NSC 2016 examination results; Examination merge; Annual National Assessment (ANA) remodelling

Basic Education

13 June 2017
Chairperson: Ms N Gina (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee met with the Department of Basic Education (DBE) to discuss the consolidated National Senior Certificate (NSC) examination results for 2016, receive an update on the possible merging of examinations, and to also consider the progress and status of the remodeling of the Annual National Assessment (ANA).

The DBE reported that the overall percentage of learners who did not show up for the supplementary examinations in 2016, even after enrolling for the examination, was 34.6%, and this had increased in 2017 to 38.2%. The NSC November 2016 examination results had shown an overall 72.5% pass rate, but combined with the 2017 supplementary exam, there had been an improvement of 2%, which was the highest improvement the DBE had obtained in the last three years. This showed that the support offered to learners by the ‘Second Chance’ programme had contributed to the improvement. The combined results showed that there had been an improvement in subjects such as mathematics, physical science and accounting, which indicated that the interventions made by the DBE, particularly in science subjects, were beginning to bear fruit.

The number of candidates who had achieved the NSC had increased from 442 672 to 456 437, while the number of candidates who obtained the Higher Certificate qualification had increased from 100 486 to 110 047. The number of candidates who obtained admission to Diploma studies had increased from 179 619 to 182 238, and the number of candidates who had obtained admission to Bachelor’s studies had increased from 162 374 to 163 938.

The Committee raised a concern that the results from learners at special schools had not been included in the report on the consolidated NSC results. It was concerned about the high number of absentees in the examinations and wanted to know what measures the DBE had in place to avoid such an occurrence in the future.  What had been done to ensure that educators were appropriately trained to help learners prepare for the supplementary examinations once they were combined?

Members welcomed the proposal to merge examinations, as this helped the candidates for supplementary examinations to fully prepare over five or six months instead of the usual six weeks. However, some Members felt that the waiting period was too long, and this would disadvantage learners who intended to enrol at a university in the second semester. The objective of the merger was to provide as much support to the learner and to afford the learners with more opportunities and to expose them to the new support provided by the DBE.

The DBE was asked if the learners who had failed their supplementary examinations got another opportunity to rewrite. What measures did the Department have to make sure that teachers were in class on time and were held accountable, and did not rely solely on the support services?

The DBE said no candidates would be disadvantaged as a result of the proposed changes. It believed that the streamlining of the three exams – the NSC, the Senior Certificate and the supplementary exams -- into two exams would be cost effective and efficient, especially in respect of the setting, printing and marking of scripts.

It said that a task team had been formed to review the ANA. This team had been granted until the end of July to resolve outstanding matters relating to national assessment models. The Department was asked whether the schools rationalization programme could help to reduce the high teacher-learner ratios in rural areas.

Meeting report

National Senior Certificate results

The Chairperson welcomed the DBE delegation and said she hoped that they would bring some clarity on the topic of merging examinations, as it had provided a lot of misunderstandings.

Dr Rufus Poliah, Chief Director: National Assessment and Public Examinations, DBE, said the 2017 National Senior Certificate (NSC) supplementary examination was considered a second sitting of the 2016 NSC examinations. Therefore, a consolidation of the performance in the November 2016 and 2017 supplementary examinations provided a complete picture of the performance of the Class of 2016.  

The supplementary examinations commenced on Wednesday, 22 February 2017, and terminated on Friday, 31 March 2017. The examination allowed candidates who did not meet the NSC requirements by one to three subjects, a second chance. The supplementary examinations were successfully administered across all provincial education departments (PEDs). The only disruption to the examinations had been the protest actions which had resulted in some candidates not writing one or two examination papers. The supplementary examinations had been conducted following the same standards and rigour of the November 2016 NSC examinations. The normal quality assurance procedures of the DBE and Umalusi were applied to this examination, and the results were approved by Umalusi. 

The overall percentage of learners who did not show up for the examination in 2016, even after enrolling for the examination, was 34.6%, and this had increased in 2017 to 38.2%. When comparing the NSC November 2016 examination results, which showed an overall 72.5% pass rate with the 2017 supplementary exam, combined with the November 2016 exam, there had been an improvement of 2%, which was the highest improvement the DBE had obtained in the last three years. This showed that the support brought by the ‘Second Chance’ programme offered to learners had contributed to the improvement. The combined results showed that there had been an improvement in subjects such as mathematics, physical science and accounting, which indicated that the interventions made by the DBE, particularly in science subjects, were beginning to bear fruit.

