THE Western Cape High Court on Friday instructed provincial education MEC Donald Grant to reinstate leases and basic services to 17 of the 18 schools he intends to close.

Judges Siraj Desai and Elizabeth Baartman granted the schools, their governing bodies and the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union an urgent interdict halting the closures.

The news was greeted with jubilation by parents and teachers involved in the application, but with disappointment by Mr Grant.

The judges ordered that schools must stay open, and teachers and learners could not be forced to leave.

The third judge, Dennis Davis, disagreed in principle with the ruling.

Judge Desai said his ruling would be released at a later date and that a final review application on the schools closure would be heard in the same court in January.

Mr Grant had stated that the closure of the schools was lawful as they were small, with multigrade classes and poor results.

He described the court order as a loss of opportunity for the children in this province.

"We will continue to fight for their rights to better education opportunities. The effect of the order could be that learners return to schools that we believe we have sound reasons to close," he said.

Mr Grant pointed out that the interdict did not automatically imply that these schools would remain open indefinitely.

He said he had noted the decision was not unanimous and a legal team was examining it carefully.

Members of one of the parent and learner organisations that was party to the application, the Concerned Education Forum, described the judgment as a landmark.

"We are not political and for us it was not about party politics. We are concerned about the overall education of the children," said one of the forum’s members, Frank van der Horst.

He said the forum had received widespread support from around the country, especially in other provinces where schools were being threatened by closure.

"In Limpopo there are 66 schools that are going to close and we belive about 4,000 in total in other provinces," he said.

Another member, Judy Kennedy, said the issue was not just about closing schools but also about ensuring proper education was being delivered at schools.