Study of school-level implementation of the South African school funding norms : perspectives of principals.
The majority of South African learners attend public schools, all of which are encouraged to supplement government funding with private funds - namely through fees charged of learners' parents. A review of the literature suggests that school fees can impede the right to education and the achievement of other national development goals by restricting access for poor learners, or by diminishing the quality of education. While the issue of school fees has been hotly debated in South Africa, there is little information about what is actually happening in schools. This research, conducted in a peri-urban area outside of Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, is designed to explore the perspectives and experiences of principals with regards to the school fee policy. Eleven principals were interviewed: nine from relatively poor schools and two from a wealthier area, and their experiences with regards to the implementation of the school fee policy were compared and analysed. The findings suggest the implementation of the policy tends to be similar across schools of similar financial standing, but that there are considerable differences between the experiences of principals from poor and wealthy schools. The wealthier schools implemented the policy 'to-the-letter' and had hired staff and created systems to ensure all rules were properly followed. All of the poorer schools found parts of the policy impossible to implement in their schools and had adapted the policy in similar ways to better fit their situation. For example, amongst other adaptations, they allowed parents to apply for an exemption by simply discussing their circumstances with the principal, or obtaining an affidavit from the police, instead of making everyone fill out an official application form. Part of the problem is that the policy is based on assumptions which are not consistent with the reality of the South African context in that there are many different 'realities' faced by schools, yet there is only one rigid policy. Many schools find parts of the policy's processes to be impractical or irrelevant at best, and actually decreasing the quality of education they are able to provide at worst. Areas within which policy assumptions and reality did not match include: the implications of the distribution of income in South Africa on school financing; the power and access to information of parents and SGBs, and the ability or desire of parents to pay fees and/or be involved in the oversight of their children's education; and, the ability of provincial Departments of Education to properly support poor and/or Nonsection 21 schools. Additionally, Non-section 21 schools were found to be at an economic disadvantage compared with Section 21 schools. Another issue is that there are currently adverse incentives built into the policy. Amongst other effects these incentives encourage principals to minimise the number of exemptions approved, and for parents to either not pay at all, or to provide information to principals that underestimates their annual income. The significant contrasts in experiences between experiences of poor and wealthy schools and the adverse incentives built into the policy suggest the right question to ask may not be whether or not schools are implementing the policy correctly, but whether the policy is correctly designed to achieve the goals of the South African education system within the current context.