Parents who fail to ensure that their children attend school could be jailed for a year. It will also be compulsory for children to start school in Grade R, and it could become permissible to sell alcohol on school premises during private events, to boost fundraising efforts.
These are some of the proposed amendments to the SA Schools Act by the department of basic education. The department will introduce the Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill to Parliament “soon”. The bill also proposes amendments to the Employment of Educators Act.
Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga gazetted the explanatory summary of the bill on Monday, as required by the rules of Parliament.
According to a memorandum on the proposed amendments, Motshekga instructed a task team to review both pieces of legislation. The task team identified changes that could be made to both acts. According to the clause-by-clause analysis of the schools act, the memorandum recommended the amendments should make school attendance compulsory from Grade R – at the moment, it’s only compulsory for children to start school in Grade 1.
Children aged four, who turn five by June 30, would have to be enrolled for Grade R in public schools. In the memorandum, the department added that the provision of making Grade R compulsory would cost R5.26 billion. This would cover the appointment of additional teachers to address increased pupil enrolment.
The department also anticipated that an additional 7 888 schools would be needed for the Grade R classrooms, at a cost of R12 billion.
A parent or any person who prevents a child of school-going age from attending school (or fails to ensure attendance) risks being jailed for a year, as opposed to six months, according to one of the proposed amendments.
On the school attendance, the principal would have to monitor absenteeism. If a child failed to turn up for class, the principal “must, within 24 hours of receiving a report from a teacher that a pupil is absent for no reason, investigate the matter and contact the parents to establish the reason the child did not come to school. The principal will also be expected to report the matter to the school governing body [SGB] for further intervention.
“Enrolment and punctual regular attendance is important because a school that successfully curbs absenteeism without a valid reason will most likely improve pupil retention and performance. This will assist in mitigating the high pupil drop-out rate,” it reads.
The proposed amendment also provided the conditions under which alcohol could be allowed on school premises during certain activities.
“Provision is made for certain exceptions to the prohibition to allow the SGB, on application from any person and in consultation with the head of department, to permit the possession, consumption or sale of liquor in certain cases, on certain conditions and subject to certain restrictions.
“This amendment was informed by the fact that alcohol has a place in our society, if it is consumed responsibly, and by the fact that events at which alcohol is present form an important part of the fundraising activities of most schools,” it reads.
Schools already rented out their halls and sports fields, among other things, for weddings and private functions. If alcohol was completely forbidden on school grounds, “schools would lose the income they currently receive from those events”.
Also included in the proposed changes was the definition of corporal punishment – described as “a deliberate act of inflicting pain or physical discomfort on a pupil”.
Also forbidden would be:
throwing objects, burning, biting, forcing children to stay in uncomfortable positions, washing children’s mouths out with soap, forcing a child to do exercise, or denying or restricting a child’s use of the toilet.
A new clause proposed in the schools act would require the SGB members, including their spouses, partners, or family members, to disclose their financial interests every year.
“This amendment is proposed in order to prevent corruption and financial mismanagement by SGB members and to promote good governance.”
The head of department would be empowered to direct the public schools to adopt more than one language of instruction after certain procedures had been followed. However, if the SGB was not satisfied with the directive for an additional language, it could appeal to the MEC of education for the decision not to be implemented.
A new clause was also proposed in the Employment of Educators Act prohibiting teachers from doing business with government or from being directors of public or private companies doing business with the state.
“Such contravention will also constitute serious misconduct, which shall result in the termination of the educator’s employment by the employer.
“This proposed amendment aims to promote good governance to protect the financial interests of the state and to prevent corruption,” reads the memorandum.