The controversial Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill has passed its first legislative hurdle.
On Tuesday, the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education agreed to and adopted the Bill, and it will now serve before the National Assembly.
Some of the proposals that were adopted in the Bill include: making Grade R the new compulsory school-starting age, penalties for parents who do not ensure that their children are in school and confirmation that corporal punishment is no longer allowed at schools with penalties for those found guilty of such offences.
Regarding the language policy, the amendment states that the governing body must submit the language policy of a public school and any amendment thereof to the head of department for approval.
The language policy must also take into consideration the language needs of the broader community.
The committee also adopted the proposed amendment that the head of department, after consultation with the governing body of the school, has the final authority to admit a learner to a public school.
The proposed amendment on home education was partially agreed to.
At the conclusion of the meeting, committee chairperson Bongiwe Mbinqo-Gigaba said the Bill was being sent to the National Assembly.
"The committee held extensive public hearings across the country. We heard oral submissions in Parliament from stakeholders and thousands of written submissions were considered when debating and drafting this legislation," she said.
But the approval of the Bill wasn't without drama. MPs from the Democratic Alliance (DA) and African National Congress (ANC) took swipes at one another.
The DA and the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) again brought up the issue of proper public participation.
This raised the ire of ANC MP Patamedi Ronald Moroatshehla.
"South Africa is a unitary state. We cannot say that the minister has no power in this form. We cannot. We are not prepared to create any other republic in the form of the republic of the Western Cape or Cape Town where they can do or practice something different which is alien to the centre," he said.
Moroatshehla added that all matters were ventilated in public.
"The centre must hold. The issues of home schooling. We keep on hearing of the lack of public hearing. There was consultation and I think the constant mention of this is a fallacy from the other side of the benches. If people are not willing, there is nothing to do to try and bring them closer. The people who say there was no consultation, it's a lie, it's a fallacy," he said.
Freedom Front Plus MP Wynand Boshoff said the party's objection was based on the proposals to take control of school governing bodies.
"During debates in the portfolio committee, the ANC and EFF repeatedly punted the legislation as a way of transformation. The question then arises: Is the Bill's aim of self-regulation, as envisaged in Section 235 of the Constitution, ignored?" he asked.
One of the main issues is captured in Clause 4 of the Bill which seeks to amend Section 5 of the South African Schools Act (SASA) 84 of 1996. It provides that, despite the age at which school attendance is compulsory, a parent may enrol a child at a school to start attending Grade R at a younger age, if they so wish, and subject to a few conditions.
Meanwhile, Clause 5 provides for the school governing body to submit the language policy of a public school and any amendment thereof to the head of department for approval.
Earlier this month, the committee was legally advised that Clauses 4 and 5 of the Bill did not traverse or deal with the principle of separation of power.
The Freedom Front Plus, ACDP and DA voted against the Bill. The ANC and EFF supported the adoption of the Bill.