Curriculum delivery and support in schools: Department of Basic Education status report

Basic Education

09 June 2015
Chairperson: Ms N Mokoto (ANC) (Acting)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Basic Education outlined the diversity of Annual National Assessment (ANA) and National Senior Certificate (NSC) results from province to province across the nation, which was startling for many; Mpumalanga and Western Cape led the progress chart. Notably, overall improvement could be identified from all provinces. Moreover, the department considered the measures adopted in order to strengthen the system in its entirety, including oversight visits, follow up road shows and the introduction of the ‘1+4’ scheme. The National Strategy for Learner Attainment (NSLA) was reconfigured, which sought to underpin the challenges presented across the system; interventions were later proposed (including a differentiated approach with learners, and particular focus given to learners with special educational needs). The Evidence Based Report was then integrated into the NSLA, which reinforced the proposals further. Key features included: identifying the nature of the intervention, as well as the purpose and the focus. The department then reported on progressed learners within South Africa, a major weakness in the system. A template was provided from the Western Cape Province, indicating that the Grade 12 results were gradually improving from year to year.

The 1+4 pre and post test system for teachers was then outlined in certain provinces, which reported that teachers lack in content knowledge, however the department asserted that 1+4 Intervention model attempts to address both subject content knowledge and methods of teaching strategies. The progressive use of ICT support within schools was also considered, so as to enhance the learning experience for both teachers and learners (Eastern Cape / Free State show significant movement towards this). DBE concluded by noting that the coordination of the system must be strengthened, so that they ensure all branches work together in providing support to provinces, identifying the weaknesses of the system, and addressing these in full.

In the discussion that followed, MPs asked about the low level of correlation between ANA and NSC results; are teachers qualified to teach the grades they are teaching; what is DBE doing about the level of violence in rural schools; how is the selection of ‘progressed learners’ conducted; are unsigned reports authentic; how was DBE addressing the higher teacher vacancy rates; the effectiveness of the 1+4 scheme and about the uniformity within the system; the level of support for principals within schools and the need for support in rural schools was stressed.

Meeting report

Implementation of Strategy to Monitor Curriculum Delivery & Support to Schools: DBE progress report
The delegation was led by Mr Hubert Mathanzima Mweli (Acting Deputy Director General) who expressed the apologies of the Minister and Deputy Minister in their absence.

Problem Statement
Mr Mweli stated that the implementation of the curriculum is based on the NSLA. He saw the problem statement as follows: The Basic Education sector has recorded tremendous improvement in access, redress and equity. Gradual signs of improvement in areas of quality and efficiency are evident, but a lot still needs to be done. Learning outcomes have shown an upward trend in the national, regional and international tests.  The National Development Plan acknowledges that targets in the Action Plan 2014 are stretched, but have increased them even further. The NSLA must ensure that the sector delivers all these targets.

Progress in the 2014 ANA and NSC learning outcomes
The ANA and NSC results were noted alongside each other for each district in the nine provinces. Mr Mweli indicated that all provinces aligned their plans to the National Strategy for Learner Attainment, prior to the ensuing academic year and later finalised these plans. He noted:
- Eastern Cape shows a huge imbalance between ANA and NSC results, thus indicating that measures are required. 

- Free state demonstrated improvement from lower grades, with gradual movement towards the NSC
- Gauteng proves a good balance between lower and upper grades; the data analysis supports this, indicating that districts are progressively moving towards the right. 

- Kwazulu-Natal shows close performance between ANA and the NSC. The reason being that Kwazulu-Natal is not one of the top performing provinces in further education and training; the data provided supports this assumption. 

- Limpopo displays excellence in the upper grades, however the foundation does match this. What is the problem? Limpopo does not have out of the ordinary interventions in their upper grades.

- Mpumalanga is advancing in both sectors, and is one of few provinces that have demonstrated this upward trend.
- North West figures are considerably disproportionate in the sense that they are doing outstandingly well in the upper grades, however poorly in the lower grades. 

