National Education Evaluation and Development Unit (NEEDU); Strategic Planning and Reporting / Legal and Legislative Services Branches: briefing by Department of Basic Education

Basic Education

05 September 2011
Chairperson: Ms H Malgas (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee was briefed on the role of the National Education Evaluation and Development Unit as an independent body tasked with evaluating and reporting on the quality of teaching and learning in South African schools. A draft founding Bill providing for the creation of NEEDU had been developed and a very brief overview of the draft Bill was provided. It was hoped that the draft Bill would be enacted in 2012. The Committee was also taken through one of NEEDU’s key outputs which would be a survey of 100 schools.

Committee members asked questions about the stated independence of NEEDU. A DA member said it was not true to say that NEEDU would be an independent body if it was to be appointed by, and report to, the Minister of Basic Education. Also questioned was how would NEEDU be different from other quality assurance mechanisms and how would NEEDU conduct its evaluation of the schooling system.

The Department of Basic Education presented on the Legal and Legislative Branch and the Strategic Planning and Reporting Branch of Branch R (International Relations, Communication and Legal Services).

Members asked questions about litigation cases in which the DBE was currently involved. In particular, members sought to better understand an application that had been brought against the Eastern Cape Education Department so that the ECED decision not to fill all vacant posts at particular schools be set aside and reviewed. Members asked why it was that the head of department of the ECED seemed to think it was above the law. Members asked about the particular regulations on pregnant students. Also asked was why learners were still expected to pay fees at ex-Model C schools considering that education was meant to be free.

Meeting report

Briefing by NEEDU (National Education Evaluation and Development Unit)
Dr John Volmink, Chief Executive Officer: NEEDU, explained that the role of NEEDU was to act as an independent body tasked with evaluating and reporting on the quality of teaching and learning in South African schools. South Africa had a high cost and low performing education system because of a lack of self-accountability within schools. Greater self-accountability and self-evaluation in schools was the primary goal. NEEDU would focus largely on under-performing schools and evaluate learner knowledge, teacher performance and teacher practice. It was hoped that a culture of increased self-accountability would be fostered in schools.

Mr Yousuf Gabru presented the draft Bill that had been developed to create NEEDU. The object of the Bill was to establish an independent statutory body called NEEDU that would be independent from the Department of Basic Education (DBE). NEEDU’s primary function would be to evaluate the education system. NEEDU would not however be responsible for all monitoring and evaluation of education. Chapter 7 of the draft Bill stated that the Minister must consider the reports and recommendations made by NEEDU.

Dr Sithole gave an overview of one of NEEDU’s key outputs which was a planned survey of 100 schools. At the end of the financial year, NEEDU would produce a report on its findings on the quality of teaching and learning in South African schools, especially in the areas of mathematics, science, language and numeracy. The Ministry had been asked to create posts for 21 expert evaluators to assist with the survey of 100 schools. If the budget was increased next year then more evaluators could be employed and more schools could be surveyed.

Ms N Gina (ANC) asked if NEEDU was already established. Was there a sitting Board?

Mr  S Makhubele (ANC) asked at what point NEEDU would be a fully-fledged functioning body.

Dr Volmink answered that NEEDU had been given three years in total to establish itself. He was not present in the first year but had come in last year on a two-year contract. Only Dr Sithole was employed by NEEDU on a permanent basis. It was hoped that by early next year the Bill establishing NEEDU would have gone through and been enacted. Dr Volmink’s brief was to establish NEEDU. His contract ended at the end of June 2011.

Mr W James (DA) said that it was essential for an education department to have access to “honest numbers” of how well children were doing at school. In order to get honest numbers, all the DBE had to do was put up a tender for an external agency with credibility in the field to do the research. These numbers could then be used by the Department to improve education. NEEDU was not this kind of thing. NEEDU was not an independent body and the word “independent” should not be used as it was misleading. NEEDU was at arms length from the Minister – the board was appointed by the Minister and the body reported to the Minister. There were ways of making the current design of NEEDU more independent than it was. This could be done through legislation and it was the job of the Committee to examine the legislation and make sure that the laws were consistent with the principles. Aspects of the draft Bill pertaining to “governance” were therefore fundamental. Although the integrity and professionalism of the presenters was without question, the design of NEEDU should ensure that they were not compromised. The Minister needed to hear the good news and the bad news.

Mr D Smiles (DA) echoed the importance of NEEDU being an independent body. However, in the worst case scenario, NEEDU should perhaps report to the Department of Performance Monitoring and Evaluation.

Prof Volmink said, as a preface to his answers, that the word that everyone had been trying to avoid was the word “inspection”. This was the missing element in our education system. Prof Volmink knew of no other country that did not have this element. This word had been avoided for the last two decades because of the connotations it had with the past where it did not seem to add any value. The more positive term was “evaluation”. NEEDU’s role was to help schools to help themselves. This was the only way in which a small group such as NEEDU could add value to the system.