The number of candidates who achieved the NSC had increased from 442 672 to 456 437, while the number of candidates who obtained the Higher Certificate qualification had increased from 100 486 to 110 047. The number of candidates who obtained admission to Diploma studies had increased from 179 619 to 182 238, and the number of candidates that obtained admission to Bachelor’s studies had increased from 162 374 to 163 938.


Ms J Basson (ANC) said she was pleased to see an improvement, but was not pleased by the big number of absenteeis in the supplementary examinations. What strategies were in place to try and avoid a weak turn up of learners during examinations? She had noticed the results for learners in special schools were not captured in the report, and asked if they could be made available. There was a tendency for teachers to be reluctant in supporting learners, because there were support groups. What measures did the DBE have to make sure that teachers were in class on time and were held accountable, and not rely on the support services?

Dr Poliah said the issue of absenteeism had been a concern for many years. One of the reasons for it was the lack of preparedness by the learners, because they had only six weeks to prepare for supplementary examinations, since learners received their results only in the first week of January. Usually learners were not aware that they had to write supplementary examinations, and found out only in January, leaving them with six weeks to prepare. The lack of confidence from learners would be the main factor that caused them to withdraw from the examinations, and the next presentation would provide a response to addressing the lack of confidence and the high levels of ‘no shows’.

The DBE would do a full analysis, and would make the results from special schools available.

Mr Hubert Mweli, Director General (DG): DBE said that the ‘Second Chance’ programme had been launched last year and the 2017 supplementary learners were learners who had benefited from the support services. However, this had not been implemented in all districts and the programme would now move from four districts to more, providing further support to learners. The absenteeism of learners could also be translated as fruitless and wasteful expenditure, because arrangements had been made and papers printed out.

Ms H Boshoff (DA) said she was perturbed by the special schools issue, because the Committee had been told last year that the results would be made available in 2017 with the NSC results. It was clear that the DBE did not feel anything for their learners with special needs, and the public should be shown what the performance of these learners was. The learners might be blind and deaf, but their cognitive abilities were fine.

The DG said the Department would make sure that in the next report on examination results, there would be a section which was dedicated to special schools.

Possible Merging of Examinations

Dr Poliah said the DBE had two types of public examinations offered to Further Education and Training (FET) candidates occurring at three time points -- in November (NSC); March (NSC supplementary) and June (Senior Certificate).  The NSC and SC were examinations that were administered in parallel.

In 2014, the Minister of Basic Education, in conjunction with the Minister of Higher Education, had approved a review of the Senior Certificate qualification. The Senior Certificate (SC) and the NSC utilised the same curriculum, but had different rules of combination. The NSC and the SC qualifications also had different registration criteria, given that they catered for different target groups, as the SC was an adult qualification and the NSC was a school qualification. The examinations were set and moderated simultaneously. The rationale for the supplementary examination was to offer those borderline learners a single opportunity so that they could write as early as possible and gain admission to higher education. The DBE had noticed over the years that the provisional intention had not been met and surveys had confirmed that learners received their results only in April, which meant that learners could not get accepted in universities. That was why the DBE proposed to have the supplementary examinations written in June.

The streamlining of three examinations to two examinations would be both cost effective and efficient, especially from a setting, printing and marking perspective. The proposed reconfiguration was to have the supplementary examination merged with the June examination. The candidates that should have written the supplementary examination would now write the June examination, and no candidates would be disadvantaged by the merger. Candidates would also retain the School Based Assessment (SBA - 25% percent assessed by the school) and practical marks from the first sitting.

The DBE intended to create an open system for NSC and SC candidates through providing multiple opportunities to write the examinations. The NSC and SC candidates would retain the qualification status and would be able to write either the November or June examination. Candidates would be registered on separate systems for the NSC and SC. Both groups of candidates would write the same examination but results would be based on their respective qualifications. There would be no specific limitation as to who could write a supplementary examination. Learners would be allowed to sit in an examination even when they merely wanted to improve their marks.

The DBE also proposed to discontinue the Senior Certificate qualification by 2020, allowing all adults with SC credits three years to complete the Senior Certificate. Thereafter SC credits would not be recognised and the National Senior Certificate would remain the only exit level qualification. Part-time learners registering for the NSC for the first time after 2020, provided they were 21 years and older, would be exempt from School-Based Assessment (SBA). The results would be based fully on the examination. Part-time candidates may not offer subjects with a practical component, unless they had a practical mark from their full-time enrolment.

