South African Schools Act: – What you need to know as a parent!

A public school must admit learners and serve their educational requirements without unfairly discriminating in any way.
By refusing to admit your child the school is discriminating against your child and violating his constitutional right to education.

The governing body of a public school may not administer any test related to the admission of a learner to a public school, or direct or authorise the principal of the school or any other person to administer such a test.
Has the school administered tests to your child and then said that on the basis of these tests s/he will not cope in school? This section of the School’s Act forbids such a procedure.

In determining the placement of learners with special educational needs, the Head of Department and principal must take into account the rights and wishes of the parents of such learners.
Have you as the parents been properly consulted about your child’s education and have your wishes been taken into account?

If an application in terms of section 7) is refused, the Head of Department must inform the parent in writing of such refusal and the reason therefore.
If a school refuses your child, you can ask the education department to inform you in writing of the reason for this refusal.

Any learner or parent of a learner who has been refused admission to a public school may appeal against the decision to the Member of the Executive council.
If your child has been refused admission you can approach the Minister of Education for the province and appeal against this decision.

A public school may be an ordinary public school or a public school for learners with special educational needs.

The MEC must, where reasonably practicable, provide education for learners with special needs at ordinary public schools and provide relevant educational support services for such learners.

The MEC must take all reasonable measures to ensure that the physical facilities of public schools are accessible to disabled persons.

Ordinary schools must make every effort to provide education for learners with special educational needs, making sure that these learners have the support that they require. It is not enough for the school just to accept the child. The school must support the child’s needs as well.

The governing body of an ordinary public school which provides education to learners with special needs must :

Co-opt one or more persons with expertise regarding the special education needs of those learners; and

Establish a committee on special educational needs.

Any regular school that has learners with special educational needs (every school has some) should have a member on the governing body to represent the interests of these learners. There should be a committee established to support the needs of children with special educational needs.

Some arguments that might be used to refuse admission to your child in a regular school

The school is full. We do not have the space for your child.

If you live in the area that feeds into the school, this is not an excuse if your child is school going age (i.e. s/he will be 7 years old by July of her/his first year of school).

Your child will be better off in a special school. There are places that cater for these children.

It is likely that there is no special school near you and that you do not want to send your child away from home to be among strangers. If there is a nearby special school, it is often difficult to get admitted there because there are not so many special schools compared to the number of children with special educational needs.

If you live in the area that feeds into the school, this is not an excuse if your child is school going age (i.e. s/he will be 7 years old by July of her/his first year of school).

Your child will be better off in a special school. There are places that cater for these children.

It is likely that there is no special school near you and that you do not want to send your child away from home to be among strangers. If there is a nearby special school, it is often difficult to get admitted there because there are not so many special schools compared to the number of children with special educational needs.

There is a lot of research which shows that children with special needs who attend regular schools often do better socially and academically. (Kosie from Pretoria, 11 years, with Down Syndrome has always been in mainstream education. His parents and teachers have the impression that he is completely socialized and is also accepted by other pupils. His writing, reading and maths are constantly improving. He reads from the same reader as the rest of his grade 4 class, can write a full-page essay. He is becoming increasingly independent, he is disciplined, and his communication skills are really well developed. He walks to and from school on his own, sometimes even going by bike and returns to class in time after break like other children.)

Our school readiness test shows us that your child will never cope in this school.

It is illegal to use tests to determine who will and who will not be admitted to the school.

Christine from Hillcrest Christian Academy confirms this : In her school when they enrolled a child with Down Syndrome, changing the other childrens attitudes towards the child with Down Syndrome was the easiest task. The other children accepted Cayley (with DS) because they understood that she needs them to help her and they also need her to help them. They relate to her with love and empathy.

The other children will tease him and be unkind to him.

If children are taught the right way to behave by teachers and if they are involved in helping the child and working with him/ her, then this will not be such a big problem. Attitudes are learnt, not inborn. There is always some teasing at school and teachers need to find constructive ways of dealing with this. The child who is teased should not be punished by being excluded. Rather, the children who are teasing need to be taught better ways of interacting.

Our teachers are not trained for this, and are not ready. Special School teachers are the only ones that have the know-how to work with disabled children.

