Legal Aspects of Cottage Schools and Centres

We use the term “cottage school” here to indicate any smaller independent institution that functions as a school, whatever it calls itself. It includes “learning centres”, “micro schools” and every other institution where children receive their education.

Abstract:

Everyone has the constitutional right to establish independent schools to educate children in a manner that is in the best interests of the children. To protect their rights and those of the children, many cottage schools join the Pestalozzi Trust. The Trust supports them in enforcing the rights of children and their schools.

  • Cottage schools are not “home schools”. The SA Schools Act specifies that home education only applies where each child is educated in his or her own home.
  • Cottage schools are schools. Children who are educated at any place other than in their own homes are attending schools – whatever name those institutions choose to use. Note: A school who uses a home schooling curriculum is  not a “home school”; it remains a school.
  • Different laws apply. The laws that apply to schools are different from the laws that apply to home education. For that reason, it is dangerous to confuse the terms.
  • The only legal cottage school is a cottage school that is a registered independent school. Every institution where children receive their education must be either a state school or a registered independent school. A cottage school that is not registered as a independent school with the relevant provincial education department is an illegal independent school. A school cannot register with the Pestalozzi Trust; we are a membership organisation. A school can apply for membership of the Trust.
  • Unregistered cottage schools are at risk. The owners and operators of an unregistered cottage school can be prosecuted and upon conviction may be sentenced to a maximum of three months in prison or a fine. Parents who send school-age children to an unregistered cottage school can be prosecuted and upon conviction may be sentenced to a maximum of six months in prison or a fine.

Why, then, are there thousands of unregistered schools in the country?

Because:

  • There are millions of desperate learners and parents who will do almost anything to find good education for the children.
  • Education departments make it impossible for many schools to get registered.

What are the problems with registration?

These include:

  • Long delays in processing applications by education departments. Some schools (with hundreds of disadvantaged learners) have been waiting for registration for years.
  • Unreasonable restrictions, such as a requirements for minimum numbers of learners. In most provinces, this minimum is 20 learners. 
  • Extremely burdensome administrative requirements that consume resources that are needed to educate children. This applies in the registration process itself as well as in the day-to-day administration of the education. This includes expensive and burdensome “quality control” measures. 

The role of the Pestalozzi Trust

If cottage schools that are members of the Pestalozzi Trust are challenged by government officials, the Trust will work together with the school and assist them in solving the issues. Member schools receive an emergency number which is available 24/7, which they use to contact the Trust immediately when they come into conflict with the DBE, Welfare or Police.

Independent schools, including cottage schools, have according to the Constitution the right to exist. This right is very strictly limited in the law. The Pestalozzi Trust supports registered and unregistered member schools to protect their learners’ right to education and to resist intrusions by the state.