Aligning school discipline with the best interests of the child: Some deficits in the legislative framework

  • J. M. Reyneke University of the Free State, South Africa
  • J. L. Pretorius University of the Free State, South Africa
Keywords: Adversarial, Retributive and punitive discipline, Best interests of the child, Restorative discipline, School discipline, Support measures and structures for counselling


The best-interest-of-the-child concept should guide the legislative framework with regard to the approach followed as well as the disciplinary processes used in schools. Currently schools revert mostly to a retributive and adversarial approach to discipline that is not compatible with the best-interests-of-the-child standard. In this article, the provisions of section 8 of the Schools Act are scrutinised and it is concluded that these provisions are supporting an adversarial and punitive approach to school discipline. This is evident from the lack of prescriptions ensuring that sanctions serve the best interest of children, the insufficient provision for support measures and structures for counselling, the undue focus on the best interests of the transgressor and the lack of guidance concerning the appointment of an intermediary. The introduction of restorative discipline as an alternative approach to discipline is recommended. The latter approach is recommended, because it is submitted that amendments to the existing legislative provisions would not address the key objection to the legislative framework namely its retributive and adversarial character.


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