- Northern Cape represents the performance level across all nine provinces; results are occasionally up, however also occasionally down. 

- Western Cape is a good example that other provinces can emulate. Lower grades are continuing to improve, corresponding to the upper grades.

National Senior Certificate (NSC) results
Looking at the results of the NSC, all provinces have displayed improvement, notably in Northern Cape and Limpopo (see slides 27-30).

Provincial Oversight Visits
DBE will carry out investigation of provincial plans, followed up with provincial oversight visits where they ensure the strengthening of overall provincial plans. The primary emphasis is to ensure provincial plans are aligned with the national plan, as well as increasing the focus on implementation and monitoring by DBE and provincial education departments (PEDs), to strengthen accountability and ensure department strategies are employed.

Subsequently, road shows were carried out in support of follow-ups, where the information from the ANA and the NSC diagnostic reports was discussed; eight out of nine provinces were visited. Upon discussion, provinces would amend their plans accordingly, and provide feedback to the department.

The department introduced the ‘1+4’ Intervention model directly to individual provinces, so as to ensure a common understanding of what this scheme entails; the intention was to ensure that what is implemented is understood by those who attend meetings, and those responsible for implementation.

National Strategy for Learner Attainment (NSLA)
A workshop was conducted at the beginning of the year, and the revised NSLA was taken to the Heads of Education Committee (HEDCOM) for approval, which was later endorsed by the Council of Education Ministers (CEM). Eventual responses were received from Western Cape, who gave substantial input, and Mpumalanga, who suggested a reduction of the number of quarterly reports to three per annum.

2015 re-worked NSLA
The focus was to ensure we address underperformance within the system, ensuring improvement in overall learner performance in line with the action plan to 2019. HEDCOM discussed the revised 2015 NSLA and recommended adopting a differentiated approach in providing support to under-performing provinces. HEDCOM also identified learners with special educational needs as the primary focus of the NSLA, with explicit dedication to provide support to these individuals in a number of forms: ensuring officials visit provinces and provide data as well as improved training and development for teachers. The key features of NSLA post-HEDCOM are:
- Revised sections of the NSLA to ensure clear accountability;
- Detailed Performance Indicators to improve accurate reporting;
- Making the framework grade and phase specific with a special focus on Senior Phase aligned to the interventions;
- Specific focus on Progressed learners and Retained learners;
- Inclusion of the 1+4 Mathematics project;
- Including measuring the impact of interventions; and
- Differentiated approach to performance and under-performance.
Detailed information about each of these features was provided (see document).

Integration of the Evidence Based Report(EBR) into NSLA
The purpose of the EBR was to collect quantitative and qualitative data on provincial interventions conducted that directly improve learner performance in the National Senior Certificate examinations for presentation  to the Umalusi Assessment Standards Committee. This involved collecting quantitative and qualitative data to evidence interventions in the system and to evaluate the impact of the interventions made so that when standardisation happens, the failings become apparent. 

Key areas include: 

- The nature of the intervention

- The purpose

- The focus (includes specific areas in the syllabus)

- The total population (includes the number of the learners benefiting/teachers involved in interventions)

- The duration

- Beneficiaries v Target, and

- The impact of interventions (pre and post test results are important in this regard).

Report on Quarter 1 NSLA reports

Eight of the provinces presented (Eastern Cape was not present and did not send a report); however, the majority did not follow the guidelines provided.The detailed narrative reports submitted to the DBE have been analysed and a comprehensive feedback report provided to each province reflecting progress and issues requiring follow-up to improve NSLA.
NSLA reports on Progressed Learners

A breakdown was provided in terms of each provincial district with, for example, Gauteng totalling 163 571 in 2014. The notion of progressing learners is not unique to South Africa. The major weakness is providing the requisite support to individual learners so as to support them from the beginning of their learning. Efforts should be made to know the children by name in order to enhance the learning experience. The Northern Cape audit represents good lessons coming out of the measures adopted, with increased support from parents to ensure their children are attending/supported in school at all times. The best way to reduce these levels is to ensure one know where these learners are in terms of their learning. 