Prof Volmink agreed that it was important to get honest numbers. If there was not integrity in NEEDU’s reports and numbers, then it would not be worth having. NEEDU would not be a “watch dog” of the Department but it would certainly not be a “lapdog” of the Department either. With the help of this Committee, NEEDU would make sure that it had the necessary legislative principles to ensure its independence.

Mr Dikobo (AZAPO) asked what value NEEDU added to the education system.

Prof Volmink answered that this question needed to be confronted as he did not think that anyone had a vested interest in establishing another layer of bureaucracy that did not actually add any value. Everyone needed to be clear about NEEDU’s value.

Mr Dikobo said that although there were many stakeholders in the education system, it was the “teachers” and the “learners” who were fundamental. It was written somewhere that in the performance of its functions NEEDU would not appraise or report on an individual educator, yet the Bill said that NEEDU must observe and assess classroom teaching, educator knowledge and learner knowledge. How can NEEDU evaluate the education system as a whole if it could not evaluate its individual parts? How could NEEDU report on teaching and learning in schools if it could not evaluate the quality of teachers?

Prof Volmink answered that NEEDU did not report to the Department in this sense but rather evaluated for “accountability” and “development”. NEEDU was sensitive about not repeating the pattern of the old “inspection” where an inspector sat at the back of classroom, did not say anything, wrote his own report and then ran to the Department to report. NEEDU wanted to give honest feedback and make sure that the feedback was used to improve practice. NEEDU also aggregated data to present to the Department.

Mr Makhubele asked how NEEDU would be different from other quality assurance mechanisms such as the Integrated Quality Management System (IQMS).

Prof Volmink answered that any employer had the right to do performance management on its employees. None of the teachers worked for NEEDU as NEEDU was an independent body. NEEDU therefore looked at the performance of teachers differently as from what the Department did. NEEDU would not for example give any advice on financial incentives and promotions. NEEDU would declare on the quality of teaching. Earlier on in the day Prof Volmink had sat in on a lesson in a school classroom after which he gave input to the teacher and principal. The education system existed for the sole purpose of teaching and learning. Therefore, when NEEDU visited a school it would go straight to a classroom. NEEDU had not had any problems so far with this, with the exception of one province. Neither did the unions object to NEEDU doing this.  The other issue was the issue of compliance. Whole school evaluation (WSE) was a good system but it did not teach. No one could say to a school that they would come back in three months time for example to make sure that changes were implemented. NEEDU might not be able to cover the 25 000 schools but it would be able to cover the 82 districts. The system would work perfectly if all did what they were supposed to do. NEEDU’s job was to make sure that this happened.

Mr D Smiles asked what the relationship between the Quality Learning and Teaching Campaign (QLTC) and NEEDU would be. He noted that the presentation said that NEEDU would write reports and make recommendations yet there was little said of NEEDU’s research capacity.

Prof replied that a researcher had been appointed on 1 September 2011.

Ms Mashishi (ANC) asked how the 100 schools to be surveyed would be chosen.

Ms Mashishi asked how the 21 evaluators would be selected. Would they be based within the provinces or would they be nationally based?

Prof Volmink replied that they would be provincially based. Nine would be at the senior level, and two would be at the system director level. The national level consisted of Prof Volmink, Dr Sithole and two part-time employees, and a researcher who had been appointed on 1 September 2011.

The Chairperson asked when the Bill would be placed before Parliament. Would it be tabled before the end of the financial year?

Mr Chris Leukes, Director: Legal Services, DBE, replied that the draft Bill had been finalised. It would soon be published for public comment. It was hoped that the Bill would be tabled before the end of the financial year, 31 March 2012. It would probably only be enacted in 2012.

Ms Gina asked what self-evaluation tools NEEDU had created.

Prof Volmink replied that NEEDU had considered various self-evaluation tools. This would be outsourced however.

Dr Sithole said that NEEDU had received tender proposals from organisations who did this work and which were currently being evaluated.

Branch R (International Relations, Communication and Legal Services): DBE briefing
Ms Vivienne Carelse, Deputy Director-General: International Relations, Communication and Legal Services, DBE, introduced the presentation pointing out that one of the functions of Branch R was strategic planning. The six units of Branch R were currently headed by only two chief directors while the others were yet to be activated. The organisational structure of DBE’s Branch R was currently very thinly populated.