The proposal had been approved in principle by the Council of Education Ministers (CEM) after having been discussed extensively, and the CEM had given approval for the draft proposal to be published for public commentary. If the proposal was approved by the Minister as a policy, the planned implementation would include having the first merged June and supplementary examinations in June 2019.


Ms N Tarabella-Marchesi (DA) said that there was lack of a clear analysis in the comparison of results, because the DBE had used the results for only the past two years, which was not enough analysis. The argument made by DBE that learners were usually not confident enough to write their exams, and that was why the examinations should be in June instead of February, was not convincing. It meant that an entire year for the candidates would be wasted, all because they had to write supplementary examinations in June when they could have written in March and then enrolled at a university for the second semester. It seemed the DBE’s proposal was looking more at saving costs than providing the best opportunities for learners.

Ms Basson asked if there were any universities that accepted learners in the second semester, because it seemed that the main priority was to improve attendance to supplementary examinations, and this could be done by increasing the timeframe for learners to prepare for supplementary examinations.

Ms Boshoff said that the Department could not rely on a 1% increase in the crucial subjects of mathematics and physical science, since these were subjects that determined whether a learner got a Bachelor’s entry or not. It was clear that not a lot had been done, and the DBE had to ensure that the benchmark set at an international level was met. What had been done to ensure that educators were appropriately trained? What else had been done to ensure that students were lured into the teaching profession, especially in the fields of mathematics and science?

Ms N Mokoto (ANC) asked if learners who failed their supplementary examinations got another opportunity to rewrite. Regarding the examinations and the good learner turn out in some provinces, what was it that these provinces were doing right?

Mr H Khosa (ANC) welcomed the proposal, and said that the merger would allow learners more time to prepare and to seek the necessary support.

The Chairperson welcomed the proposal, and said that the Committee should now wait and hear what the public had to say. She asked how many opportunities the learners got to re-write the examinations. She also wanted a clear explanation for the reasons behind the merger.

The DG said that the real rationale did not rely only on financial considerations, but this was in the best interest of the learners and the need to provide support. Surveys had shown that there was a great need for support, because it was a bit unreasonable to expect learners to do well after having prepared for only six weeks. The intention was to provide as much support to the learner as possible, and to afford the learners with more opportunities and to expose them to the new support provided by the DBE.

The learners get a second opportunity to write their supplementary examinations if they failed the first one, with a chance to write the supplementary examination again in December.

Some provinces may have performed better in learner turnout because they had their own ways of supporting learners, and the implementation of the ‘Second Chance’ programme may also have had an effect on the improvement.

Ms Tarabella-Marchesi asked for a clear depiction of the number of students who had showed up for the examinations in June and November.

Dr Poliah said the supplementary examinations’ absenteeism was a phenomenon that had been going on for years, and was not something that had been picked up in the last two years. It had become such a serious problem that even Umalusi had raised the issue, and the ‘no shows’ had been monitored through an extended trend analysis.

The Chairperson asked the Committee researchers to table the advantages and disadvantages of having the examinations combined, since the policy had not been passed yet.

Ms Boshoff asked what the Department’s view was on learners that may not have to write Matric because they had not performed well. The Committee had not received a briefing about ‘culling,’ even after requesting a briefing from the Minister of Basic Education.

Ms Mokoto asked about the potential rule changes that may come with the merging of examinations.

The DG said it was inevitable for the rules to change to accommodate the new amendment.

The issue of ‘culling,’ or gate keeping, of learners had given rise to the policy on progressed learners. In analysing the school system, the DBE had realised there was a high repetition rate, a high failure rate and a high drop-out rate. After the implementation of the policy on progressed learners, the culling of learners had been substantially reduced. The culling of learners was an issue that the DBE had been working tirelessly on, and it had been receiving messages from parents thanking them for dealing with the issue and introducing the policy on progressed learners, because the chances were the children would have ended up dropping out.

Ms Tarabella-Marchesi said that on 3 May, Dr Mamiki Maboyo. Deputy Director General: DBE, had said that many schools were guilty of gate-keeping, as educators would discourage learners from writing so that the pass rate for the school would look good.

The Chairperson said it was important to put matters into context, because during the meeting that had taken place in May, the matter of culling had been a burning issue and to take it out of context would create misunderstanding.

