ISASA survey assesses Umalusi accreditation process

| August 28, 2015 | 0 Comments

By Lebogang Montjane

In my summer 2014 Independent Education article, I questioned whether the Quality Council for General and Further Education and Training (Umalusi) Policy and Criteria for Quality Assurance, Accreditation and Monitoring of Independent Schools and Private Assessment Bodies (Accreditation Policy),1 remains within the confines of the rights and limitations of section 29(3) of the South African Constitution.2

I took the view that the Accreditation Policy breaches the ambit of the provisions established in the Constitution. Beyond the Constitution, it would seem that the Accreditation Policy may also not be aligned with section 46(2) of the South African Schools Act 84 of 1996 (Schools Act).3 This section provides that the Education Members of Provincial Executive Committees (MECs) must, by notification in a Provincial Gazette, “determine the grounds on which the registration of an independent school may be granted or withdrawn by the Head of Department”.4 However, item 22 of the Accreditation Policy seeks to interpose Umalusi into the registration process by positing that:

Independent schools are required to obtain interim registration with the Provincial Departments of Education before applying for accreditation with Umalusi. Independent schools that receive interim registration must apply to Umalusi for accreditation within two months after interim registration has been granted by relevant province. Accreditation is considered within a period of one year after the date of receipt of the application for accreditation. Once an independent school has been accredited Umalusi will recommend it for final registration (emphasis added).5

Authorisation and accreditation

ISASA and the other associations of the National Alliance of Independent Schools Associations (NAISA)6 have queried the legal basis on which the Accreditation Policy desires to usurp the powers of MECs, as contained in section 46(2) of the Schools Act, by limiting their authority to determine the grounds of registering independent schools in their provinces. It is this impasse that is being debated between the Department of Basic Education, NAISA and Umalusi, and which has spawned the interest of NAISA and its respective associations to ascertain which of their schools have been granted accreditation by Umalusi. Although the practical question partially arose out of the need to get clarification on the jurisdictional question of who is authorised to stipulate the registration of independent schools, determining who is accredited among the already-registered independent schools could be an indicator of the regulatory consequences of an amended Schools Act, which would provide that new independent schools must receive conditional registration until Umalusi accredits them.

To this end, ISASA sent out a questionnaire to 706 of our South African member schools, enquiring about their Umalusi registration. This is not the total number of schools in our membership, since ISASA is a southern African association with a total of 753 members. Of the 706 schools to which questionnaires were sent, we received responses from 243 schools. Since ISASA is the largest and most diverse schools association in southern Africa, the schools that submitted the questionnaire are schools with a combination of learning phases. Some schools may include all phases, including pre-primary, whilst others may only go up to Grade 7 of the senior phase and may or may not include a pre-primary school. Others may only include the senior phase from Grade 8 to the further education and training phase. It should be noted that Umalusi does not accredit pre-primary schools.

The table below sets out the phases contained in the schools that responded to our questionnaire.
Umalusi-survey

The questionnaire was relatively brief, with the hope that it would increase the response rate. Below are the questions and the responses to them.

Participation in accreditation process

Schools were asked whether they had participated in an Umalusi accreditation process. A total of 221 schools completed this question, of which 196 schools had participated in the accreditation process and 25 had not. Of those that had not commenced the accreditation process, one of the primary reasons given for not seeking accreditation was that they offered a non- South African curriculum. The reason is that Umalusi does not mandate that those independent schools which do not follow the National Curriculum Statement for Grades R-127 be accredited. Another reason given for not undertaking accreditation was that they had not been approached by Umalusi.

Commencement of accreditation

In answer to the question, ‘When had [their] accreditation begun?’, 187 schools responded and 56 didn’t fill in this question. The earliest year a school had started with accreditation was 2003, and the latest date was this year.

Letter of intent

A total of 171 schools indicated whether or not they had sent an expression of intent to apply for accreditation, and 72 respondents left this question blank. Of the 171 that did provide an answer, 161 had expressed their intent to solicit accreditation and 10 had not. Only 159 schools informed us of whether their letter of intention to request accreditation had been approved or rejected. Of this number, 157 of the expressions of interest were approved and 2 had been denied.