On slide 72 you can see that Western Cape’s numbers have grown further. 

Performance of Progressed Learners
There is an expectation that all provinces provide a similar template to that provided by the Western Cape on slide 74 showing Grade 12 Targets for 2015 compared to Term 1 Performance.

1+4 Pre and Post Tests
- Mpumalanga: the major challenge it has with its teachers is content knowledge. The McKenzie report states that the quality of the education depends on the quality of teachers; what 1+4 attempts to do is to address both subject content knowledge and methods of teaching strategies. One can see from the pre and post test results; that the situation is improving. Of the 11 teachers identified for facilitation that scored between 0- 49 %, all identified teachers achieved at 80 % and above after undergoing ‘training’.

- Free state: the intention is that the minimum performance of every teacher must be 80%; you are preparing people for life. The results indicate that 1+4 is in fact working.
- North West: indicates that its teachers lack in subject content knowledge, and a major focus in this area will be required for the next few years. 

- Northern Cape: went one step further and not only used this methodology for mathematics, but for other subjects including language and science & technology.

NSLA reports – ICT Support
Out of 140 teacher centres we have in the country, about 60 of them are fully equipped with ICT. These are used as centres to train teachers and are strongly indicative of the ICT facilities available. The intention is that all of these will become fully equipped with ICT. Eastern Cape is currently using a host of ICT equipment and some interventions have been deployed. Free state is the leading province in terms of providing ICT support to both learners and teachers; many provinces are trying to emulate this movement.

Way Forward

Importantly, we must strengthen our coordination, starting with DBE ensuring that all the branches work together in providing support to provinces to the extent that provinces are able to meet deadlines. Moreover, the most senior person must be appointed in provincial education departments. Upon discussion of the second quarterly report, the picture in terms of progress will become clearer. The data in the presentation is just a picture of what is beginning to happen; the remaining months will be about working on the weaknesses identified to strengthen the system in full.

Ms A Lovemore (DA) made reference to slide 22 of the presentation (referring to progress in ANA and NSC learning in Northern Cape). She commented on the low level of correlation between the ANA and NSC results, and asked for further interpretation of the ‘dots’ provided. She also noted the huge difference in attainment levels between grade 9 (39%), and grade 12 (73%) learners; what has happened here? 

Ms Lovemore questioned the department on lack of information on teachers. Are teachers who qualified to teach specific grades, or phases, teaching in that capacity? If not, what is the department doing in order to address this problem? She queried the targeted training of teachers, and the NSLA’s failure to acknowledge this for the improvement of learning. 

She made reference to slide 86 (on pre and post test results in North West), remarking on the startling figures. What gets done in cases like that? She asserted that those teachers should not be teaching. 

Finally, she noted slide 91 Learner Support in Eastern Cape) and indicated that there is not much about learner support as activities such as an essay writing competitions are extra-curricular, and are not learner support.

Ms C Majeke (UDM) asked what is the department doing about the deficiencies of Eastern Cape? Further, she noted her concerns of violence within schools of that region; recently a teacher was killed, which has possible links to students. Is there anything the department can do to regulate schools of that kind? A school in Eastern Cape was given tablet devices, however these were not utilised until a full year later, due to fears about the background of children. Why not report this issue, and address it properly?

Mr H Khosa (ANC) required clarity about results; Limpopo is performing better in higher grades, than in lower grades. Is there more concentration given to the higher classes? He stressed that a much more serious approach needs to be taken to ensure overall improvement in lower classes. He asked for clarity on signed and unsigned reports. Are those considered unsigned, authentic? Is the report really coming from the Department?

Mr Khosa probed the term ‘progressed learner’; whom do we call a progressed learner? How is the selection of ‘progressed learners’ conducted? Lastly, he asked whether those schools that were receiving donations from companies for equipment and computers are monitored? Are these donations utilised accordingly?