Ms Boshoff interrupted and said if the Committee were to have the Minister of Basic Education in Parliament to address the issue of culling, then maybe it would not be necessary to bring it up in such meetings. The Chairperson could not say that they were bringing up matter out of context, because the issue still existed in the DBE, and this was unfair towards the learner who did not receive a quality education.

Mr Mweli said that the policy on progression in the system had always been in favour of progression, where it was stated that learners could not stay in one Grade for more than four years, but it had never been applied in grades 10 to12. The policy on progression also involved further education and training, which showed that the DBE was dealing with the matter.

Remodelling of the Annual National Assessment (ANA)

Dr Poliah said the introduction and implementation of the Annual National Assessment (ANA) had been a major strategic intervention in education. The assessment had generated a wealth of valuable data which, in turn, had resulted in a more focused and evidence-led public and professional engagement on issues of quality in education. Typical of any major intervention, the rollout of the ANA had raised critical issues and questions for both the sustenance and enhancement of the initiative.

There had been concern about the use of a single assessment tool to generate data for different purposes, such as the scores from diagnostic test data used for monitoring trends (systematic purposes) with no confidential test items, as well as the view that the design of tests should be different and fit for purpose.

The annual administration of ANA did not allow sufficient time for interventions based on the ANA results, and the administration across every Grade was an over-ambitious task. There had been a lack in the effective utilisation of the ANA data by schools and teachers, and the teacher development programmes emanating from the ANA had been inadequate. One of the major criticisms was that, given the ANA was administered on an annual basis, it did not give the system enough time to be able to remediate, because the assessment helped to find remedial programmes that would be effective. One of the questions raised was that if the ANA was diagnostic, why was it administered at the end of the year, since a diagnostic assessment had to be done on a continuous level? A point was made that the DBE was spending a large amount of money on administering the ANA across all schools and all learners, so why were the results not used for the promotion of learners? The DBE had taken all the criticisms and had tried to factor them into a new model.

The DBE had come up with key principles which were the principles of good assessment. These were:

  • The purpose of assessment must determine the assessment design.
  • More emphasis must be placed on strengthening classroom assessment.
  • Focus on the end of the phase assessment, and not every grade.
  • Adequate lag time must be allowed for remediation in schools and districts.
  • There must be effective school support in using information from examinations and the national assessment.
  • There must be capacity building for practitioners in teaching, learning and assessment.
  • Learner assessment must be linked to contextual factors relating to the conditions of schooling.
  • Assessment overload must be avoided.
  • The National Assessment must be designed in the context of all other forms of assessment in the General Education and Training (GET) and FET band.

The ANA had been critical in setting a standard at the GET band level. The DBE was looking at a new assessment model that was three-tiered. The ANA redesign process had culminated in the development of a concept document on the National Integrated Assessment Framework (NIAF). The model was comprised of three tiers, which were systematic assessment, summative assessment and diagnostic/formative assessment.

Systemic assessment was there to measure the health of the system and to give a sense of how the system as a whole was performing. An appropriate model would be to assess grades three, six and nine once every three years, and it was sample based -- there was no need to assess every learner.

The second tier, which was called summative assessment, involved all learners in the Grade writing an examination. The focus would be on grades six and nine, where learners would have to write an assessment on two subjects to assess the overall performance of learners in the grade. This form of assessment could happen every year, and the results of the summative exam could be used for purposes of promotion for learners. The marking of the assessments still needed to be decided.

The diagnostic/formative component involved the Department providing the teachers with good, solid pre-tested exemplars of assessment tasks which teachers could use when they thought it was necessary. It could be used by teachers to identify learning gaps and would be administered and marked by teachers.

In 2017, the DBE had planned to conduct a pilot study on test items for summative assessment in a sample of schools in Grade 6 and Grade 9 in May 2017.  They also planned to conduct a pilot study on test items for systemic evaluation in a sample of schools in Grades 3 and 6 in October 2017. The reason the ANA had been halted was because of the unions being unhappy, and the Department had worked with them to form task teams to come up with better ways of working towards a better assessment model.

The systematic evaluation tier was supported by the unions. The details of implementing the systematic evaluation model would be finalised by the end of June 2017. There was support in principle for the diagnostic tier, but there were reservations that the diagnostic assessment may lead to an additional layering of assessment at the classroom level.  The summative assessment model was not supported, given that it appeared to resemble ANA. Unions also expressed concern about the assessment overload in schools due to common examinations and tests. Unions were also opposed to outsourcing of certain functions related to specific assessment forms, to assessment agencies/institutions.

