BASIC Education Minister Angie Motshekga yesterday called for "perspective" on the role and effectiveness of her department, launching a defence of its priorities after extensive negative media coverage.

Her department has faced a tough year as it was hauled before the courts over conditions in the Eastern Cape and Limpopo - both under national intervention - as well as facing increased public scrutiny on the quality of infrastructure.

Despite these headaches, Ms Motshekga gave her vote of confidence in the provincial education system yesterday, saying the sector was "massive", and if considered a business had 27000 branches and "served 12-million clients a day".

Provincial structures had made this complexity workable, she said.

Ms Motshekga also said she had full confidence in the provincial education departments.

Last month, public interest law group Section 27 won a court bid to compel the national department to provide textbooks to schools in Limpopo. North Gauteng High Court Judge Jody Kollapen ordered that textbooks - which should have been available at the beginning of the school year - be delivered by today and a catch-up plan for the affected pupils be implemented.

In the Eastern Cape, the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) this month launched an application to compel the department to fill vacant posts.

The applicants argue that the failure to implement the 2012 "post-establishment process" - through which teachers are allocated to schools as needed - had led to schools being placed in a "crisis and financial peril", forcing them to fill posts at their own expense.

Ms Motshekga yesterday said her department agreed with the relief sought by the applicants, but that the disagreement was over "dates and not principles".

Ms Motshekga said "great strides" had been made since the department's intervention in Limpopo, whose education system had experienced systemic and management collapse. The six-month delay in textbook delivery showed her department's commitment to ensure due process was followed in the procurement of textbooks, she said.

Ms Motshekga also said the public perception that this delay had resulted in teaching and learning "simply not happening" was not true. These textbooks were "top-ups", or covered new parts of the curriculum, and had not left schools without educational resources.

The department intended to settle the matter with the LRC out of court. Given the legislation on post provisioning, a lack of agreement could result in "an interdict for finalising the process without due regard to process", she said.

Sarah Sephton, the regional director of the LRC in Grahamstown, said yesterday the centre would "very warmly welcome" an out-of-court settlement, but that this should include all of the relief sought by the applicants.

gernetzkyk@bdfm.co.za