With the right attitude, teaching children with special needs is the same as good teaching for all children. A good teacher who knows her pupils and is able to meet their individual needs will also be good for learners with special needs. If the principal is supportive of the teacher and if the parents are willing to co-operate with the teacher, then there will be minimal problems. Teachers can also get help from the district education office and from non-government organisations such as the Down Syndrome Association.

Christine Walenn is a teacher in a mainstream school, she accepted Cayley who has Down syndrome in her school, and she had no previous experience with Down syndrome. Christine got a tremendous amount of support from the community, the Down Syndrome Association and Cayley’s parents. She discovered that people’s attitudes affected Cayley’s successful integration, they knew very little about Down Syndrome. She started on her own, she read up on Down Syndrome, attended workshops and asked questions. She also worked with the parents in changing their attitudes so that they can see the value of having Cayley in the school. Their community was supportive.

You are the parent of the child and you are overestimating the child’s ability because you are hoping that s/he will be able to progress. You do not accept your child’s limitations.

Parents are often the best judges of their child’s ability. The child’s ability should not at this point be a consideration for the school. The school is there to provide education to ALL learners and they should not pre-judge any child before they have tried by all means to give the child an appropriate education. If you cast aside your prejudices, you may be surprised!

Classes are already overcrowded. We will not be able to provide the highly specialised teaching that your child needs. It would not be fair to the child if we can not provide this.

Many times the alternative for the child is to sit at home doing nothing. Is this fair to the child? If teachers make use of group work and use children to teach children they can be successful in teaching large classes. Why should the teacher be the only facilitator of learning? It will not produce critical and creative thinking.

If we accept your child at this school, then we will be flooded with disabled children and we will not be able to cope because there will be many different needs in one classroom.

If all children with disabilities go to their neighbourhood schools, then there will be a natural proportion of children in every school. Children with disabilities will be spread out through the different schools and you will not have to deal with all of them.

Our teachers at the moment are demoralized because there are so many changes going on in education and now you are expecting us to deal with these children as well.

Our children have just as much right to an education as any other child. You cannot choose to educate some children and say it is Ok not to educate others. If we learn to adapt to the inclusion of children with special needs, we will be learning how to deal with Curriculum 2005 where the content that is taught, the support/ assistance that is given and the assessment that is carried out is determined by the individual needs, abilities and the content.

The academic standards at the school will drop if we admit learners with special educational needs.

There are many learners with special educational needs that can be high achievers academically if they are given the opportunity. The curriculum should not be seen as only academic. Children learn much more than academic skills at school. Curriculum 2005 recognizes the importance of areas such as life skills.

It is highly likely that the standards will in fact go up if the school works on providing quality education for learners with special educational needs. The experience that teachers will gain in individualising goals and assessment and in cooperative group work will also help learners with special needs who are already in regular classroom as well as all the other learners.

How to negotiate admission for your child with Down Syndrome to your local school

Every parent who has taken this road, knows that it is not always an easy road. The most common reaction of principals is: Madam/Sir, I shall first take up the matter with my Governing Body. We shall call you back. Some times the principal does not even take your telephone number and they also refuse to allow you to fill in an application form.

All parents would like their children to be willingly accepted at a school. Parents should however not be unduly sensitive about this. They must remember that the idea is very new and that many schools have not yet made provision for this in their admission policies.

From experience, the association would like to make the following suggestions

Prepare yourself and your child well in advance for inclusion
Concentrate on language and communication development and on good behaviour
Read widely about the topic so that you can become the real expert
Know your rights in terms of the South African Schools Act: There should be no discrimination against any child on the basis of his/her disability;
Do not ask the secretary if they admit children with Down Syndrome
Insist on a personal interview with the principal
Take along your child when you have the interview with the principal
In some instances you could consider taking along another person to support you such as a good friend, your parson, a consultant of the Down Syndrome Association, etc
Emphasize the fact that you are a parent of the community and that you would like your child to be in the same school as his brothers and sisters
Play on the empathy of the principal and staff
You do not have to argue that a special or aid class is necessarily the best option for your child. There is enough proof that children with Down Syndrome can really benefit from ordinary classes.
Be knowledgeable about Curriculum 2005 and the possibilities which it provides for the successful inclusion of your child
If you encounter any problems, contact the Education Support Service of your regional/district Education Department for support
Always continue to believe that this is the best option for your child, even though it may initially be difficult to accomplish
Remember that your local Down Syndrome Association is there to support your efforts.

