National Minister of Education Angie Motshekga speaking at Natu teachers union conference held at the Coastal Hotel.Picture Zanele Zulu

Durban - A new government plan to bring back surprise school inspections has irked one of the country’s largest teacher unions, which has described it as “madness”.

The long-standing practice was halted in 1994, but the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) has spoken out against bringing back school inspections.

The union’s KwaZulu-Natal branch is upset that Public Service and Administration Minister Lindiwe Sisulu is calling for its reintroduction to address the high rate of teacher absenteeism.

“There are already school inspectors who check the schools so what is it that she wants?” provincial secretary Mbuyiseni Mathonsi asked.

“In KZN there are more than 800 vacant inspector posts so she and her government must address this. This just reflects that she doesn’t know what she’s in charge of.”

Last week Sisulu called on the Public Service Commission, among other things, to increase unannounced school inspections. She was speaking in Cape Town at a conference to celebrate the commission’s 100th anniversary.

Earlier this year, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga revealed that 21 000 teachers had taken incapacity leave or retirement on health grounds, with KwaZulu-Natal recording the highest number, 7 806.

National Teachers’ Union (Natu) deputy president, Allen Thompson, said school inspectors were not the right call.

He said the education department should rather appoint advisers to principals.

“We have circuit managers who were promoted to this post without experience. These are political appointments without any track record,” he said.

“It is not helpful to appoint people to go to schools and criticise principals and find fault with the running of the school. The previous school inspectors would reduce the principal to nothing, humiliate teachers and disrupt classes,” Thompson said. “They need to be respectful, and supervise maybe 10 schools.”

The spokesman for the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education, Muzi Mahlambi, agreed there was no need for inspectors.

“Teachers don’t need to be policed by inspectors. Inspectors are there for school support and professional development to ensure teachers have the required resources and they act as a link between the district and province,” he said.

Mahlambi said if teachers weren’t being professional, school numbers would decline as parents would take their children out of those schools.

“If teachers are absent for no reason then we invoke policies and procedures. In some cases salaries are docked, teachers are suspended or dismissed. It depends on the weighting of each case.”

Mahlambi said all unions were against school inspectors.

However, the DA’s education spokesman, Tom Stokes, said he encouraged “any intrusion which would help principals with discipline. “The power of the principal has been eroded by trade unions and officials. They lack official support and a lot of them feel helpless.”

“The arrangement will restore balance and teachers will be accountable to the department, not trade unions. Personally I think they will help.”

Nikki Stein, attorney for civil society group, Section27, said the department needed to take different measures to ensure teachers were in class teaching. “In some cases the circuits are too big for circuit managers. I know in Limpopo some circuits have 130 schools which are difficult to access and at long distances.”

Stein said for any measure of success, all education stakeholders had to be involved and this included unions. “Steps need to be taken to address this, but without co-operation, it will be difficult.”

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