Analysis of Examination Results; Learnership Attainment Strategy: Department briefing

Basic Education

12 February 2007
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Meeting report

EDUCATION PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE

EDUCATION PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
13 February 2007
ANALYSIS OF EXAMINATION RESULTS; LEARNERSHIP ATTAINMENT STRATEGY: DEPARTMENT BRIEFING

Chairperson:
Prof S Mayatula (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Analysis of Examination Results and the Learner Attainment Strategy
Department of Education Senior Certificate Technical Report 2006 available on www.education.gov.za shortly

Audio Recording of the meeting


SUMMARY
The Department of Education briefed the Committee on the outcomes of the 2006 matric examinations as well as on the National Strategy for Learner Attainment. Members’ concerns focused on how to improve the quality of education especially to obtain more matric endorsements, gateway subjects, better focus on foundation phase teaching, “no fee” schools and national examinations prior to matric. Everyone agreed that success at matric level depended upon the foundations laid in Grades R to 3. The Department pointed out that there was a marked improvement in the performance of schools that had had a smaller than 20% pass rate in 2005. It  emphasised that their improvement was not due to more resources, but due to greater monitoring, involvement and supervision.

MINUTES
The Chairperson welcomed everyone to the Committee’s first meeting of the year. He expressed regret that the Committee was not allowed to attend that morning’s media briefing by the Minister of Education. The Chairperson suggested that, since Members had spent the first two weeks of the session visiting schools, they should draw on their experiences on those visits to add to the discussion.

Director General of the Department of Education’s opening remarks.
Mr Duncan Hindle, Director General of the Department of Education wished the Committee well for the New Year. He reminded the Committee that although for Parliament this was the beginning of the year, in education the year started on 29 December. He apologised that the Committee had not been allowed to attend the media briefing and undertook to make the media statement available to the Committee as soon as possible. He said that many of the issues that had been raised through questions there would have been very important for the Committee and encouraged the Chairperson to take the matter up with the Government Communication and Information Service (CGIS).

He said that the DOE had a number of issues that it would like to propose for presentation during 2007, and looked forward to interacting with the Committee in that regard. There was some legislation, including an Education Laws amendment bill that the Minister was preparing. As indicated during that morning’s media briefing, Minister Pandor was keen to, by July 2007, have concluded the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) review process, which in itself could lead to a wide ranging set of legislative amendments and the Committee might be involved in that for much of the year.

That day’s interaction would focus on an assessment of the last year’s activities of which the matric results, though not a perfect indicator was a key factor. They would present the matric examination results and reflect a bit on the learner attainment strategy and other strategies for improving the system.

Presentation
Ms Penny Vinjevold, Deputy Director General of Education, made the presentation which took members through national pass rates, examination administration related issues, and matters related to the 2006 senior certificate examination. She also talked members through the results which showed a marked improvement from the previous years’ ones. The latter part of the presentation focussed on the National Strategy for Learner Attainment (NSLA) which sought to raise earner achievement from Grader R straight to Grade 12.

Discussion
The Chairperson pointed out that in the former Transkei high schools only comprised Grades 10 to 12, whereas in the rest of the country they comprised Grades 6 to 12. He wondered whether the DOE was aware of this ‘anomaly’ and queried whether it might not impact on the matric results in this region.

Mr Hindle admitted that the situation in the former Transkei had been plaguing the DOE, who had tried to make an assessment of the situation, for a long time. Each possible model they tried to impose had to be abandoned due to one or the other challenge (e.g. availability of classrooms). He said that “given the complexities of where we are” it had been difficult to impose a particular model and organisation of schools onto the system in that region. The Chairperson’s comment had been heard and the DOE would return to the issue to see if they could bring about more order. He also explained that there was no reason that learners at a school catering for only grades 10 to 12, should do worse in matric. Success at senior secondary level depended more on quality of preparation earlier in the schooling process.

The Chairperson wondered whether the doing away of national certificates other than the matric certificate, and thus the absence of a national assessment tool at primary and junior levels, did not contribute to South Africa’s low international rating. He wondered whether there was any possibility of reinstating national examinations prior to matric.