Umalusi Quality Promotion workshops

Interestingly, when members were asked whether they had attended an Umalusi Quality Promotion workshop after having been granted permission to be accredited, 162 of them completed this question and 81 skipped it. A total of 150 institutions had attended these workshops and 12 had yet to attend them.

Self-evaluation

On this issue of their progression with the self-evaluation stage of accreditation, schools were asked to reveal whether:

  • the school had completed the self-evaluation report
  • the school had uploaded the required evidence, as outlined in sections A and B of the self-evaluation report
  • Umalusi had conducted a desktop evaluation of the school’s self-evaluation report and related evidence.

The replies to these questions, as well as the number of schools that responded to each question, are indicated in the table below.

Umalusi-survey-2

Site visits

Members were asked:

  • whether they had been informed, in writing, when they would have their site verification visit, as well as the names and profiles of the verification team
  • if the site verification visit had occurred.

The response to the above questions, as well as the quantity of schools that responded to the questions, are indicated in the table below.

Umalusi-survey-3

Umalusi accreditation decision

Asked whether schools had received a decision from Umalusi on whether or not they had been granted accreditation, 160 schools gave an answer and 83 skipped this question. Of those that did respond, 84 have received communication and 76 are still awaiting word from Umalusi.

A total of 143 schools informed us of their accreditation status, and 100 of them did not let us know. Of the 143 schools that conveyed their accreditation position, 83 of them were granted seven years of accreditation, 21 had one year of provisional accreditation and 39 had not received accreditation. In terms of this survey, it is not known why these respondents had received either provisional or no accreditation, since that question was not asked.

Of those that were dissatisfied with Umalusi’s accreditation decision, only four applied for a decision review and had paid a review fee. This is in contrast to 78 respondents that elected not to apply for a review of the decision with which they were dissatisfied.

Monitoring and reaccreditation

To reiterate a point I made in the summer 2014 article, it must be remembered that an Umalusi seven-year accreditation is a misnomer, since all schools must report biennially to Umalusi on their accreditation. In effect, all Umalusi accreditation is provisional. Respondents that had received full accreditation were therefore asked about their progress in complying with these interim reporting requirements.

Umalusi-survey-4

General comments

Under general comments in the survey, the primary feeling among our members is that the desktop portion of accreditation is very cumbersome and byzantine. This sentiment was expressed in comments such as: “[T]he uploading of the evidence for the desktop evaluation was an arduous process that could be improved; as much as they say beforehand that they don’t want to see reams of files, it was clear that this is what they required in order to tick the right boxes…” Other less positive remarks related to the long wait to receive feedback from Umalusi, as well as the expense of the accreditation process. Also, many schools questioned the relevance of the Umalusi accreditation process to independent schools.

On the positive side, our schools found the Umalusi officials to be professional and helpful in navigating the laborious accreditation process.

ISASA schools must be accredited

Although clear conclusions cannot be drawn out of this survey, it has been useful to see where member schools are in the accreditation pipeline. An ongoing concern for the independent schooling sector is the low number of schools that have been granted some form of accreditation. Thus, it appears that out of ISASA’s 706 member schools, only 83 have been given seven-years of accreditation and 21 provisional accreditation. When will Umalusi get to all the independent schools that need to be accredited?

These survey results may be interesting, but they do not dispense with the legal questions regarding the lawfulness of the Accreditation Policy. On this point, the Accreditation Policy needs to be amended to comply with the Schools Act and the Constitution.

References:

1. See: http://www.umalusi.org.za/docs/policy/2012/approved_schools_policy.pdf.
2. See: http://www.gov.za/documents/constitution/constitution-republic-south-africa-1996-1.
3. See: http://www.education.gov.za/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=aIolZ6UsZ5U%3D&tabid=185&mid=1828.
4. Ibid.
5. See: http://www.umalusi.org.za/docs/policy/2012/approved_schools_policy.pdf.
6. See: http://www.naisa.co.za/.
7. See: http://www.education.gov.za/Curriculum/CurriculumAssessmentPolicyStatements/tabid/419/Default.aspx.

Category: Spring 2015

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