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Vetting to expel school sex pests is flawed‚ MPs hear

28 March 2018 - 08:20 By Timeslive
In the last financial year alone 593 cases were reported to SACE. These cases included 99 allegations of sexual misconduct or rape and 265 of physical assault or corporal punishment. File photo.
In the last financial year alone 593 cases were reported to SACE. These cases included 99 allegations of sexual misconduct or rape and 265 of physical assault or corporal punishment. File photo.
Image: 123RF/paylessimages

Male teachers aged between 35 and 54‚ with an office or laboratory‚ or access to learners after school‚ are the face of sex pests at South African schools.

This was disclosed at a meeting of Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Basic Education with the South African Council for Educators (SACE)‚ the professional council for educators‚ that aims to enhance the status of the teaching profession through appropriate registration‚ management of professional development and inculcation of a Code of Ethics for all educators.

SACE on Tuesday briefed MPs on its 2017/18 strategic and annual performance plans and budget‚ including its online educator registration system.

On-the-spot registration of educators is being phased out in order to address effective vetting and verification processes‚ as part of the fitness-to-practice registration process. This will include the submission of a clearance certificate from the South African Police Services and the Department of Justice in relation to the sexual offences register prior to obtaining registration.

Committee chairperson Nomalungelo Gina said this is an extremely important step in ensuring the safety of learners.

"This will go a long way to keep unsavoury educators out of the system and protect our learners‚" she said. "We will keep a close eye on the process‚ as everything must be done to make the schooling environment safe."

SACE highlighted a flaw in the system - its mandate only relates to educators.

Its vetting does not include sports coaches‚ extra-curricular trainers‚ private tutors‚ food handlers‚ scholar transport and security guards.

The committee said to address this‚ SACE was "engaging with employers and the Department of Basic Education to take responsibility for other people working in school environments outside its mandate".

SACE is currently conducting research to ascertain if sexual offences are on the rise in schools in real terms or rather that more awareness is leading to higher rates of reporting. "The committee noted comments from SACE that initial indications are that the sexual offences and harassment culprits are mostly male teacher between 35 and 54 years of age‚ with an office or laboratory‚ or access to learners after school."

Ian Ollis and Nomsa Marchesi‚ both of whom are Democratic Alliance MPs‚ also held a meeting with SACE on Tuesday to discuss concerns around school safety and the vetting of prospective teachers.

In the last financial year alone‚ Ollis said‚ 593 cases were reported to SACE. These cases included 99 allegations of sexual misconduct or rape and 265 of physical assault or corporal punishment.

He said SACE admitted that‚ "up until now‚ the vetting of teachers has not been working as they struggle with access to the Child Protection Register and Sexual Offences Register‚ among other things."

"Without proper vetting‚ teachers who may have been accused or convicted of misconduct could easily move to a different province and continue teaching there.

"We have discovered through our meeting with SACE that SACE has no control over whether teachers in School Governing Body posts are vetted. This loophole needs to be closed. . ."

SACE told the two MPs that its representatives will meet with the Department of Justice on ways to strengthen the vetting processes.

Ollis said he would also write to the minister responsible for schools‚ Angie Motshekga‚ calling on her to ensure that there are adequate vetting mechanisms in place. The DA was also asking President Cyril Ramaphosa for collaborative ministerial action to ensure safety at schools.

"All learners deserve to learn in a safe environment‚ free from violence and abuse . . . With more resources dedicated to this‚ our children will be able to prosper and secure better futures for themselves‚" Ollis said.

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