An assessment roundtable had been hosted in July 2016, where the issues relating to the National Assessment model had been presented and discussed in commissions.  The inputs from the roundtable had also been incorporated into the proposed Assessment model.  The task team had been granted until the end of July 2017 to resolve the outstanding matters relating to the model. The CEM had approved the implementation of the first systemic assessment in 2018. Piloting of the tests would be conducted in 2017.


Ms Basson said that this meant that the ANA was coming back, but with a different name. She asked if the teachers were ready for the implementation of the new model. How ready was the system in terms of implementing the model that already seemed to be on the pipeline?

Mr Khosa asked when the capacity building of practitioners would take place, and what the time frame of the process was. What plans were in place to avoid the assessment from being overused? When would the DBE implement to the fullest the issue of teacher-learner ratios, as this was one of the serious challenges, especially in rural schools?

Ms Mokoto asked if the DBE had already incorporated suggestions and recommendations from the unions and other stakeholders into the new model. She asked if teachers had been properly trained or if they would be trained on the model, because in some instances during oversight visits she had found that teachers did not know much about the ANA and the translation of the results.

Ms Boshoff said she could understand why the systemic evaluation had been accepted by all unions, because it was a proven record in the Western Cape that it worked.

Ms Tarabella-Marchesi asked what the teacher-learner ratio was nationally.

The Chairperson asked if the DBE was looking at having an external examination done in the summative tier -- at the end of Grade 6 or Grade 9? She asked what kind of examination was being talked about in the summative assessment tier.

Department’s response

The DG said that the summative assessment was an external examination for Grade 6 and 9 learners for mathematics and languages. It was highly probable that it could used in the issuing of the GEC certificates.

The concern was only about the teachers’ ability to administer and analyze the assessment data. The problem was in the poor culture of the utilisation of assessment data, even for parental support.  The assessment data also provided a sense of the DBE’s state of administration in providing support to schools. The assessment data could even be used to inform public opinion, and the DBE was trying to adopt that culture. The utilisation of assessment data could be used to achieve learning outcomes as well.

The proposals from unions and experts in education had been incorporated into the new framework.

The summative assessment would be outsourced to an independent body so that the Department could receive credible data that had been administered independently, and the practice was consistent with international best practice.

There had been two phases of capacity building so far, with the first phase being the readiness of the system to implement the framework. The second phase would be ongoing as part of the utilisation of assessment data as part of teacher development programmes.

The assessment overload issues included using the assessment for various reasons in some parts of the Department.

After the summative assessment pilot this year, the teachers would be ready, as they had been undergoing other assessments.

The ANA was not coming back. The new model had been conceptualised and had three pillars which would provide much data.

Mr Paddy Padayachee, DDG: Planning, Information and Assessment, DBE, said that the learner-educator ratio in 2016 was 35.7, and that was for educators paid by the state. The 2017 figure would be released in two months’ time.

The Chairperson asked how flexible provinces were in terms of falling out of the national guideline for the learner-teacher ratio, which was 30, as Mpumalanga was facing a tough situation regarding the ratio.

Ms Boshoff said that during an oversight visit at Mashishing Secondary School in Mpumalanga, she had found that there were between 60 to 80 learners per class in Grade 8, and it was impossible for a teacher to work properly under those conditions. The Department could not keep on placing the burden on school governing bodies (SGBs), because they usually did not have the budget to assist teachers. The Department, community and the SGBs all needed to working together in assisting teachers with the number of learners in class.

Ms Tarabella-Marchesi asked if school rationalisation could be another way of dealing with the learner-teacher ratio issue in rural areas. What was the Department going to do with the surplus of teachers after rationaliation?

The DG said that the rationalisation of schools would indeed help, and having teachers in surplus would help. A favourable learner-teacher ratio would always be difficult in sparsely populated rural provinces. Some of the problems were not related to learner-teacher ratios, but rather to infrastructure. One might find that the problem at the school visited in Mpumalanga had been a case of too few classrooms, rather than too few teachers.

Ms Boshoff said the reason why the enrolment at Mashishing Secondary School was so high was because of the languages offered. It was a vernacular school, and there were not enough schools of that nature in the whole of Thabantsho. It was time the Department took an interest in such schools, because learners did not get the education that they deserved. She asked the Department to find out what it was that the schools needed.

The meeting was adjourned. 


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