BELA Bill Update – Good News for Public Schools!

In its initial form, the Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill (BELA Bill) has unequivocally been rejected by the South African people in the public participation process.  The bill proposes significant amendments to the South African Schools Act (SASA) of 1996 and the Educators Employment Act of 1998, but has sparked nationwide controversy.

On 24 April 2024, the National Council of Provinces Select Committee on Education, Technology, and Sports approved a final version of the bill, which differs substantially from the initially presented bill.

The initial proposed amendments to language and admissions policies, which would have shifted the decision-making authority from the school’s governing body to the provincial Head of Education, have been adapted so that it now remains a function of the school’s governing body. The bill still allows for limited oversight by the Department of Education but with clear guidelines on how the said right should be exercised.

The following are some of the most important proposed amendments which remain unchanged:

  • Making Grade R Compulsory:The BELA Bill proposes to make Grade R compulsory.  This will have a huge financial impact on schools and it is not yet clear how government will finance the additional burden.
  • Criminalising parents who do not ensure their children attend school: The bill seeks to criminalise parents who fail to ensure their children attend school, with potential jail time.
  • Ban on corporal punishment: The bill reaffirms the prohibition of corporal punishment in schools, proposing fines or imprisonment for those who administer it.
  • Regulation of home education: It does not aim to control children’s home education but to better regulate a largely unregulated sector.

It is important to note that the BELA bill is not yet legislation.  The BELA Bill must now be approved by the National Council of Provinces, whereafter, it will be referred to the National Assembly again. If the National Assembly approves it, it will be sent to the President for signature.

Waldette Grey – Van Velden Duffey Inc.