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Reporting requirements: Umalusi and independent schools in South Africa

| November 7, 2014 | 0 Comments

By Lebogang Montjane

The right for independent schools to exist is secured by the South African Constitution.

As with all rights granted by the Bill of Rights, the right to establish an independent school is not an absolute right, but is subject to certain limitations. Section 29 of the Constitution requires that for an independent school to legally exist, it cannot discriminate on the basis of race, it has to be registered and must “maintain standards that are not inferior to standards at comparable public educational institutions”.1 A constitution is a founding document that establishes the parameters under which the state may exercise its powers. The pertinent question for independent schools is whether the regulatory framework and practice implemented after the Constitution came into effect, to monitor the compliance of independent schools with the minimum threshold established in the Constitution, is in keeping with the test set out in section 29 of the Constitution.

Enter Umalusi

Section 24 of the National Qualifications Framework Act 67 of 20082 designates Umalusi as the Quality Council for General and Further Education and Training. As a quality council, Umalusi is empowered by section 23(2) of the General and Further Education and Training Quality Assurance Act 58 of 2001 (GENFETQA),3 to quality assure independent schools on the basis of a policy and criteria developed in terms of section 23(1). On 29 October 2012, the Minister of Basic Education promulgated regulations approving the “policy for quality assurance of independent schools and the accreditation and monitoring of private assessment bodies”. This document has now established the criteria by which independent schools will be measured if they are to be granted accreditation under section 24 of GENFETQA.

Insufficient recognition of independent excellence

Given the proven track record of affiliated independent schools, especially ISASA member schools, I argue that Umalusi’s Policy and Criteria for the Quality Assurance, Accreditation and Monitoring of Independent Schools and Private Assessment Bodies (Accreditation Policy)4 gives insufficient consideration to the evident excellence of quality-assured independent schools. On a plain reading of section 29 of the Constitution, it is clear that independent schools, in order to remain constitutionally compliant, are not required to exceed the standard achieved by comparable public schools – they merely have to meet the existing standard of public schools.

It must be understood that from an educational perspective, pedagogical standards are best measured over a lifetime and cannot be reduced to a numerical figure. However, for legal purposes, a proxy for educational standards must be found. I contend that such an indicator of educational standards should be the examination results of the National Senior Certificate (NSC).5 Those schools whose curriculum does not extend to the further education and training stage of secondary schooling6 could be measured for accreditation purposes on their results in the Annual National Assessments.7 On the basis of the NSC examination results alone, many affiliated independent schools and ISASA member schools have illustrated that they have met the minimum constitutional educational standard. As the table below shows, independent schools that write the NSC exam with the Independent Examination Board (IEB) exceed the standard achieved by public educational institutions, and even among independent schools, ISASA member schools perform better than other independent schools. Even though the disaggregated results for independent schools that write the NSC examination through the Department of Basic Education (DBE) are not published, the figures below are being used, because I believe that they are indicative of the independent schooling sector as a whole. Although these are last year’s NSC examination results and such results may vary slightly annually, on a consistent basis, independent schools generally perform well in the NSC examinations.

Rather than limit the regulatory burden on well-performing independent schools, Umalusi’s Accreditation Policy imposes a costly and cumbersome compliance regime. In this policy document, the purpose of accreditation is to recognise “the capacity of an independent school to offer a qualification on the General and Further Education and Training Qualifications Framework, and the independent school’s implementation of the curriculum in support of the qualification, at the required standard”.8What can be seen is that this Accreditation Policy objective extends beyond the minimum threshold contained in the Constitution. The required standard for accreditation is that achieved by the public system. Thus, for accreditation purposes, if an independent school is achieving above the public system, a school’s capacity to implement the curriculum to the required standard should surely be evidenced by such a school’s capstone examination results.

