21 May 2024

Joint media statement: Victory for all out-of-school learners in the Metro East Education District as the Western Cape High Court orders the Western Cape Education Department to place learners within 10 days

#SofundaSonke

On Friday 17 May, the Western Cape High Court ordered that the Western Cape Department of Education (WCED) place all learners, who on their own or through their parent or guardian made an application to a school in the Metro East Education District (MEED), or approached the MEED or a school for placement for the 2024 school year. The court has ordered that the WCED must place these learners, who have sadly missed close to two terms of schooling, within ten days of its order. All unplaced learners in the MEED will finally be admitted to school as a result of this court order! This order symbolises a hard-won victory by Equal Education (EE), and the five parents/caregivers (co-applicants) and their children who were represented by the Equal Education Law Centre (EELC), as well as a number of similarly placed learners. This is a victory within a system which has sadly left many learners waiting for school places, without any clear plan or timelines – often well into the school year. 

The WCED has been avoiding its obligation to meaningfully place learners by counting them as “placed” once they receive an automatic notification of placement through its online system. This despite the fact that many learners, parents and caregivers whom EE and the EELC engaged with did either not receive the alleged notification or were turned away by schools, and as a result, had been waiting for months at home to be enrolled in a school. Significantly, the High Court has now given a definition for the term “placement” and has ordered the WCED to ensure that learners are formally enrolled, have received placement letters, and that they may physically attend an appropriate school (or education facility, where applicable). This order is aimed at ensuring that all learners are meaningfully placed and that their right to education is finally realised. 

Learner placement in the Western Cape has been a long-standing systemic issue that the WCED fails to adequately plan for year after year. It is our joint hope that this order which was as a result of urgent proceedings brought on 11 April 2024, against the Western Cape Government and the Department of Basic Education for the immediate placement of unplaced learners in schools in the Western Cape’s MEED will play a crucial part in continuing to address this admissions crisis. 

In part A of the application, we also sought an order for catch-up and remedial plans for these learners, in particular for those placed in March or later, in an attempt to ensure they meet the academic requirements for 2024. Unfortunately, these orders have been refused as the WCED indicated that assessments would be done by schools ‘in the ordinary course’ and that they would meet their legislative obligations – an undertaking which the court accepted and which we will actively be monitoring! We hope that the WCED will honour its own policies, by ensuring that learners are provided with adequate support for the learning losses. 

The Western Cape Government who concerningly sought cost orders, personally, against the EELC legal practitioners who work on the matter, have been ordered to pay the cost of the application including the cost of their counsel team. 

Part B of our application will proceed on a semi-urgent basis. It focuses on the WCED’s policy failure to address late applications and the extent to which it unfairly discriminates against late applicants based on race, poverty level, place of birth, and social origin. It also seeks an order declaring the WCED’s failure to timeously place late applicant learners in schools unconstitutional, and as a result, the WCED’s Admission policy and some of the WCED’s Admission policy circulars should be set aside because they permit late applicants to remain unplaced for an indefinite period, with no clarity on the way forward. Our work towards ensuring that the right to basic education is indeed enjoyed by “everyone”, continues. The right to education is not and should not be a numbers game, but rather the prioritisation of access to “ALL”. 

EE and the EELC will monitor the implementation of this court order and ensure that affected learners are meaningfully placed and able to access education. We remain resolute in ensuring the rights of every learner in the Western Cape are protected. No learner should be left behind! #SofundaSonke

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To arrange a media interview, contact: 

  • Sesethu August (Equal Education Communications Officer) sesethu@equaleducation.org.za 

WhatsApp: 083 890 8723 or Call: 063 221 7983

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