Strategic Planning and Reporting Branch
Mr Gerrit Coetzee, Director: Strategic Planning, DBE, emphasised that DBE had to focus on outcomes in terms of quality of education for young South Africans. The DBE took its cue from broader government and the Presidency in prioritising learning outcomes, basing its actions on a proper understanding of what was happening in the schools and that there was consistency in education policies. The National Planning Commission’s Diagnostic Report had identified a number of challenges in quality education in South Africa. Most of the Department’s programme had been structured around addressing these challenges. Establishing a healthy organisational culture within the Department was an important factor in the Department’s ability to deliver. The high number of vacant posts was problematic but steps were being taken to overcome this. The DBE was a developmental department that was not getting everything right but that was definitely improving.

Legal and Legislative Services Branch
Mr Chris Leukes noted the DBE’s new organogram and Legal and Legislative Services Branch’s position within it. The legislative services unit of the Directorate was responsible for the development, processing and implementation of legislation, as well as the impact of the Constitution on education. It also focused on human rights in education. The legal services unit was responsible for the management of litigation against the Department and provincial education departments (PEDs).

A number of draft regulations for the South African Schools Act (SASA) were currently being developed including Regulations relating to the Prohibition of the Payment of Unauthorised Remuneration or the Giving of Financial Benefit or Benefit to Certain State Employees (Section 38A). Some educators were paid extra by the governing body for extra services rendered. There had been problems with this and so new regulations would provide further guidance on the correct procedure for this kind of remuneration [1.40].  Regulations for the prevention, support and counselling of pregnant learners and pregnant learners with HIV and AIDS in public schools were also being developed

There were currently a number of litigation cases involving the Department. A Equality Court application had been brought by the Afrikaanse Taalraad against the Department on the grounds of language discrimination. The applicant was arguing that the Funza Lushaka Bursary was in conflict with section 9(3) of the Constitution as Afrikaans speaking students who chose Afrikaans as a subject for teacher training did not qualify for the bursary. Statistics however showed that Afrikaans speaking students received a generous portion of the Funza Lushaka Bursaries which did not support the claim being made by Afrikaanse Taalraad.

Welkom and Harmony High had sought an order to overturn the Free State Education Department (FSED) directive in terms of its decision not to effect the Pregnancy Policy of the School Governing Bodies (SGB). The FSED intervened by directing schools to admit learners to school after the school implemented the Pregnancy Policy provisions which stipulated that a leaner would not be permitted into school within the same year that she absented herself due to pregnancy and that she may only return the following year. There was also litigation against the SGB Pregnancy Policy on the ground that it discriminated against learners and denied them access to education. The legal issue at stake was whether or not the FSED had the authority to override a decision made by the school in terms of a policy determined by the SGB. The policy however discriminated against learners and prevented them from access to education.

A Labour Application had been brought by Superintendents of Education: Management (SEM) employees seeking an order that the consent agreement entered into between the KwaZulu-Natal Department and Deputy Chief Education Specialist (DCES) officials be reviewed and set aside. This was a result of an upgrade of salaries in respect of DCES/SEM office-based educators from a grade 10 to 11 and the KZN department reversing the decision so DCES/SEM school-based educators did not receive the upgrade. The legal issue at stake was whether the MEC and Head of Department (HOD) had the power to upgrade the DCES/SEM post from grade 10 to 11. The Heads of Education Departments Committee (HEDCOM) had passed a directive that all provinces that upgraded DCES/SEM officials did so beyond their powers as the Minister had the power to determine salaries and conditions of service. The KZN Department of Education was currently defending the matter.

An application had been brought against the Eastern Cape Education Department to direct that the ECED decision not to fill all vacant substantive posts at relevant schools in accordance with the 2010 in Eastern Cape post establishment, be judicially reviewed and set aside. The post establishment for 2011 was unlawful as it was not determined by 30 September as envisaged in SASA. The matter had been settled out of court. However the settlement order was now being challenged on the grounds that the parties did not have authority to enter into such settlement agreement.

Mr Dikobo questioned the principle behind the court application against the ECED. It seemed as if officials had signed an agreement, but then the provincial HOD had sought to have that settlement set aside.

Mr Leukes replied that the head of the department was not trying to set aside the memorandum of understanding (MOU) entered between the national government and the provincial government but rather the particular settlement in the court case. The current national intervention officer signed a settlement agreement to settle the court case which was then made the order of court. The HOD’s argument was that the HOD was the accounting officer and therefore only he had the authority to settle the court case.

Mr Smiles commented on the ECED intervention remarking that nobody was above the law yet the ECED seemed to think it was above the law about the Eastern Cape intervention – no one was above the law but it seemed as if the EEDC was above the law. To what extent did the Department support Minister Angie Motshekga in this case? Had the Department provided or assisted the Minister with a much needed management plan or letter needed for the implementation of Section 100 of the Constitution.

Mr Leukes replied that the intervention in the Eastern Cape was currently being managed by a committee, consisting of five MECs and ministers from the Eastern Cape, established by the Minister. This committee was taking the executive decisions regarding the intervention. The political situation of the intervention was unstable as it seemed as if there were certain forces that were trying to attack it.