Dr Marie-Louise Samuels, Director Early Childhood Development, dealt with the issue raised on teacher training development, and noted that in the reports, the department expects the provinces to indicate the specific areas where they have been training individuals; what is the content? Teacher training is based on the deficiencies found with respect to the analysis of ANA and the NSC, and so that determines when teacher training happens. She also stated that the department have done Eastern Cape a disservice in terms of ICT support. We look at how to make what is being provided for more explicit. She asserted that in most cases, the department will not only meet with provincial officials, but district officials (who have direct contact with schools), in attempts to address the challenges through intervention. 

Ms Samuels responded to Mr Khosa’s concerns over disparity between results, and said that investigation was underway to identify the critical reasons for this. Possible reasons include the far-reaching calibre of learners and competency of teachers as well as ineffective directed learning. With regard to the issue of ‘unsigned’ reports’ presented by Mr Khosa, Ms Samuels assured that the department consider the information to be authentic (part of what they do is verify information). She noted that the department would list the information as unsigned to encourage compliance, in that when the report is presented, those who have not fulfilled what they should have by signing the report do not like to see this. Finally, in respect of donations, she stated that this is one of the areas the department focuses on, particularly ICT. 

Ms Elspeth Khembo, DBE Director: Maths and Science, went on to discuss the 1+4 scheme (a support mechanism for teachers in provinces). The system was advocated, where provinces committed themselves to supporting the teachers. She went on to say that the 1 stands for the teachers, who would collaborate on lesson plans for the forthcoming week (together on a Monday), and the other four days would be spent teaching; competence tests were pursued to assess the required skills for that topic/class. The objective was to find a balance between teaching and learning for these teachers. She went on to say that different provinces continue to use different programmes, for example in Free State, teachers meet every two weeks. 

Mr Mweli addressed Mr Khosa’s question, saying historically the lower grades have not been given prominence. Prior to ANA, there was nothing to determine whether there was ‘real’ teaching. The competence of teachers could be traced to the performance of learners. Full curriculum coverage must be ensured, in terms of what was taught and learned.

Mr Mweli said that ANA portrays the true picture of what is the black box in the South African schooling system; learners are progressing with huge knowledge gaps. He said to Ms Lovemore that the Integrated Quality Management System (IQMS) is the beginning, and correct measures are required to be taken to ensure that this is strengthened. He added learner performance is the proxy that is used to determine not only the competence of teachers, but the level of support teachers receive from subject advisors; it is a huge indicative factor. Further, he stated that some teachers should not hold the title that they carry.

Mr Mweli emphasised his desire to introduce compulsory competence tests for principals and senior management staff, and then teachers – so as to improve the performance of the system. We have been presiding over a general education and training belt, which has not received the requisite monitoring. ANA has enhanced the system, and presents information on a host of factors including those who are attending class, and those who are teaching in the correct manner. He explains that this is why there is dissatisfaction with ANA. 

Mr Mweli agreed with Ms Lovemore in terms of slide 86; some of the teachers should not be teaching if performance levels continue to drop. He stated that our data contends in terms of level of qualification, that we are at 98%; however the results seem to indicate something else. He then referred to a presentation made by Dr Green and Dr Taylor, which illustrates major discrepancies in the teacher development programmes; many are not truly qualified. A diagnostic report is now used to target specific weaknesses. 

In response to Ms Majeke, he stated that school safety remains a challenge for the system, and needs to be combated. Principals and teachers indicate that results are so poor in grades seven to nine because this represents a 'resting place' compared to teaching grades ten to twelve; teachers are aware that there is lack of pressure and monitoring over performance in lower grades. However, ANA seeks to prevent this, and encourages schools to set targets and reach those targets. He defined 'progressed learners' as condoned learners, and went on to say that South Africa promotes a strong learner intervention and support programmes, so as to place the learner on an equal footing with other individuals.

