No checks on sex offence list: Officials don’t use central register to vet teachers

An empty classroom. File photo.
Image by: Gallo Images/Thinkstock

The Department of Basic Education has not screened a single new teacher, principal or official against the National Sexual Offenders’ Register to see if they have been convicted of sexually harming a child.

The department says it does not employ teachers and it is the job of provincial education departments to screen new teachers.

Three provincial education departments have, however, confirmed they did not use the offender register, which is run by the Justice Department, to screen teachers, with one citing its inaccessibility as a reason.

The register can be accessed through a request to the registrar by any employer, including NGOs and churches, wanting to hire staff who will work with children.

The register, which came into effect in 2015, is to ensure that no one convicted of sexually assaulting a child is employed in a position in which he or she will be supervising children.

It is against the law not to screen staff for sexual offences, which the Department of Basic Education has acknowledged.

DA MP Terri Stander recently heard national department officials complaining at a meeting in parliament that they did not have access to the register to screen potential employees.

Stander, hearing the complaints, submitted questions in parliament and was told by the Justice Department that zero attempts had been made by the Department of Basic Education to request a screening of an employee against the names in the register.

She was furious.

“If they have never applied for access to the register [it means] they have never screened a teacher against it,” Stander said.

“The Department of Basic Education has put our children at risk of sexual abuse and assault.”

Stander asked the Department of Social Development if the Department of Basic Education had requested access to the child protection register, which it runs to screen current and potential staff.

This register includes the names of criminals convicted of sexually harming children, as well as teachers disciplined at schools for serious offences.

The Department of Social Development has yet to respond to Stander’s questions, put to it nearly a month ago.

The department did not respond to questions from The Times.

Basic Education Department spokesman Elijah Mhlanga said: “In terms of the Employment of Educators Act, the department of Basic Education is not the employer of educators.

“This power is vested in the heads of the provincial departments of education.”

Basil Manuel, National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of SA executive director, said: “I can tell you that they do not access the register.”

He said the fact that the register was not used had long been a complaint of the teachers’ union.

Mala Mtima, Eastern Cape education department spokesman, conceded it did not use the register and said that it relied rather on the SA Council of Educators’ list of banned teachers to ensure staff convicted of sex offences were not hired.

It is unknown how often the educators’ council updates its list of teachers fired for assault and how much it relies on schools to report incidents to them.

Western Cape education department spokesman Jessica Shelver said the department was “not sure” whether Sace’s offence records were up to date.

She said the department also used other methods to screen teachers.

“The Western Cape education department uses Sace, the public service employee records system and an employee-vetting agency that has comprehensive access to all court records.”

She said the sexual offenders register could not be accessed.

The Gauteng education department said it also used council records to vet employees.

It checked the Department of Social Development’s register when vetting teachers.

 

TEACHER FIGHTS SEXUAL CHARGES

by JEFF WICKS

A Durban teacher charged with sexually grooming a 14-year-old pupil has opposed a protection order the girl’s parents had filed against him.

The girl, her parents and the teacher cannot be named to protect the identity of the child.

The girl’s father told The Times the court notified his family of the teacher’s intention to oppose the order last week.

He said the order was served on the teacher a week before his arrest and that a hearing was postponed to give his family time to obtain legal representation.

The teacher, accused of sending sexual images and messages to the teenager, is out on R6000 bail.

He also faces a charge of child pornography and will appear in court again on June 30.

He has been suspended from school.

Leave a Reply