on the Master List] with Mamelodi Secondary School, among others. All the identified schools are public. We shall assume in what follows that only the 2 070 public schools will potentially be involved.

3. What is a ‘former Model C’ school?

The term ‘Model C school’ was introduced in the last years of apartheid.  It has not been used in official school classification for many years. The Master List contains the following variables:
  • Whether a school is a Section 21 school, i.e. has a school governing board.  1 853 public schools (90% of all public schools) are Section 21 schools.
  • The historical origin of the school.  The categories of schools can be divided into:
Historically Black:  Former Bophutatswana, KwaNdebele and Department of Education and Training public schools.  1 127 schools fall into this category
Historically Coloured:  Former House of Representatives public schools, of which there are 80.
Historically Asian:  Former House of Delegates public schools, of which there are 59.
Historically White:  Former House of Assembly public schools, of which there are 551.
Post-apartheid schools:  Schools built since 1994, of which there are 222.
Unclassified schools:  There are 31 schools in this category.
The historical origin of a school does not necessarily indicate its current status.  For instance, Waverly Girls’ High School is classified as a Former House of Assembly school, but the learners in it currently are nearly all Black. This is by no means the only such case in Gauteng. It must be so: the 2011 Census found that White children between age 6 and age 18 were just 12.8% of all children in this age range in Gauteng, down from 18.5% in 2001.
  • The school quintile.  Schools are classified by quintile according to the incomes of the community it serves. Quintile 1 schools serve the poorest communities and Quintile 5 the richest communities. There are 271 public schools in Quintile 1, 265 in Quintile 2, 511 in Quintile 3, 424 In Quintile 4, 579 in Quintile 5, and no information for 20 schools.
Does the MEC regard former House of Assembly schools as ‘former Model C schools’? Only those with self-governing bodies, since that was a requirement for Model C status many years ago? Any other schools?

4. Will the plan be comprehensive?

How far does the MEC intend to go? Is he planning a comprehensive programme? If not, how will the selection be made? If so, each former House of Assembly school (assuming they are being regarded as former Model C schools) would need to be paired with not one but, on average, 2.75 other schools. Otherwise, there are not enough former House of Assembly schools to go round. Even if one excludes Historically House of Representatives and House of Delegates schools from ‘township schools’, the ratio is 2.50. The ratios would be higher if one excluded former House of Assembly schools which are now overwhelmingly Black and non-Section 21 former House of Assembly schools.

5. How would the merged schools function?

The MEC has said that merged schools would have one principal, one school governing body and one budget. But there are further issues. The intention is also for the schools to share resources, facilities and staff members. Will educators be bussed between schools? Will learners be bussed between schools? It appears so. How else would staff and facilities be shared?
And what would the quintile status of a merged school be? Suppose a Quintile 5 former House of Assembly school merges with a Quintile 1 historically Black school of equal size. Would the merged school be Quintile 5? Quintile 1? Neither seems reasonable. Perhaps Quintile 3?

6. Would there be unintended consequences from this plan?

We think that there could be.
  • Schools with self-governing bodies may appoint educators in their own name to supplement educators provided by the government. These extra educators are financed by fees levied on learners. This is only possible for Quintile 4 and 5 schools, since Quintile 1, 2 and 3 schools are forbidden to charge fees. Through their school governing body, parents or care givers have chosen to accept a levy on themselves in order to finance additional educators. They are free at any time to stop doing so, in which case school governing body educators would disappear. Might individual households choose to employ tutors outside of school altogether to provide supplementary teaching if schools are merged? Might learners migrate to independent schools? Might home schooling become more popular?
  • If educators are to be bussed, they will have to spend significant time on transport as well as on their teaching duties.  Would educators, currently barely preferring to teach compared with working elsewhere, leave the school system altogether?
The HSF is intrigued by this proposal and we shall be watching with interest to see how it develops.


[3] Containing 11% of learners
[4] Including 16 early childhood centres offering Grade R
Charles Simkins
Senior Researcher