Your responsibilities as the parent

Parents need to be listened to and be seen as partners making contributions to the education programme.

It is the parents who are doing all the hard work, with backing and encouragement from us (the association). It is their determination and belief in it that is making it work. Parent involvement is important. It is not an easy route for the parents to take – and it is definitely not for the faint hearted!. Barbara Higgins, DSA, Kwazulu-Natal

To make inclusion work well, parents need to begin with this approach from the birth of the child. Social integration from the earliest days and the child’s full participation in family and community life are preparation for the inclusive school experience and for life in the community. In addition, we need to focus on developing acceptable behavior in our children and developing their communication skills as far as possible. Children need to learn acceptable behaviour at home so as to understand and accept discipline at school.

The Parent-school partnership

In our experience, the single most important predictor of success for placements is staff attitude. ….We have seen very disabled children flourish in schools where they are wanted. We have seen children with obvious disabilities but academic progress within the norms for their age, fail in schools that do not want them – or should we say failed by schools that do not want them. Sue Buckley and Gillian Bird (researchers in inclusion of children with Down Syndrome)

Some schools adopt the policy of calling in the parents once there is a problem. This might lead to anger and frustration on both sides. We need to build a relationship with the school from the start. Here are some suggestions as to how to go about this:

Know the basic aims of the school and school policies
Be involved in decision making. If the school is embarking on a more formal assessment of the child’s abilities you should have had considerable contact with the school before reaching this point.
Be aware of what you can reasonably expect from the teacher. You should understand the considerable pressures on teachers. Be clear in your expectations as teachers are often resentful if they feel that they are expected to achieve the impossible. If you can’t visit the class teacher regularly, try to build up a telephonic relationship with him/her. Many crisis may be prevented if there is good communication on the most basic of issues such as send money for a school trip on time or knowing what theme work is being done over the next two weeks.
Get more detailed information on certain areas. If for example reading is a major issue you might assist by using paired reading techniques at home if you get the appropriate information from the teacher.
Make it clear that you are active participants who can make a valid contribution to your child’s education and develop the relationship to become an integral part of decision making. Education is a shared responsibility between parents and teachers

Acknowledge your strengths as a parent and share these with the teacher. You have:

Considerable knowledge and insight about your child
Strong feelings and concern about your child’s education

There are specific suggestions that you can make to teachers as to how you can help them:

Help with specific work at home
Monitoring child’s progress
Assisting with preparation of classroom materials
Providing information on your child’s disability to teachers, other children and parents
Providing support and mentoring to other parents who are in need
Serving on the governing body or a sub-committee of the governing body
Consultation with teachers at the beginning – what do they expect? What are their concerns etc? What are some of the difficulties that you as a parent anticipate and how you expect teachers to support you? Give information about the disability and special needs that the child might have e.g. fits, medication, mode of communication.
Home-school notebooks can be useful in keeping the lines of communication open.
It is useful to invite teachers to make a visit to your home, bearing in mind that they are very busy. How the child’s environment is structured at home will give the teacher ideas for the classroom.

Notes for Teachers

Be honest:
Parents want to hear the good things but they also want a realistic picture. Don’t let honesty diminish your expectations though. Too many honest doctors who have told parents that their child will never be able to do anything have been proved wrong. Be careful of making predictions and rather say that you don’t know when you don’t.

Recognise the knowledge that parents have of their children and draw on this. You might ask the parent’s advice, rather than describe a problem e.g. I am having difficulty persuading M. to come in after break time. Why do you think this is happening? How do you think that I should approach this?

Offer praise:
Recognise the achievements of parents and show an understanding of the difficulties that they have experienced and their ways of coping.

Maintain regular communication:
It is very stressful mainstreaming your child in the current educational climate. Parents feel that their children are there on sufferance and any meeting with the teacher can be seen as the final blow. Don’t just call them in for a problem but keep them informed about the good things too.