Mr Smiles said that Mr Leukes had avoided his question on why the ECED thought it was above the law.

Mr Dikobo also said that there must be some law telling the provincial head of department to “shut up” and “stand back”. Otherwise, Section 100 of the Constitution did not mean anything.

Mr Leukes replied that this was exactly what the DBE was saying. Section 100 was a supreme law that must be implemented.

Mr Dikobo asked if KZN DOE was defecting by defending the matter considering that HEDCOM had directed that people had acted beyond their powers.

Mr N Kganyago (UDM) asked to what extent the “standardised assessment tools” would differ from the diagnostic materials that had been produced by the Human Sciences Research Council in the past. What would the nature of these instruments be? Would they be similar to psychometric tests? 

Mr Kganyano said that he did not view the withdrawal of a pregnant student from school as an expulsion but rather as a withdrawal for her safety. Considering that schools in rural areas had limited facilities, who would be held responsible if something were to happen to a pregnant learner? Secondly, were the parents of a pregnant learner allowed to withdraw her from school? What would happen if a pregnant learner wanted to continue attending school but her parents objected? Thirdly, if a pregnant learner was to be withdrawn from school to deliver her baby, and then returned to school in the same year but, after having been absent for six months for example, would this not have an effect on the learner’s performance.

Mr Leukes replied that the regulations made provision for whom was responsible for pregnant children learners should something go wrong but that time had not allowed for Mr Leukes to go into the details. The regulations gave the student the option to continue schooling or to stay at home. The regulations were comprehensive and provided for the responsibilities of parents and learners.

Mr Smiles asked about the “Grade R” monitoring and evaluation tool or mechanism that was yet to be established. It had been reported on in the DBE’s previous report to the Committee last year.

Mr Coetzee replied that he did not have the details on the monitoring and evaluation tool itself but that they would be incorporated in the draft policy framework.

Ms Mushwana asked why it was that Afrikaans students received a “generous portion” of the Funza Lushaka bursaries.

Mr Leukes responded that 27% of the recipients of Funza Lushaka were Afrikaans speaking students. The claim that the bursaries discriminated against Afrikaans was therefore not supported by the statistics. He did not know the reason why Afrikaans speaking students received a disproportionate number of the bursaries.

Ms Mushwana said that fees in public schools had not been covered by the presenters. Why were ex Model C skills still charging fees when these schools were meant to be free?

Ms Carelse replied that the Department would note this comment. There were steps that had been set in place for parents to be exempted from fees where they could not pay fees and felt as if they were being discriminated against.

Ms Mushwana asked if the Department promoted the South African flag in schools.

Ms Carelse replied that the Department did so and noted the comment

Ms Gina asked how the Department was doing with the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statements (CAPS) training.

Ms Carelse answered that reports on the CAPS training sessions in the nine provinces had been received but that this fell under the Curriculum Branch which could provide a breakdown of the training sessions that had taken place in each province.
Ms Gina asked what the DBE had planned for the District Offices as they were currently dysfunctional. She asked how the DBE had budgeted for ICD provincially and how funds would be balanced across the provinces. She commented that the development of “Regulations for the Prevention, Support and Counselling of Pregnant learner and pregnant learners with HIV and AIDS in public schools” unnecessarily isolated and singled out learners “with HIV and AIDS” which would only further stigmatise learners who had the disease.

Ms Carelse noted the comment and agreed that the possibility of further stigmatisation should be avoided.

The Chairperson asked for an explanation of Section 38A of SASA.

Mr Leukes replied that Section 38A provided for instances in which the governing body of a particular school paid principals or educators extra money for providing services to the school. The legislation was amended in 2008 to prohibit a school governing body from paying extra money to principals and educators without getting permission from the Head of Department. Permission needed to be sought for the extra work that was going to be done considering that educators were employees of the state. The regulation had been developed to provide schools with guidance for the procedures that needed to be followed. It also provided a framework for the determination of extra remuneration for educators. Payment of gratuities and bonuses, amongst other things, were excluded.

The Chairperson said that she would take this matter further with the Committee’s legal advisors as she had problems with this but which could not be dealt with in the meeting.

The Chairperson asked what was being done in terms of the Department’s communications strategy.

Ms Carelse said that the Department had taken its communications strategy a bit further than the traditional platforms and wanted to do a “show and tell” to unpack the communications strategy for the Committee.  It wanted to share how it had taken cognisance of previous and repeated comments made by the Committee and how it planned to enhance public information. The Minister and Deputy Minister had emphasised that the Department needed to ensure that the efforts of the Department and its partners were not lost on the public at large. Its initiatives should be made known to the public via the media.

The Chairperson said that the Department would have to come back to the Committee in two weeks to present the remainder of its work as there was not enough time to cover it in the meeting.

The meeting was adjourned.


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