The Department of Basic Education (DBE) has provided a detailed breakdown of its draft Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) bill, and the changes it will introduce at schools in South Africa.

The bill, which was first announced in 2017, seeks to provide updated amendments to sections of the South African Schools Act. This includes stricter rules around student attendance, admissions and language policies.

New starting age:
School attendance in South Africa will be compulsory from grade R and no longer only from Gr.1. Despite the age at which school attendance is compulsory, a parent may, if they so wish and subject to a few conditions, enroll a child at a school to start attending grade R at a younger age.

Compulsory attendance:
Stricter punishments will be introduced for parents who fail to ensure their children attend school, including up to 12 months jail time and/or a fine.

The bill states that teachers, principals and school governing bodies must take responsibility and accountability for learners that are within their school community by ascertaining the whereabouts of a learner who is absent from school for a period of more than three days without a valid reason.

Corporal punishment:
Corporal punishment is abolished, and no person may inflict or impose corporal punishment on a learner at a school, during a school activity, or in a hostel accommodating learners of a school. The bill also prohibits initiation practices in a hostel accommodating learners, and during a school activity.

Governing body disclosures:
Members of a school governing body, like other public officials, will be required to disclose on an annual basis their financial interests and the financial interests of their spouse, partner and immediate family members.

The bill introduces further clarity around home-schooling, including that South African learners may be educated at home only if they are registered for such education.

Business with the state:
The bill will prohibit educators from conducting business with the state or from being a director of a public or private company conducting business with the state and creates an offence should an educator contravene the abovementioned provision.