EXCITEMENT, tears and smiles were the order of the day yesterday as thousands of pupils started the first official day of the 2013 academic year.

Some terrified youngsters clung desperately to their mothers, while others marched confidently into their classrooms.

Although the first day got off to a relatively smooth start with the timeous delivery of learning material, fears of severe teacher shortages reigned supreme.

Experts said the teacher shortages made a lie of the promise of improved results due to the delivery of textbooks and stationery on time and teaching starting on day one.

Nelson Mandela Bay pupils were dealt a huge blow by the provincial Education Department, which approved the retention of only six temporary teachers until April although the district had more than 600 vacant posts.

In September, the department recorded 617 vacancies in the district, with a further 239 teachers deemed in excess.

The department, which said it was forging ahead with redeployment this year, wants the 239 additional teachers in the district to move first before any more temporary teachers could be retained.

This news came as the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union was mobilising its members for a mass demonstration in the province tomorrow against redeployment.

Education expert Prof Sylvan Blignaut said the reports about the successful delivery of 99% of learning material pointed towards a potential to improve results at the end of the year.

“Be that as it may, the never-ending teacher story is a slap in the face of that and could instead give the opposite result,” he said. “The war between the unions and department is not a good thing for stability.”

DA provincial education spokesman Edmund van Vuuren said the department should separate redeployment from the appointment of sufficient temporary teachers so as not to further disadvantage pupils.

“Only through sustained pressure will this education department realise the importance of our children’s education.”

Schools in Port Elizabeth highlighted teacher shortages as their main challenge this year, saying they were getting no answers from the department.

A teacher at Malabar’s Hillcrest Primary, Clarissa Abrahams, said the school had a shortage of four teachers and was waiting for the department to sort out the problem.

Helenvale Primary School principal Malcolm Roberts said the school had about 40 Grade 1 pupils on the waiting list. Although he had enough space for them, there were not enough teachers. A WINK AND A SMILE: Sisipho Dlula,4, heads to playschool “I can’t take the children on the list because I don’t have a teacher to look after them.” The school did not even have enough teachers for the pupils already there, he said.

Despite the teacher shortage, schools were off to a good start – save a few tears, non-delivery of CAPS textbooks and some difficulty getting to some rural schools due to the unfavourable weather conditions.

Some pupils from Gamtoos Valley Primary School could not get to school yesterday morning after their minibus was stolen from their teacher’s house.

Visits by education officials and members of the legislature’s portfolio committee on education to numerous schools in the province yesterday showed almost all were on track for a successful start.

Portfolio committee chairman Mzoleli Mrara said schools were generally upbeat about the new academic year, with no serious glitches reported by committee members spread out across the province.

“There were some problems with the delivery of books in several areas, with the wrong books received. These have been sent back for rectification,” he said.

At New Brighton’s KwaFord Primary School, pupils were eager to start learning.

Acting principal Mncedisi Ndlazi said the school was ready to take on the new year, but was also anticipating late registrations as parents waited until the last minute to enrol their children.

“Another challenge we are facing is the removal of some pupils from the school,” he said. “These are those who were living at the Chris Hani informal settlement [where a fire earlier this month left more than 2 000 people homeless], who have been moved to other places.”

At Newell High School, also in New Brighton, Grade 8 enrolment was very slow as parents first tried to register their children at other schools.

School spokesman Mbulelo Mphontsi said the fact that the school, despite being a no-fee school, was not part of the feeding scheme was a deterrent to some.

“These pupils are used to being fed at the primary schools from which they come, so when parents enrol them they first look for schools with a nutrition programme,” he said. “It is only once those schools are full that they start registering with us.”

Pupils at Charles Duna Primary in New Brighton started the year without any CAPS textbooks, which still had to be delivered.

Principal Nombulelo Sume said the department had “repealed” its earlier decision to allow Section 21 schools – those in charge of their own budgets – to buy their own books.

“We are yet to receive any books and I’m certain that if we were buying the books ourselves, we would have them,” she said.

The school had, however, received its workbooks from the national department.

Provincial education spokesman Malibongwe Mtima said schools had started 2013 well, bar a few hiccups here and there.

“The problem, however, continues to be parents only bringing their children to register when school is supposed to be starting,” he said.

He said the department was pleased with the positive reports received yesterday.

“There were some glitches, such as difficulty experienced in accessing some of the rural schools due to the heavy rains over the holidays,” he said.

In East London, the first day was marred by an arson attack on Vulamazibuko High School. The school was set alight early yesterday morning, destroying three classrooms, staff rooms, textbooks, stationery, furniture and school reports.

“We are going to be short of classrooms this year and we will be forced to change our plans and admit fewer children than initially planned,” school principal Mzolisi Rebe said.

He suspected the arsonists to be aggrieved pupils who could not accept their failure last year. – Additional reporting by Gareth Wilson, Mhlabunzima Memela and Msindisi Fengu