Major Changes Coming to School Laws as New Bill Is Adopted

NATIONAL NEWS

By Staff Reporter

POLOKWANE-Parliament’s portfolio committee on basic education has adopted the Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill. The Bill will now be referred to the National Assembly for further debate and consideration.

Over the past few months, there has been a lot of uproar regarding the Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill with some saying the laws proposed are controversial. This bill has seen both support and pushback from parents, teacher unions and even students.

However, on Tuesday, the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education agreed to and adopted the Bill, and it will now serve before the National Assembly.

The Bela Bill was introduced in Parliament on 15 December 2021, and was later referred to the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education for consideration.

The Bill seeks to amend the South African Schools Act and the Employment of Educators Act. The committee held two meetings on the Bill in February 2021, during which a briefing was sought from the Department of Basic Education.

After in-house discussions, the committee called for written public submissions from 1 May to 15 June 2022. That deadline was extended to 15 August to allow the public more opportunity to participate.

Some of the new laws proposed are as follows:

Grade R will be the new compulsory school starting age, as opposed to grade 1

Parents who do not ensure their child or children are in school, receiving fines or jail time up to 12 months and making it a crime.

Parents and learners will need to supply specified documentation when applying for school admission

School Governing Bodies will be held more accountable for disclosures of financial interests – including those related to their spouses and family members. The role of SGBs will be smaller and provincial heads of education departments will have the role of making a final decision on a school’s language and admissions policy.

Prohibit educators from conducting business with the state or being a director of public or private companies conducting business with the state

Corporal punishment and initiation/hazing practices will also be abolished

Alcohol consumption will be allowed on school premises at after-hour events

Homeschooling will also be impacted

Committee chairperson, Bongiwe Mbinqo-Gigaba, said the proposed amendments were to align the bill with developments in the education landscape and to ensure that systems of learning were put in place in a manner that gave effect to the right to basic education as enshrined in the Constitution.

Regarding homeschooling, some of the proposed amendments were partially agreed to. The amendment will allow for the Head of Department to, when considering an application, send an official to conduct a pre-registration visit.

Speaking about the language policies, Mbinqo-Gigaba said the amendment states that the language policy of a school must also take into consideration the language needs of the broader community. “The contentious proposed amendment, regarding home education, was partially agreed to,” she said.

She also noted that the Bill received support from most members of the committee, whilst three members voted against the adoption of the Bill.

“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,” the chairperson said.

In other instances, the committee vigorously debated clauses which saw the majority of members of the committee agreeing to retention of such clauses. This is all to ensure that we better the education landscape of 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.”

Earlier this month, the committee revealed that certain clauses of the bill were removed.

The clauses that have been removed are clauses 8 and 14:

Clause 8: Allowing schools to sell alcohol outside school hours’.

Clause 14: School Governing Bodies (SGBs) will be held more accountable for disclosures of financial interests – including those related to their spouses and family members.

Mbinqo-Gigaba says clause 14 has been removed as a result of stakeholder feedback particularly the SGB’s organisation.

When we were conducting public hearings, particularly the SGB’s organisation – they felt that there was no need for them to declare their information.

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