Ms Lovemore returned to her former point on teachers. She indicated that in the Eastern Cape, there were 3 000 vacancies at the end of last term. How are you addressing this? Moreover, she asked for more information about provinces tracking progressed learners, in light of the fact that this is a new policy. She reasoned that progression is vital to a child’s future. She raised concerns over proposals to restore the position that was before, and stated that such a decision must be based on evidence. This is a national policy: how are you making sure that this is implemented, and properly monitored? 

Mr Khosa followed up on the 1+4 scheme. He complimented the scheme, but raised his concerns over a lack of uniformity in the system. Teachers are gifted differently, so how do you expect a learner to achieve 86% when there is inadequate staffing? 

Ms D Van Der Walt (DA) indicated that often one finds teachers are teaching subjects for which they did not study. Has the department considered possible research criteria to allow students to study teaching? 

Ms Van Der Welt went on to say that we come from a history of those who just want a job; thus, how do we make provision for teachers to study and teach what they are good at and express passion for? This must be ensured. 

Mr D Mnguni (ANC) asked: teachers are qualified to do what? He explained, there is no skill developed, but simply academic capacity; you are not qualified. Moreover, he queried if teachers are on the same page as curriculum implementers and the department? He went on to consider the impracticalities of the transfer of teachers; there is often difficulty in locating replacement teachers for those who wish to leave. Improvements are needed. Finally, Mr Mnguni considered the issue of support to the principal. He stated the principal is employed in September as a principal. The school governing bodies (SGBs) are elected. No one wants to support the principal, so when the results go down who is to blame? The principal. Measures are required to ensure cooperation with the principal.

Ms Mokoto asked, in respect of the changes to the NSLA, how are you going to ensure there is a smooth transition between the plans that were on course, and those later proposed; are there any transitional measures to ensure there are no breaks in the implementation process? She also referred to differentiated support and recognised the actuality of this issue; only last week when visiting a full service primary school, she acknowledged that learners were treated individually based on their learning capacity. So how do you take that forward in a normal school? How are the challenges of teachers who teach class sizes of 35-40 addressed? She then spoke about supporting female learners, and although it may come with negative outcomes (equality differences), it is a great initiative to pursue. Finally, she queried the extent of the budget which the department is managing in support of the programme. 

Response to Second Round of Questions
Mr Mweli considered the budget for the NSLA – as raised by Ms Mokoto, and agreed that it constitutes one of the sizeable cost drivers of the department. He stated that all provinces do provide for the implementation of provincial development plans from the equitable share; this happens in other programmes. Historically girl learners were neglected, thus you must advance them in such a way so as to place them on an equal footing with a view to creating an equitable society. Dropout rates for boy learners have also been given prominence.

He then turned to the issue of a differentiated approach, and stated that as teachers, we know about a differentiated approach, and unfortunately we have lost all of that. In furtherance, learners are on different progression levels.

He recognised that there are slow learners, who could become presidents of the country if teaching is properly given. How is a differentiated approach executed in an overcrowded classroom? Provinces are tracing what we call remedial teachers, and assistant teachers who provide support as the teacher moves with the learners; other countries have implemented this for years, which is why they are moving ahead of us. What happens to provinces that do not cooperate? We expect provinces to present themselves to the department, in compliance with section three and four of the National Education Policy (a legislative obligation that all must respect and carry out). In respect of implementation, some might be doing what is asked of them, but fail to report on such; the department can only determine this if they are reflected on. He replied to Ms Lovemore about the right teacher teaching the right subject, and stated that this is done through a different branch (responsible for teacher profiling). Further, he identified that in many instances you will find that teachers are not teaching the right subject, much of which can be attested to the redeployment exercise, which we seek to combat. 

Mr Mweli stated that there is recognisable support for principals – if principals demonstrate that they understand their role, few teachers will take them for a ride. He identified that the problem lies with the officials; there is too much allegiance to the union. In response to the question from Mr Mnguni on transfer of educators, he stated that the current system is not properly managed, and the department is making efforts to shift the responsibility to provinces.

