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ISASA’S Policy and Government Relations Unit: missions and mandates

| March 8, 2012 | 0 Comments

By Mandala Mthembu

Internationally, the exact boundary between private institutional power and public power is a subject of legal investigation and debate.

The same is true in South Africa, where the 1996 Constitution has redefined the terrain of rights and responsibilities, although most have still to be tested in practice in the courts. In the case of independent schools, they now have constitutional protection and new legislation that governs their rights and responsibilities in a number of areas. The right to establish an independent school is enshrined in our Constitution and is also articulated in the South African Schools Act 1996. Furthermore, independent schools have the right to sufficient political, educational and legal ‘spaces’ to follow their distinctive missions and ensure their contribution to society.

While ISASA’s Policy Unit always existed to assist member schools with professional development, curriculum and assessment as well as property rates issues, in 2007 the unit’s focus changed significantly. In an attempt to help member schools understand their rights and obligations in an increasingly complex legislative environment, the unit took on the analysis of a wider range of policies and government relations, and at this time became known as ISASA’s Policy and Government Relations Unit (IPGRU). The unit is currently headed by Sandile Ndaba, Director of Policy and Government Relations. He is supported by Policy Unit Manager, Mandla Mthembu, and Policy Analyst and Researcher, Xolani Majola. Henry Bennett, as an ISASA Legal Advisor, assists IPGRU with any matter that requires further legal opinion and guidance.

IPGRU’s mandate

IPGRU is responsible for three key strategic imperatives:

  • promoting the ISASA brand and the independent schooling sector
  • protecting the independence of the sector
  • promoting diversity in schools.

IPGRU engages with various stakeholders in the following ways:

a) The first line of defence: Heads of schools must be equipped with information about their rights and responsibilities as independent schools. If schools know their rights, it becomes easier for them to protect themselves.

b) The second line of defence: ISASA Regional Directors are charged with giving member schools in the various provinces of the country professional advice and guidance on policy and school management issues, including dealing with errant district officials in the Department of Basic Education (DBE) who tend to undermine the rights of independent schools.

c) The IPGRU and ISASA’s Central Office participate in principled and constructive engagement with both national and provincial government structures on policy and legislation.

d) IPGRU also assists Regional Directors in the execution of their duties by getting involved in interactions with DBE provincial and district officials and Heads of schools.

e) The Joint Liaison Committees (JLCs) are provincial structures that advocate for the interest of all registered independent schools in their province.

f ) The National Alliance of Independent Schools Associations (NAISA) is an umbrella body of all independent schools’ associations, representing the general interest of the independent schools sector in South Africa.

Principled engagement with government structures

The various levels of engagement outlined above have become necessary due to increasing instances of misunderstandings on both the part of government and independent schools with respect to the roles and responsibilities of provincial and district DBE officials. These misunderstandings have almost always been due to the incorrect interpretation of government policy and legislation on the part of officials. Too frequently, at both provincial and district offices of the Provincial Education Departments (PEDs), officials apply the same interpretation to both independent schools and public schools.

Independent schools will usually find that the ‘face’ of government is the PED or the district office. Interaction with the national DBE is always undertaken by IPGRU and ISASA’s Central Office staff, based in Johannesburg. IPGRU undertakes its responsibility based on eight fundamental guiding principles:

  • the constitutional rights of independent schools.
  • the best interests of the child.
  • the right to administrative justice.
  • the right of access to information.
  • the Bill of Rights, in particular those sections referring to
  • procedurally fair practices and conduct.
  • the need for independent schools to maintain standards that
    are not inferior to comparable public institutions.
  • good educational practice, which also covers curriculum and
    assessment issues.
  • providing the best legal opinion and advice on any matter
    affecting independent schools.

Services offered by IPGRU

IPGRU provides a scholarly context and interpretation of policies and legislation to assist schools in carrying out their primary responsibility of providing teaching and learning. Our objectives include:

  • providing policy support and research, advice and analysis
    for our member schools, including monitoring of policy
    developments and implementation.
  • functioning as a rapid response mechanism for decisionmakers
    and policy-makers in our member schools.
  • supporting our schools in their plight to obtain and
    maintain subsidies from government.
  • protecting the rights and responsibilities of independent
  • producing high-quality research on policies that have a
    direct and indirect impact on our schools and publishing
    them in our Quarterly Policy Bulletin.
  • ensuring that our sector is kept abreast of any policy and
    legislative developments that may have implications for
  • providing advice to our member schools on matters of a
    legal nature, sometimes pre-empting the need to consult
  • fulfilling a resource and dissemination function for any other
    matter of crucial importance to our member schools and
    responding to day-to-day issues raised by a member school.
  • advocacy in support of the vision and mission of ISASA
    and advancing the ISASA brand of quality education and
    training, values and diversity.

Working on a common vision Better understanding is required between the government’s DBE, PEDs and ISASA. Underpinning all of this is the need for improved communication with government structures and increased mutual political maturity, respect and understanding. IPGRU works with and supports government departments, particularly the departments of education, legislative structures (portfolio committees), and other institutions such as the Education, Training and Development Practices Sector Education and Training Authority (ETDP-SETA) and the South African Council for Educators (SACE) that are in line with our core values and principles of contributing towards a common vision of high-quality education and training for all in our country.

Category: Autumn 2012

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