An end to the chaos
At the start of every school year there is the inevitable mad dash by parents to enroll their children at the last minute. Provincial education departments are now trying to put a stop to the chaos.
The effort is being made against the backdrop of the lesson learned from the experience of the Rivonia Primary School, in Johannesburg, last year when it refused to admit a six-year-old. This led to a standoff between education officials and the school's governing body. School principal Carol Drysdale found herself before a disciplinary hearing, accused of gross insubordination, last month.
The school governing body's legal adviser, Paul Lategan, said the governing body and the parents had paid for extra classes and teachers for Rivonia Primary so that classes would have fewer pupils than the government's specified maximum of 40.
He said the government could not interfere because parents had used their own money to create smaller classes.
Lategan said there were three pupils at the top of the waiting list who were not admitted and whose rights were "violated" when the pupil was forcibly placed at the school. The pupil came from a private school and had not been sitting at home out of school, he said.
In Western Cape, the provincial education department has launched a campaign to encourage early enrolments by using packets of rice - among other things.
This has helped to ensure that an estimated 99% of pupils are registered for school in the province next year.
The campaign was launched in June to encourage parents to enroll their children for next year by September 7.
In addition to billboards and posters at malls, and in bus shelters, taxis and trains advertisements ran on five radio stations.
The department also turned to spaza shops for the first time to spread the message. Shop owners were dishing out small bags of rice as an incentive to customers who bought prepaid electricity from them.
The department "acquired space on 100000" of the bags of rice on which to print the message: "Enroll your child for school today. Let's make education better together!"
"Leaving enrolment to the last minute places massive pressure on our officials and distracts from the task at hand - which is teaching and learning," said education MEC Donald Grant.
The hard work has paid off.
Paddy Attwell, spokesman for the department, said it expects the pupil population to grow by 11000 - bringing the number of children at schools in the province to close to 1million next year.
"We estimate that more than 99% of pupils are registered for school in Western Cape next year. Our enrolment campaign might have contributed to this success. However, the main success factor has been the determination of parents and the work of schools and officials to ensure that pupils are registered," said Attwell.
The department started campaigning for early enrolment more than 10 years ago when "thousands" of children queued for places at schools.
At 2.8million children, KwaZulu-Natal has the highest pupil population in the country.
KwaZulu-Natal education officials have taken a different approach to late enrolments.
Though there is currently a campaign to have children registered by the end the month, education MEC Senzo Mchunu said the last-minute "clamour" at the start of every year is caused by desperate parents who want their children at better-performing institutions such as former Model C schools.
"It also happens in rural areas where a particular community would prefer that their children walk past the gate of the closest school to a school slightly further that has better results," said Mchunu.
"This is what we are trying to reverse by dealing with the failure of local schools ... We have decided the only way is to make all schools better."
In Gauteng, parents had until July 27 to enrol pupils - two months earlier than usual.
Gauteng education spokesman Charles Phahlane said this was to enable the department to get its "house in order" and find space for pupils who had not been accommodated by a school.
There were "pressure points", Phahlane admitted, at which the number of pupils exceeded the schools available.
"There is a high demand for space in schools in the south of Johannesburg, Ivory Park, some parts of Ekurhuleni, Tshwane north and in many townships."
Parents would have already been told if their application had been successful.
Now the department is trying to accommodate children who were not accepted.
Phahlane said the province educated 2million pupils a year.