Four areas up for inspection

Instead of using external examination results to measure a school’s capacity to successfully convey the national curriculum, South Africa’s Accreditation Policy mandates that every independent school must be evaluated on three inter-related areas to determine whether they meet the minimum standard expected of independent schools. The first of the three areas involves whether management and leadership, as well as a school’s resources, are sufficient to enable an effective teaching and learning environment. The second area of scrutiny is the management process of implementing the curriculum. The last area of inquiry is the assessment outcomes and results of pupils. As I have argued above, for regulatory purposes, the initial measure of quality should be NSC examination results. As the Accreditation Policy itself implicitly acknowledges in its third area of consideration, results are an indicator of success. In contradiction of this recognition, quizzically the Accreditation Policy demands that independent school accreditation is dependent on four criteria:

  • leadership, management and communication
  • school ethos
  • teaching and learning
  • school results. Of these four criteria, I posit that only two can legitimately be traced back to our Constitution: school ethos and school results.

Public regulators ill-equipped

In the instance of school ethos, the Accreditation Policy correctly wants evaluators to ascertain whether a school complies with the requirements of the South African Constitution and registration requirements that are contained in the South African Schools Act 84 of 1996. Although the Accreditation Policy speaks of constitutional values broadly as well as schools complying with their institutional vision and mission, section 29 of the Constitution specifically conditions the existence of independent schools only to non-racial discrimination and that they be registered. Critically, the Accreditation Policy has expansive claims including a school’s vision and mission. It is my view that every public regulator is illequipped to adjudicate whether a school “displays values that reflect the specific character of the school, as articulated in the school’s vision and mission statement”.9 Certainly in the instance of faith-based schools, regulators who seek to scrutinise an institution’s religious mission, which obviously informs their vision, may violate that institution’s constitutional protected right to religious practice free of government intrusion.

Absurd and intrusive

As already postulated above, learner achievements as measured by externally administered entities are legitimate factors to determine whether an independent school is meeting or exceeding the minimum standards established in the Constitution. Consistent with all the other criteria contained in the Accreditation Policy, within the school results category, the Accreditation Policy transverses beyond school results and wants to inspect a school’s “stakeholder satisfaction levels”.10 Such an inquiry is absurd, because by its very nature, parents are exercising a choice when they enrol their offspring in an independent school. If they are dissatisfied with a school, they can elect to send their child to another school, as many families actually do.

Another aspect of learner achievement is that if a school is dysfunctional, it is not possible for scholars to produce laudable NSC examination results as those consistently delivered by ISASA schools. Therefore, there is no necessity for intrusive evaluations into exceedingly well-functioning schools’ leadership, management and communications, nor their teaching and learning. Central to an independent school’s right to exist, is its fundamental right to elect in what manner it arrives at the standard required by regulators.

Biennial reports burdensome

Besides being overly invasive to independent schools in order for them to be granted accreditation, the Accreditation Policy further burdens schools with continuous reporting requirements. Even schools that exceed the Constitutional standard and are granted their seven-year accreditation, are compelled to report biennially “to ensure improvement and maintenance of standards”.11 Considering the consistently high examination results achieved by many ISASA schools, the notion that standards will drop during the accreditation period is out of kilter with the excellence these schools embody. Interim reporting during accreditation is an unnecessary regulatory burden. During 2005 and 2006, I had the honour of serving on The Presidency’s National Treasury Reference Group on Regulatory Impact Assessments. Out of this process, in 2012, The Presidency released Guidelines for the Implementation of the Regulatory Impact Analysis/Assessment (RIA) Process in South Africa.12 Since the Cabinet Operations RIA Guidelines were also released in the same year the Accreditation Policy was gazetted, it would seem that the Accreditation Policy did not undergo a RIA procedure.

Review the policy

I suspect that had the Accreditation Policy undergone such a review, it would have been clear to the regulator that the objectives set out in the Accreditation Policy surpass the minimum threshold established in the Constitution. In light of the enormous burden the Accreditation Policy is proving to be, a review analogous to a RIA should be undertaken to revise the Accreditation Policy to contain its ambit within the minimum threshold stipulated in section 29(3) of the Constitution.

1. See:
2. See: .
3. See:
4. See:
5. The National Senior Certificate (NSC) examinations, commonly known as ‘matric’, have become an annual event of major public significance in South Africa. (Source:
6. See:
7. See:
8. See:
9. Ibid.
10. Ibid.
11. Ibid.
12. See:

Category: Featured Articles, Summer 2014

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