There has been interest in recent weeks in the school calendar for 2014. It is important to clarify this matter and provide further input regarding the planning that informs a school calendar for public schools in South Africa.
Planning is an integral part of our work as a department. It is for this reason that the development of school calendars is also a consultative process. It normally involves the following stakeholders who are represented in the Subcommittee:
· Department of Basic Education
· Nine provincial education departments,
· Department of Transport,
· Department of Tourism,
· Teacher Unions,
· School Governing Body Associations;
· Federation Hospitality Association of South Africa; and
· Business Unity South Africa.
The DBE prepares the draft school calendar two years in advance. The Draft school calendar is sent to Provincial Education Departments (PEDs) and stakeholders for comments. The Subcommittee meets to discuss comments and make recommendations. The Minister publishes the proposed school calendar in the Government Gazette and national newspapers and in the DBE website for public comments. The Subcommittee meets again to discuss public comments on the proposed school calendar and make recommendations. The proposed school calendar is submitted to HEDCOM for consideration and recommendation and thereafter to the Council of Education Ministers (CEM) for consideration and Minister’s approval. The Minister publishes the approved school calendar in the Government Gazette, national newspapers, and also posted in the DBE website.
The development of school calendars in South Africa is guided by the National Policy for Development of School Calendars for Ordinary Public Schools in South Africa (Policy). The school calendars are developed for proper planning by Government Departments, DBE, PEDs, public schools, Higher Education Institutions and the general public.
It is the usual practice for the President, Deputy President and the Ministry of Basic Education to monitor the school readiness for that particular academic year on the first day of the opening of schools in January. Sight visits are also conducted during the course of the year to support schools.
The development of school calendars involves taking into account the sometimes conflicting needs and interests of various stakeholders and interest groups. It is not possible always to accommodate the needs of all stakeholders. Whatever the various stakeholders' needs may be teaching and learning interests always takes precedence.
The nine provinces in the country are allocated into two clusters (grouping of provinces according to geographic situational similarities). The two clusters are:
- Inland provinces: Free State, Gauteng, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and North West.
· Coastal provinces: Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Northern Cape and Western Cape.
The closing and opening dates of school terms of provinces in different clusters are separated by one to five days. The aim of allocating different dates to clusters is to keep peak traffic density within acceptable levels.
In January inland provinces open a week earlier than coastal provinces. As a result the inland provinces close for two weeks at the end of the first term and coastal provinces close for one week at the end of the first term. Teachers report for work two days before the learners start school to finalise preparations and late admissions for the new school year. They also stay on two days after the learners have left at the end of the year in order to engage in administrative tasks and plan for the following school year.
PEDs are encouraged to commence with the process of admissions for the following year in as early as the first term of the previous year to minimise the volume of late admissions. SGB elections, which involve parents, teachers, none teaching staff, community members and secondary school learners in all public schools in the country, take place every three years. The elections take place towards the end of the first term. SGBs ensure that their schools are run efficiently and they serve the best interests of the communities and expectations of parents.
The South African school calendar assumes a four-term structure. The required number of school days which is considered sufficient for purposes of teaching and learning is 195–200 school days per year. The average number of school days per term is 52 days. Quintile 1 to 3 primary and secondary schools as well as identified special schools are provided with nutritious meals on all school days per annum.
Winter holidays are three weeks long to accommodate initiation schools and the South African Schools Choral Eisteddfod (SASCE) project that resonates with the government’s vision to improve the quality of life for all citizens.
For educational reasons the third term is longer than the fourth term. The writing of Annual National Assessment (ANA), which is used to measure learners’ progress and to establish the level they are performing at, takes place in September. This gives teachers enough time to prepare for the assessment, marking and for the release of the results. Thereafter, schools ensure that the syllabi are finished and they prepare for the final examinations in the fourth term.
The DBE monitors the procurement of LTSM by the PEDs and ensures that deliveries are finalised before the end of the fourth term. This enables the schools to start the process of teaching and learning on the first day of the school year. The fourth school term ends not later than the second week of December. This gives Grade 12 teachers enough time for marking and the process of the publication of the National Senior Certificate results in the first week of January.
According to the Policy the SGB may apply for permission from the Head of Education Department to close a school for religious commemorations, but only where the majority of pupils are members of a particular faith. Members of world views or religions that form a minority of learners in schools may be given permission to take two recognised religious days off school. Learners should not be marked absent on the days in question. Schools are not allowed to administer examinations on days on which other learners are absent for religious observance.
With regard to sporting and cultural days a maximum of two days per year is allocated to schools. The school governing body may also apply for permission to the Head of Education Department to utilise the two days that are allocated to schools for the purposes of sporting and culture.
Like the 2010 school calendar the 2014 calendar is a single calendar because of the nature of public holidays in April. Under normal circumstances the opening of schools at the beginning of the year is staggered. Schools in the inland provinces open a week earlier than schools in the coastal provinces. In 2014 this will not be possible because of the number of public and school holidays in April, which are as follows:
· Good Friday is on 18 April,
· Easter Monday is on 21 April,
· Freedom Day is on Sunday, 27 April,
· Public holiday is on Monday, 28 April,
· Workers’ Day is on Thursday, 01 May.
Usually, the Easter Weekend would be included in the school holidays to mark the end of the first term. This will however, not be possible in the 2014 school year because the Easter weekend is on 18 to 21 April. If the end of the first term was to be inclusive of the Easter weekend the first term would be 65 days which is more than the average 52 days.
The week of 28 April to 02 May has two public holidays, Monday 28 and Thursday, 01 May. This means that there are two school days and they are in the middle of the week because Friday the 2nd will be a school holiday. Teaching and learning will not be effective and therefore that week is declared a school holiday week. While this is the case the total number of school days is 201 days.
The DBE is currently in the process of amending the Policy which was last visited in 2000. Over the years the Department received various representations with respect to the school calendar. They signalled the need to tighten the process and provide better clarity in areas that continue to be raised by the public.
The following are some of the amendments that were proposed:
· That the Policy be renamed the “National Policy for Determining School Calendars for Public Schools in South Africa” and no longer a policy for Ordinary Public Schools. The concept of “ordinary” public schools may be interpreted to exclude schools serving learners with special education needs (LSEN) schools;
· That the Policy specifies that public comments on the proposed school calendars will be canvassed more widely through various media including publication of the proposed calendar in the government gazette, national newspapers and other media that the Minister deems appropriate. This will also apply to the approved calendar;
· That a Monday that precedes a public holiday and a Friday that comes after a public holiday be declared school holidays to minimise absenteeism on school days sandwiched by a holiday and a weekend in this manner. The late Professor Kader Asmal accepted the proposal in 2003 but this was not changed in the Policy;
· That the policy confirms that winter holidays be three weeks long to accommodate provinces that have historically experienced high absenteeism as a result of initiation schools. Minister GNM Pandor accepted the proposal in 2008 but this was not incorporated into the policy;
· That the staggered opening of schools be spelt out in the policy:
o Inland provinces to open in the second week of January and close for two weeks at the end of the term.
o Coastal provinces to open in the third week of January and close for one week at the end of the term; and that
· Should a week have only two consecutive school days as a result of public holidays, that those two days be declared school holidays to avoid interruptions to the cycle of teaching and learning.
The Minister will publish the Proposed Amended Policy in November 2013.