(This article was first published on 13 January 2018 in the Weekend Argus, a weekly regional newspaper distributed in the Western Cape, South Africa.)

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Western Cape school principals are gearing up for thousands of parents still looking for a placement for their children when the academic year begins next week.

The provincial education department this week said 11,249 children still need to be placed at a school for this year. Most of these are primary school children.

Envor Petersen, principal at Morgenson Primary School in Hanover Park, said this was an annual headache and he was ready for it.

“On Monday my door will be open and parents will rush from wherever looking for a place for their child. I don’t turn pupils away.

“I will take on everybody who comes to our school and then I will apply to the (education) department for more teachers,” said Petersen.

He said he already has 970 pupils registered for this year. He expects to enroll more pupils at his non-fee school.

“Children don’t pay for schooling at my school. There’s no registration fee. We are fully funded by the government,” said Petersen.

“The problem is that a lot of people don’t register earlier in the year for schools when they should. The department tells parents in August already to enroll their children.

“People don’t have money to enroll their children then and miss the deadline to apply. Then they wait on their bonuses in December to enroll their children but then they spend that money.”

Petersen said he was used to parent knocking on his door at the start of the year with nowhere else to go.

“A lot of people come from the Eastern Cape looking for a school for their children. Childcare homes also come to our school looking for places for children,” he said.

Riedewaan Williams, principal at Portlands High School in Mitchell’s Plain, said he would not be able to offer anyone a place at his school next week.

“We refer them to the district office which can direct them to a school,” he said.

Williams explained the reason why Mitchell’s Plain high schools could not accommodate all the area’s children was because there were 40 primary schools but only 17 high schools.

“The amount of learners coming from primary schools to high schools is a problem,” said Williams.

“Our school was built for 900 pupils but we have 1300 pupils registered. We are at breaking point but just have to manage it. Our school is packed to capacity but people will still be coming to knock on our door.”

Western Cape education minister Debbie Schäfer said this week they were “especially struggling to accommodate learners in Grades 1 and 8”. She said 7,668 of the 11,249 unplaced pupils were in Grade 1 and 8.

This means most of the unplaced children are meant to enter either primary or high school.

Schäfer added: “More than 130,000 learners have moved to the Western Cape from other provinces over the past five years, mainly from the Eastern Cape, placing the education system in the Western Cape under considerable pressure. “The challenge arises when people move to the province without planning in advance or without enrolling their children at a school. It therefore makes it impossible for the department to foresee and plan accordingly.”