Education MEC Senzo Mchunu is taking a hard stance on tardiness.

He says pupils who are late for school should be locked out and sent home, and is adamant that the policy does not infringe upon children’s constitutional right to an education.

Mchunu was speaking at a meeting of the provincial legislature’s portfolio committee on education in Durban on Thursday when he affirmed the department’s position and his readiness to engage with aggrieved parents.

While in agreement with the Education Department on the need to instil discipline, the Children’s Rights Centre in Durban and the KwaZulu-Natal Parents’ Association believe that they have to explore other ways of doing so.

However, Mchunu told MPLs that he had instructed school principals to take an uncompromising approach.

“(It is) an instruction. We are not negotiating.”

He said he had once visited a school in the Umkhanyakude district on the North Coast and found that more than 500 pupils arrived at the gates late.

An MPL and chairman of the standing committee on public accounts (Scopa), Sipho Nkosi, questioned whether such a policy did not “interfere” with the constitutional right of the child to an education.

Mchunu responded that the constitution guaranteed access to a quality education.

“Nowhere in the constitution is any child guaranteed even if you come late you are still fine... Late-coming is a different matter, associated with ill-discipline,” he said.

Asked for how long pupils would have to stay outside until they would be allowed back on the school premises, Mchunu responded that they must return home.

Mchunu is also prepared to take on upset parents, saying he wants to hear them openly say they want to protect the rights of their children to arrive late.

He said that simply noting the names of offenders was “legitimising” the behaviour.

Muntu Lukhozi, Mchunu’s spokeswoman, said that locking tardy pupils out was a policy of the provincial department, not the national one.

According to Lukhozi a circular on the policy was sent to district officials last year. She said the onus was on parents to ensure their children were on time for school.

KZN Parents’ Association chairman Sayed Rajack said he believed the policy was intended for high school pupils whose inexcusable tardiness was at “unacceptable” levels which compromised their education.

Asked about the safety of primary school children outside the safety of schools, left to find their own way home, Rajack said that in the case of primary school children, he did not think the rule was hard and fast.

Rajack said that while he understood the department’s position, there had to be more creative ways of dealing with the problem.

The children’s rights centre’s Jacqui Joshua suggested “positive discipline” like community service or a merit and demerit system to stamp out lateness.

“Discipline is vital to running an effective school... (However) there are many circumstances around late-coming, and questions arise of whether these circumstances have been reviewed and given due regard.

“Is locking pupils out of schools, sometimes for whole days, consistent with the child’s human dignity? Is it in conformity with the present UN Convention on the Child, which South Africa is signatory to? Unfortunately it is not... Schools need to be creative in finding positive and constructive ways of discipline that does not limit the child’s right to an education, or their right to human dignity,” Joshua said.

The KZN spokeswoman for the South African Principals’ Association was unable to comment. - The Mercury