WCED takes steps to protect pupils

Brian Shofer.

The Western Cape Education Department (WCED) has confirmed that they are in the process of strengthening their vetting systems for staff.

This comes after convicted paedophile Brian Shofer was found to have been working at Lourier Primary School in Retreat up until last term (“Paedophile’s link to school”, Southern Mail, August 4).

Shofer was arrested for rape at his London Village home in Mitchell’s Plain three weeks ago and has since committed suicide.

Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) spokeperson Robbie Raburabu said no foul play was suspected.

Lourier Primary School’s school governing body (SGB) inadvertently hired Shofer.

WCED MEC Debbie Schäfer confirmed this week that the man dubbed the “Gumtree Paedophile” was employed by the school governing body.

She said the department has strict processes in place when appointing new permanent em-ployees.

“Vetting of new employees at a departmental level, which includes teachers and support staff, is done painstakingly. However, we have identified two loopholes within the system,” said Ms Schäfer.

The first loophole identified is that principals often employ substitute or relief teachers for a short period, ranging from a day to a couple of weeks. This sometimes needs to be arranged at short notice.

“In such cases the schools submit the relevant documentation to the district offices and then onto head office where the relevant checks are completed. In some cases, the relief teacher may have already completed their service at the school before the documentation reaches our head office,” she said.

“Therefore, should a convicted sexual offender be employed for the first time as a relief teacher, at short notice for a small period of time, their previous conviction may not be known to us until they have completed their service,” said Ms Schäfer.

The second loophole is that persons employed by SGBs, are not subjected to the same rigorous checks as those employed by the WCED.

Ms Schäfer said this is possibly partly because there is no policy governing the appointment process for such positions.

“SGBs are required by law to ensure that any educator employed by the SGB is registered as an educator with the South African Council of Educators (SACE). However, the registration processes by SACE are commonly delayed, and thus cannot be relied upon with any degree of certainty,” she said.

“Therefore it is not uncommon for some new educators to indicate on their application forms that their SACE registration is still pending. This leaves the possibility open that someone may have been removed as a registered educator but, because of the fact that their registration has not been processed, or possibly the records of SACE are not up to date, they slip through the system.

“After meeting with officials to address the loopholes, it was decided that a policy regarding SGB appointments is necessary and will be developed. This will have to include compulsory steps to be followed before anybody is allowed to be employed at a school.

“The WCED will also compile a list of approved substitute or relief teachers who have been vetted, for schools to choose from when they need somebody urgently.

“Once policies and procedures are in place, compliance is crucial. This is why we will work with governing body and principal associations to improve compliance, and ensure accountability measures are enforced if they fail to comply,” said Ms Schäfer.