DGMT welcomes Western Cape High Court ruling to uphold Collaboration Schools

DGMT welcomes the High Court’s decision to uphold the introduction of Collaboration Schools in the Western Cape as a means of improving learner outcomes at no-fee schools.

The South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) and Equal Education (EE) took the Western Cape government to court in 2019 to challenge a new provincial law that made it possible for non-profit education organisations to become an integral part of the governance and management of underperforming no-fee public schools, working with principals and staff to improve teaching and learning.

SADTU and EE argued in court that the Western Cape Provincial School Education Amendment Act of 2018, which enables the creation of Collaboration Schools, violates the South African Schools Act (SASA) by allowing private non-profit organisations to hold 50% representation on School Governing Bodies (SGBs).

But, on 17 July 2023, Western Cape High Court Judge Andre Le Grange’s judgment dismissed SADTU and EE’s challenge. He noted that “the Constitutional requirement…[that] parents must be meaningfully engaged in the teaching and learning of their children…has not been undermined or breached” by the Collaboration Schools model, and “no breach has occurred that limits children’s rights to participate in decisions that affect them”. The Collaboration Schools model guarantees parents and learners their constitutionally mandated oversight roles within SGBs.

In his judgment, Judge Le Grange also noted that the national Minister of Education had declined to join SADTU and EE in opposing the new Act, having concluded that it was consistent with national legislation.

In his ruling, Justice le Grange noted that South Africa’s education spend is among the highest in the world but achieves among the poorest outcomes: 81% of Grade 4 learners cannot read for meaning and 40% of learners enrolled in Grade 1 never make it to matric. Despite the government channelling millions towards poorer schools, there are still massive gaps in teaching quality and learner outcomes.

In 2015, in response to South Africa’s education system challenges, a group of funders – led by DGMT in partnership with provincial education departments – began exploring frameworks that would allow civil society to support the delivery of public education. This led to the establishment of a public school partnerships programme, known in the Western Cape as Collaboration Schools.

Through partnerships with civil society, public school partnerships programmes such as Collaboration Schools bring additional expertise, resources, flexibility, and greater accountability to no-fee public schools to achieve more equity in quality education in South Africa and address the damaging legacy of apartheid education.

“South Africa has a rich history of civil society involvement in education, with faith-based mission schools having produced some of the most revered leaders of the liberation movements”, says Dr David Harrison, CEO of the DG Murray Trust. “Ignoring that history and trying to equate civil society organisations with for-profit commercial operators suggests a tunnel vision that can only limit our ability to explore the full range of options that could radically improve educational outcomes for our children.”

School Operating Partners empower parents to fulfil their governance role, while also supporting and capacitating teachers, principals and school staff in no-fee schools.

School Operating Partners give no-fee schools access to networks, skills and resources that are typically available to wealthier schools through well-connected, affluent parents and SGBs.

“While we respect the right of EE and SADTU to disagree with Public School Partnerships, we are puzzled why they would take the WCED to court on an initiative that enables poorer children to do better at school,” says Harrison. “Nonetheless, in other areas, we have common ground with both parties and will continue to work with them.”

The Western Cape High Court’s judgment allows the impactful work of Collaboration Schools to continue.

Since the inception of the pilot programme, Collaboration Schools’ National Senior Certificate (NSC) results have shown strong results. Similarly, primary schools’ systemic assessment results have shown improvements compared to the provincial average, particularly for learners between grades 3 and 6.

The Western Cape Minister of Education, David Maynier, noted in his statement on the judgment: “One need only look at collaboration schools like Apex High School, Jakes Gerwel Technical High School, and Boundary Primary School, to see the benefits that the model offers… We look forward to this outcome bringing stability and certainty to the sector going ahead”.

There are currently thirteen schools operating as Collaboration Schools in the Western Cape.   “While this number represents a tiny proportion of the schools in need of public-private partnership, they have been used effectively to demonstrate how sustained improvement in learning outcomes can be achieved and to open the way for more Collaboration Schools”, says Harrison. “This legal judgment will assist in securing the place for Collaboration Schools as part of the solution to South Africa’s education problems”.

DGMT’s public school partnerships programme is committed to ensuring every child has the right to high-quality education, regardless of their socio-economic status, and that every parent and educator should be empowered to provide it.

The full judgment is available here.

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