Provinces have final say on admissions – ruling

A provincial government has the final say on the number of pupils that can be admitted to a school, the Constitutional Court ruled yesterday, according to a BDlive report. ‘While the school governing body determines admission policy, individual decisions on admission are taken only provisionally at school level by the principal acting under the authority of the head of department,’ the court said in what the report says is seen as landmark judgment.

‘Where the need arises, section 5(9) provides a safety valve, which allows the MEC to consider admission refusals and overturn an admission decision taken at school level,’ the court ruled. The report notes the matter came to the Constitutional Court after Rivonia Primary School refused to admit a child to grade 1 when the parents applied in 2010 because the school was full. The Gauteng government instructed the school to admit the pupil, contrary to the school’s admission policy. The SCA found last year that the Gauteng government’s instruction to the school was unlawful, and that a school’s governing body had the authority to determine the school’s capacity. The judgment overturned a High Court decision, which held that the overall authority to determine school capacity rested with provincial education departments. The matter subsequently went to the Constitutional Court.

Acting Constitutional Court Judge Nonkosi Mhlantla wrote the majority judgment. She said: ‘The power of the governing body must also be understood within the broader constitutional scheme to make education progressively available and accessible to everyone.’

A report in The Times notes the court found against the Education Department head, saying he had not acted in a procedurally fair way by physically forcing the child into the class. Both parties were criticised for not working together in a spirit of ‘co-operative governance’. ‘Trouble starts when we become more absorbed in staking out the power to have the final say rather than in fostering partnerships to meet the education needs of children,’ the judge said. The chairman of Rivonia Primary’s governing body, Rickson Mboweni, said he was ‘disappointed’ by the ruling but pleased that all further actions of the department, when intervening in an admission dispute, had to be ‘procedurally fair’.

MEC for Education in Gauteng Province and Others v Governing Body of the Rivonia Primary School & Others for a full report.

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