With regard to the question presented concerning curricular implementation, Mr Mweli stated that he could not answer this with a definite yes; the President is carrying out a large survey to determine this. Curriculum will change, but basic technique of skills expected of teachers remains. He then added to earlier remarks on the issue of progressed learners and stated that a threshold must be established; there are instances were learners are taking advantage of the policies (failing to attend school), which may send the wrong message. Therefore, measures need to be adopted to ensure compliance with policy. Moreover, the Minister proposed a change in independent schools (creating a divide from public schools); a compelling case was made for this action.

He answered the question about ‘professional qualifications’, stating that the problem is the substance of these qualifications; post 1994 universities do not pay much attention to quality. This issue does not apply to all universities and teachers.

Mr Mweli stated that the issue surrounding demand and supply of teachers is the mismatch between teacher placement and profiles; however he asserted that mechanisms have been adopted in order to target this. Turning to the question by Mr Khosa on 1+4 scheme, he stated that it is not necessarily a policy, but a modality; we established this scheme, and sold it to provinces. If a province fails to voice interest, then no further negotiations will be made with this province. If a province wishes to employ an alternative method, then this will be allowed. Finally, (directed to Ms Lovemore) the progress of progressed learners can be identified within the NSLA; it may not be reported in all instances, but it definitely can be identified.

Third round of Questions
Ms J Basson (ANC) followed up on remedial/assistant teachers, asking why this is being implemented in Western Cape, and not in other provinces? Learners who underperform are most common amongst rural areas; she stressed the need for support in these areas. How do we identify full services schools lacking support and resources? How do you expect more than 1,000 learners (noted on slide 70) to reach, or pass grade twelve if we do not utilize this support function? What initiatives do we have to ensure that and assist ‘redundant teachers’ can be used in the system?

Ms Mokoto queried teacher morale, asking what are you doing to motivate teachers? Moreover, she considered the possible language barrier between teachers and students. She stated that such creates a presumption that teachers are not competent in the language, therefore how do you ensure that you address this so that the learning of the students is not hindered? 

Response to Third Round of Questions
Mr Mweli stated that the language of learning and teaching is introduced from the foundation phase through continuous work with the British Council. The department implemented what is known as ‘language’ across the curriculum; grades 4-12 are taught in English across the country. He went on to say that recent emphasis requires that those teachers teaching in English be an English teacher. Teacher morale has grown significantly, with recent ones outperforming the previous. A further incentive is affording teachers to continue studying in specific areas. He stated that the real motivation and incentive is in development and support. For example, if people acquire new skills and knowledge, it tends to motivate them. He returned to the question by Ms Basson. with regard to remedial teachers. It comes down to making difficult choices with limited resources. He explained that the implementation in Western Cape does not mean they are receiving more money than other provinces, it is about the difficult choices made.

In terms of full service schools, once the DBE present their report, you will then understand the investment the country has made (how many full service schools we have, what progress have they made).

Finally, he noted that the learners who are being progressed are a reflection of our management system; they are not supported in the way they should be. What is surprising, the issue of progressed learners has become an issue in the public discourse. There is a need for change within the system; prominence must be given through all grades. 

Ms Samuels stated once DBE receive the reports, all of the sections are analysed to identify what the province has reported, so as to ensure the next report is better than the previous (information is provided for this). With regard to the point made by Ms Basson on schools in rural areas, the agenda of the meeting on the 23 June includes this issue, and this appropriately will be discussed at length, as well as the implementation of inclusive education. Her final point relates to the inefficiencies of initial teacher training. She identified that there is a joint team of people between the department, and Higher Education to ensure that what universities are providing creates a balance between academic knowledge and knowledge required for teaching. Hence, there is a process underway to ensure what is done in the initial teacher training, is what is required.

Ms Mokoto explained that that the Members have exhausted the issues for today’s agenda. DBE must push harder to ensure this project is implemented to its fullest. 

The meeting was concluded.

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