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Abusive teachers still slip through system, council for educators admits

The South African Council for Educators (SACE) has admitted that it has “systemic gaps” that can allow teachers found guilty of serious misconduct and subsequently scrapped from its register to still practice their profession. 

The council’s manager for legal affairs and ethics, George Moroasui, appeared before provincial hearings into bullying, corporal punishment and sexual relations between educators and learners hosted by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) in Limpopo last week. 

On Thursday, Moroasui told the hearing that the highest ranking cases that the council received annually were corporal punishment cases. 

According to the council’s 2019-20 annual report, 38% of the cases that SACE had to deal with involved corporal punishment or assault. 

Moroasui said that depending on the severity of the offences, sanctions would include teachers being struck off the roll of educators, or suspended for a period of time and having to pay a fine. 

However, he said that the council was currently on a “dry run” to educate teachers about the seriousness of corporal punishment and sexual abuse. Corporal punishment was made illegal in South Africa in 1996. 

“This year our focus is on these two. It is not that we will not focus on other cases but if you get 10 cases of absenteeism, for example, and three of corporal punishment or sexual abuse, the first focus will be on corporal punishment and sexual abuse. That is the focus right now and all others will follow. That is the council’s decision right now,” he said. 

On Wednesday, Save the Children’s Mahlodi Masipa, told the hearing that the organisation had discovered that teachers who entered the system before 1994 did not know of any other way of disciplining learners besides corporal punishment.  

Moroasui said that some teachers resigned while they were undergoing disciplinary processes with the council. But SACE continued with those cases regardless of the educator being in the system or not, he added. 

“The reason why we do that is because the educator has our licence to teach and therefore we would need to revoke our licence. [When they resign before the case is concluded] usually they go hide in private institutions. So we have been in talks with independent schools to say ‘please check with us whether the educator is on the system or not’,” he said. 

In its latest annual report the council said it removed 17 educators from its register.

Moroasui clarified that if an educator resigned before a case of misconduct reached SACE, he or she could find work in other schools undetected. 

“Not all matters come to our attention … Unfortunately that can happen because we cannot process a case that we do not know about,” he said. 

Moroasui was asked by the commission’s senior legal officer, Eileen Carter, if SACE was able to check names against part B of the child protection register, for educators who apply for a licence to teach before the council issues them with the certificate. 

Part B of the child protection register includes names of people who are found guilty of crimes against children and those declared by the court to be unsuitable to work with children. 

Moroasui said SACE does provide the names of educators that have been struck off the roll to the department of social development, which keeps the register. However, he said the council does not have access to the register to check the names of teachers applying for a certificate to teach. 

“We have heard engagements with the department of social development wherein they told us that the employer must check and give us the list. What we were trying to bring to the attention was that SACE is the port of entry before you are employed. We should be the first ones to go there and check, we are unable to do so because the act says we cannot go there. And the employer in this instance is the department of education.”

He said “it is possible” that the council can register a person to teach even though they are on the child protection register. 

Moroasui did instead say that as of 2018 the council asked educators applying to be registered to teach that they needed to produce a police clearance certificate. He said the council also has a relationship with the national register for sexual offenders, which sits with the department of justice, and requests checking of the names against that register. 

“[This is] a measure to try and make sure that we have suitable educators,” he said. 

According to the council’s latest annual report there were 79 084 educators who registered with SACE, and 59 of those were found to have criminal records. The crimes included physical assault, theft, murder, fraud, fraudulent quaifications, house breaking, domestic violence, attempted murder and drugs. 

Because the council only started requesting police clearance in 2018 there could be educators in the system who were employed prior to 2018 who have criminal records, and who have also not been checked against the child protection register, according to Moroasui.  

He said the council could not vouch that the teachers it scrapped from the roll of educators for being guilty of misconduct are still not in the system. However, SACE does send a list of all the teachers that have been scrapped from the roll to provincial departments of education. He said in the past it did happen that educators who were scrapped off the roll in KwaZulu-Natal emerged in Mpumalanga. 

“I am unable to say they are not there as I do not have access to the system [Persal, the government’s personnel and salaries management system] but as a measure to curb their existence in the system we request departments to check for us … I will admit that we have systematic gaps. We rely on our partners,” he said.

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Bongekile Macupe
Bongekile Macupe is an education reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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