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My child should be ‘in school right now’: Cape Town parents angry, frustrated over unplaced pupils

Scores of pupils in the Western Cape have still not been placed in schools, much to the anger of parents who have since lambasted the Department of Education for “not caring enough” to make sure all pupils were placed by the end of the month.

The Western Cape Education Department said late applications are currently being processed. 

Ashley Thomas told News24 he is “frustrated” that his child has not yet been placed. “I’ve applied at more than three schools in Mitchells Plain but they are all full,” Thomas said.

READ | Frustrated Gauteng parents in last-minute bid to find schools for unplaced kids

His daughter is not from Cape Town and he made a late application.

“They are supposed to place her in a school, not of her choice but of availability for Grade 9. We’ve been waiting since December last year and following up but have received no substantial response on what is happening or what the reason is for the delay,” Thomas said. 

“So much learning has [been missed] due to her being at home. I’ve now had to get her to go online to get modules for Grade 9, which I think has changed for the year. I sit with her and we go through the learning material together.”

He said: 

I’m now forced to put her in a homeschooling programme for her to understand the work she can expect in Grade 9.

Thomas said his daughter is “very unhappy” about not going to school and fears she might have to miss the year.

“To hear your daughter has those fears makes me feel like a failure. But I try to be patient and I try my best to educate her in any way possible so that she feels there is purpose and hope for her to complete Grade 9 still,” Thomas said.

Nuraan Swartz is unhappy that her late application has still not been completed and that her son is missing out on school early in the year.

Parents Nico and Lynne Swartbooi said their child “should’ve been in school right now”.

“Surely the department should have other plans put in place if they can see year after year parents still have kids not being placed. Our kids are the ones that have to suffer because now they [are] starting school late – it’s not right.

“The only update we get is what we read about in the media. Why can’t the department communicate effectively so we know where we stand?” Lynne asked.

Claudia Hendricks said she has to make alternative arrangements for someone to look after her eight-year-old daughter while she awaits placement.

Hendricks said:

I can’t afford to pay people to look after my daughter while I’m at work. Unfortunately, the department is taking this long to place [my child] and one of my biggest concerns is that my daughter will be falling behind with school work.

She said she applied late as her daughter had to move from the Northern Cape.

“I’ve gone numerous times to schools for follow-up[s] on the placement list but still, no responses were given. It’s really a stressful time for us as parents because we are worried about what will happen to our kids if they are not in school every day,” Hendricks said. 

Kursha Rademeyer, who has been trying to help her nephew find placement for Grade 8, said the waiting game has been daunting. 

“My nephew Logen feels as if no one cares about him and that he’s not worth the effort, which obviously makes us feel sad because he wants to be at school. It’s his first year at high school and this is not what his experience should be like,” Rademeyer said. 

Sipho Mgijima said he was disappointed that the department did not put any plans in place to prevent the same thing from happening year after year. 

Mgijima continued:

This, what we are going through with the department, won’t be the [first or] last time this happens. Next year we will sit with the same problem if the department doesn’t intervene. Having our kids miss school because of no place is unacceptable. Why are they not building more schools then?

Parents for Equal Education founder Vanessa Le Roux said the organisation is inundated with parents seeking urgent assistance as the department doesn’t communicate effectively with them. 

“We get thousands of requests nationally from parents and it’s heartbreaking to hear the desperation in their voices when they just want their child to be at a school. At this point, thousands of learners are not placed – there are so many stories and it is time that the WCED is honest with these parents. They need to release the number of learners not placed,” Le Roux said. 

WCED spokesperson Bronagh Hammond said the department doesn’t have a total figure regarding unplaced pupils yet.

This, she said, will only be communicated once they have been verified.

Late applications are currently being processed.

“Many of the parents approaching district offices [have] already been offered a place in a school … but it is not their school of choice. We understand that parents have preferences on what school they would like to send their child to [but] the reality is that some schools are more popular than others and receive hundreds, if not thousands of applications, for just 100 to 200 spaces,” Hammond said. 

She said schools like Spine Road and Mondale High School in Mitchells Plain are extremely popular regarding applications, but only have a limited number of spaces available. 

READ | ‘I don’t know which school my child has to go to’: Limpopo parents await placement for kids

“[These schools] are also focus schools and are therefore able to include competency in certain subjects in terms of their admission criteria. In many instances, parents of learners living in the near vicinity of these schools do not get a place due to so many people having applied. Unfortunately, there will be disappointed parents [which is] why we ask that parents apply at more than three schools and up to 10 schools,” Hammond said. 

She added that while ideally the department would want every learner placed in their first choice, the reality is that this is not possible due to demand and capacity at individual schools.

“While we have made incredible gains in placing all learners that have applied last year, we are receiving late applications which need to be processed. Despite ongoing and very public appeals to parents to apply timeously last year, district offices have reported late placement. An understanding, however, of the systemic conditions for placing each child is required, which is made tougher, and trickier, when it comes to late applications,” Hammond said. 

The challenge with late applications is that the department does not know how many late applications it will receive, where placement will be required, for what grades, language, and ages, and for what subjects or specialised needs.

“We also need the system to settle to determine where there are places available – places that we can then fill. This is a vital part of the process as it will result in the placement of many late applications.” 

According to Hammond, the WCED deliberately opens up its application process as early as March of the previous school year to finalise as many applications by June so that appropriate planning can commence.

Hammond said:

This data and planning is crucial and is partly why we were able to reduce the number of learners unplaced for 2023 so significantly. Late applications, however, make planning and placement very difficult for a variety of reasons.

Planning ahead for the new academic year allows for, if need be, the implementation of additional classrooms, teachers, transportation and new subject or language streams which requires discussion and agreement with the school’s governing body (SGB). 

“Discussions with schools can take weeks, if not months, to find [an] agreement to also accommodate their needs [and] this takes time. The 10th school day [of the new school year] is also essential to us. Learners can only be legally de-registered from a school after being absent for 10 school days in cases where no valid reason is given,” she said.

“Some learners who have confirmed placement at schools do not arrive and can be de-registered [only] after the 10th school day, allowing for the placement of learners that have applied late. While there may be empty seats for learners in some of our schools – seats that fit the profiles of some of our late applications – we cannot use these seats until the 10th-day survey results are accurately assessed and approved. In other words, we need the system to settle, before further placements can be made.”

The department said it is important that parents provide correct and reliable contact details because should a seat become available at a school, the department is then unable to get hold of the parent to confirm placement, which ultimately delays the process.

The department said they are in a better position than previous years with late applications, having already placed 50 000 pupils that applied last year for placement this year.  

“We understand that this is a stressful and anxious period for these parents. As a department, we are asking parents to work with us as we try to accommodate their [child] as soon as possible. We will leave no stone unturned,” Hammond said.


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