NEWS | CAPE TOWN 

Bureaucratic budget leaves school kids hungry

Nutrition programme stretched at many schools classified as less poor

Photo of sign of Thandokhulu Secondary School
While schools like Thandokhulu are located in middle-class areas, their students are mostly from poor working-class areas. Photo: Masixole Feni
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Many schools are feeding their students smaller meals in a bid to feed even more, as a bleak economic situation forces more children to rely on the school feeding scheme.

The schools that are affected are quintile 4 and 5 schools, which are supposedly “wealthier” schools despite many, even most, of their students coming from poor families.

“As a quintile 4 school [it is] actually negatively affecting [our] resources,” says Jimmy De Villiers, the principal of Thandokhulu Secondary School in Mowbray.

At Thandokhulu, the school is allocated food to feed 300 students. GroundUp has learnt that dozens more students actually depend on the scheme at a school which has well over 1,000 students.

The quintile system categorises schools into five quintiles in order to allocate financial resources to them. Quintile 1 schools are classified as the “poorest” and quintile 5 schools are classified as the “least poor”. Students at quintile 4 and 5 schools usually pay fees.

The system looks at the “poverty of the community around the school, as well as, certain infrastructural factors”, not at the economic position of the students in the school.

According to De Villiers, Thandokhulu is not very different from a school in Langa; the students have the same challenges and additional expense of travelling to Mowbray every day.

De Villiers believes that increased travel costs and a poor economic climate have put strain on household finances, meaning more students are relying on receiving food at the school.

De Villiers says that transport costs to school and back for students can be R500 a month.

With more children needing to be fed, food is being divided into smaller portions. While it appears that the situation is worse this year, De Villiers says that every year there are more than the allotted students who need to be fed.

At Maitland Secondary School, a quintile 4 school, they are feeding over 400 children when they are only allocated food for 300. This is according to the principal Riedwaan Kenny who says that they are making the portions smaller to accommodate more students.

Despite this, he believes that the students are fed enough food to get through the day, with students being able to come back for seconds and eat until the pots are empty.

Woodlands High School in Mitchell’s Plain is classified as a quintile 5 school, which the principal Hennie Petersen says is wrong as many of the students can’t afford to pay the R850 yearly school fees.

The school feeds about 259 students when they are only allocated food for 137 students. Petersen says that they are feeding the children smaller portions to ensure that “everyone gets something”.

At another quintile 5 school, Woodville Primary School in Mitchell’s Plain, the principal Keith Riddles says that they make up for the deficit in food by purchasing more food with money from their own budget.

“The children [at the school] are not quintile 5. They are really quintile 1 and 2,” he says. Riddles explains that in winter the demand for food is higher and more children need to be fed.

He says that some parents can’t afford to pack their children lunch so they give them 50c with which the children buy a cheap “air” filled packet of chips that “fills their stomach but doesn’t give nourishment”.

“So the need falls on the school to supply [nutritious food],” he says.

While the school hasn’t had to make the portions smaller, Riddles says that perhaps this is something they should learn to do because sometimes when children come in late to eat there is no more food.

A principal from a school in Heideveld who did not want to be named, also said that they have to spread the food. Like Woodville, they supplement the food by purchasing more. The school feeds between 100 and 200 more students than they are allocated money for.

A teacher at one of these schools informed GroundUp that students have come to him to request money for food because they are hungry.

The feeding schemes at these schools are funded by the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) grant, which the 2016 Western Cape Provincial budget indicated was R315 million. In the province, the grant is budgeted to provide food to 1,015 schools and over 473,000 students.

The NSNP grant is officially aimed at quintile 1 to 3 schools, but in the Western Cape there is an allocation for “targeted” students in quintiles 4 and 5.

Jessica Shelver, the spokesperson for the Western Cape Minister of Education, explained to GroundUp that the programme was initially run under the Department of Health and that certain schools used to be classified under lower quintiles.

When the Department of Basic Education reclassified schools according to the national norms and standards, the Western Cape Education Department negotiated for these schools to remain within the NSNP but the percentage of students who can now receive food is less than in lower quintile schools.

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