Teachers in limbo after Bhisho bungle

Education MEC Mandla Makupula 
Picture: BRIAN WITBOOI

Confusion as department misses placement D-day

Efforts to address critical teacher shortages at Nelson Mandela Bay schools have suffered yet another setback, with the reassignment of excess teachers delayed by a further three months – to halfway through the school year.

Almost 300 excess teachers in the Bay are now in a quandary about where to report for work on the first day of the new term today, after the process of assigning them to schools where they are needed – which should have happened at the start of the second term – was delayed.

The hiccup follows the issuing of identification or placement letters by the provincial department of edu- cation on March 30 to 1 220 excess teachers across the province.

In the Port Elizabeth and Uitenhage districts, placement letters were issued to teachers, with a list of four schools to choose from.

They were instructed to submit their choice of school by the following day (March 31).

But while the department backtracked at the eleventh hour on Thursday and issued a circular announcing an extension of this deadline to May 31, this was crucially not clarified for affected teachers hours before the start of the Easter long weekend.

Combined Trade Union of Autonomous Teachers Unions (CTU) secretary Anton Adams said the initial procedure followed contravened that set out in the Education Labour Relations Council (ELCR) Collective Agreement 4 of 2016.

The CTU represents several education organisations, including the National Professional Teachers Organisation of SA, National Teachers Union, Professional Education Unit, Public Servants’ Association and Suid-Afrikaanse Onderwysersunie.

From the unions, 108 excess teachers had been identified in Port Elizabeth, 180 in Uitenhage and 161 in East London.

The excess teachers include a large number of temporary teachers.

“We have told all our teachers to not report to the schools allocated in the initial placement letters,” Adams said.

“These initial letters have not been withdrawn as yet, despite the department extending the deadline. “The teachers have subsequently been told by their unions to report to their old schools.”

He said that in most of the other provincial districts, teachers were initially issued with placement letters without being supplied with a list of vacancies and were expected to report to their allocated schools today.

Exacerbating the situation was the fact that the contracts of 227 temporary teachers in Port Elizabeth had ended on March 31.

However, the department had subsequently extended the contracts of the temporary teachers to the end of June, Adams said.

The circular issued on Thursday, signed by education superintendent-general Themba Kojana, states that the affected teachers would be informed of suitable vacant posts by April 26 and their response should be submitted to the district office by May 31.

The district office would then inform the relevant school governing body committees for their consideration. However, this means the teachers will only take up their new posts in July – in the third term – three months after the intended placement date.

A 24-year-old temporary teacher from Uitenhage, who asked not be named, said she was still unsure where she would be teaching today.

“I was told that I would receive a permanent teaching post once my contract expired, but now my school’s hands have been tied by the department,” she said.

Another temporary teacher from the Uitenhage district said: “I will not be going to school tomorrow [today] because I don’t know where to go. I was first told not to report for work, then I was told I must go to my old school.

“People might say it will affect the pupils, but what good is a demotivated teacher in a class?”

A Port Elizabeth northern areas temporary teacher, who also did not want to be named, said: “The management of the department’s most valuable asset – its teachers – is terrifying.

“It knew our contracts were ending last month, yet it waited until the 30th to tell us what was going on.”

Education MEC Mandla Makupula said he was aware of the situation, but did not have all the facts yet. “I have just been receiving updates,” he said. “You would have to speak to Kojana.”

However, Kojana could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Provincial education spokesman Malibongwe Mtima confirmed the extension of temporary teachers’ contracts.

“We are still in constant engagements with stakeholders to resolve the impasse and find common ground,” Mtima said.

“The contracts of temporary teachers have been extended to allow for these engagements to take place so that the movement and placement of teachers is in line with that of collective agreement number four of the ELCR.

“A solution is not an event, it is something that must be worked on constantly.”

The latest setback comes after a month-long protest by teachers, parents and pupils in the northern areas last year over teacher shortages.

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