Public school ‘staffing disaster’: Budget cut of R716m has dire implications

Mfuleni High School using a school hall as a class because of overcrowding back in January. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane / Independent Newspapers

Mfuleni High School using a school hall as a class because of overcrowding back in January. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane / Independent Newspapers

Published Apr 5, 2024


Cape Town - A public school “staffing disaster” is on the horizon, the SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) has warned, as cost-cutting measures come into effect in the Western Cape, leading to the end of substitute teachers.

Following a R716.4 million cut in its budget from the National Treasury, the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) has been forced to implement stringent cost-containment measures.

Among these, the WCED would have to stop the provision of substitute teachers, except to cover teachers on maternity leave; stop the provision of post-level 1 contract teachers acting in vacant school management posts, excluding vacant principal posts; and that any vacant post-level 1 and public service posts must be advertised in a vacancy bulletin, and cannot be filled with a contract appointment.

Spokesperson Bronagh Hammond said the WCED faced a R870m deficit in the 2024/25 financial year.

“We have consulted widely on the above with school governing body associations, principals’ associations, teachers’ unions and schools. We agreed to delay the implementation by one term, to ensure our schools were ready to manage this process,” she said, adding that around 3 100 contract posts were converted to permanent posts between January 1 and March 31.

A principal at a school in the southern suburbs, who asked to remain anonymous, said they had lost one contract teacher. The principal said the only solution was to appoint a school governing body teacher, for which the school had to pay.

“We cannot afford that solution. We’ll have to split that class and send the pupils to other classes in the grade.

“There will probably be around 60 pupils in the class. This will obviously compromise the quality of education the school is able to offer. It will be a nightmare,” said the principal.

A contract teacher, whose contract was terminated, said: “I am worried about my pupils who will no longer have an educator to ensure that they receive quality education.”

A principal at a school in a township, who asked to remain anonymous, said his school did not lose a teacher, but he had concerns.

“I’m worried that one of the key educators is going to take a leave and (won’t) be substituted. This is going to be a blow to the school,” he said.

The provincial executive officer of the Governing Body Foundation, Malcolm Venter, said lesser-resourced schools would have to make do with their current staff, which meant bigger class sizes.

Sadtu Western Cape chairperson Vusumzi Zweni said the province was in for a “staffing disaster” for poor working-class schools, while the gap between learners attending affluent schools and those from poor workingclass backgrounds widened.

“Schools will not be able to employ contract teachers to substitute educators who are on sick leave for longer than 15 days. Classrooms will be left without teachers when educators vacate their positions through natural attrition, or promotion as schools must wait for the vacancy to be advertised and follow the recruitment process.”

Education activist Hendrick Makaneta urged the WCED to find other ways to absorb the budget deficit.

Hammond said they were working with schools to mitigate the risk by supporting them to finalise their conversion processes; more regularly advertising vacancy lists; supporting them to speed up recruitment and selection processes and expediting appointments where schools have finalised these processes; and extending the contracts of teachers appointed in vacant substantive posts until December 31 2024.

[email protected]