Mr Hindle reminded the Committee that the DOE had made a commitment to introduce a General Education and Training Certificate (GETC) at the end of Grade 9. Early estimates had indicated that R 300 million would have had to be spent on the administration of an external exam and certificates at that level. Evidences of course also indicated that 99% of children today did not leave school after Grade 9, but merely continued to Grade 10. The idea of an expensive external exam to get you from Grade 9 to Grade 10 did not really make sense.

He added that more what was of more importance to the DOE was building standards towards introducing a GETC. To introduce such an exam one needed to be sure that learners, teachers schools were prepared for it. The Department had for the past 6 years been running the Common Tasks for Assessments (CTA), which he was aware had caused some “discomfort”. The CTA had now been refined and revised to much more acceptable approach and now had to be administered in every single Grade 9 classroom across the country. The CTAs were aimed at building expectations among teachers, learners and schools about what is expected at the end of Grade 9 so that when South Africa did introduce the GETC, as the Minister had indicated she wanted to do in the next year or two, they would already have an idea of what the GETC would look like and what standards it should be setting.

The DOE was now on a regular basis doing systemic evaluations of about 35 000 randomly selected Grade 3 and 6 learners. This systemic evaluation assessment were being distributed to all schools, so that even if you were not part of the 35 000 sample, every Grade three teacher had a copy of the tests and new what learners were expected to do. Following an analysis of the results of the assessments the DOE provided feedback to the teachers in the form of booklets to show what learners did well in and what they needed to improve on as well as how to do so. This contributed to a common understanding of what standards should be. The DOE was not simply doing the test but was also paying attention to ongoing remedial action.

Commenting on South Africa’s apparent poor performance compared to other, sometimes poorer countries, Mr Hindle explained that when dealing with such statistics, it was important to consider how many of those countries’ students made it through to matric level. Most of the testing for these statistics was done at the secondary or perhaps an equivalent to Grades 10, 11 and 12. Many other countries got a higher pass rate when studied by these researchers, because a far smaller proportion of their learners moved from a primary to a secondary stage. Many of them had already selected the top students that would go through to secondary schooling and they were the ones that got tested.

85% of South African learners now advanced to matric – these included the good and not so good learners. South Africa placed dual emphasis: access (getting as many learners as possible through the system), and quality (making sure that they did as well as possible). While other countries focussed on quality, and were “prepared to abandon learners and the imperative for access in order to get that so called quality.”

The Chairperson raised concerns about unprofessional teacher behaviour – arriving at school late, leaving school early, and high levels of absence. He thought it unfortunate that school governing bodies (SGB) did not feel that it was their responsibility to address these matters, which ultimately impacted on learner performance.

Mr Hindle agreed that teacher behaviour impacted on learner performance. The schools that succeeded were the ones that worked harder and put in the extra effort through morning, afternoon, Saturday and holiday classes for instance. This indicated that the message of time on task was getting through. Through the Education Laws Amendment Bill and whatever other instruments they might need, the DOE would look at ways of emphasising the role SGBs played as far as educational quality was concerned. Much more emphasis had so far been placed on their role in terms of governance, financial management and infrastructure, while their role in ensuring quality education had not been clearly defined. This would be a long term process. One also needed to change the understanding of what a good school was. He added that while much attention was focussed on under performance, not enough was paid to acknowledging the success stories of those schools that now had an understanding of what a good school was.

Mr A Gaum (ANC) was concerned about the schools that achieved a below 20% pass rate. He felt that it appeared as though since 2003 a ceiling had been reached. One could not be sure whether the DOE’s strategies were indeed working, because the mechanisms in place did not really address continued under performance. Though the quality and standard of the 2006 matric results were commendable, little progress had been made as far as ensuring that learners got endorsements, did science and mathematics and subjects on higher grade. He wondered whether the DOE had any new strategies in the pipeline for improving performance in these subjects as well as for improving literacy and numeracy levels.

Mr Hindle pointed out that those schools that had a below 20% pass rate, were not necessarily the same ones that had that rating the year before. As indicated in the presentation 99 schools had improved their rating, 7 of which moving from a below 20% pass rate to an above 80% pass rate. Evidence thus suggested that these poorly performing schools did nit remain static but moved out of that particular bracket. The successes could be ascribed to interventions which saw the underperforming schools getting much more attention, support and monitoring. He added that this support was not in the form of more money or more resources.

He had the previous week appointed the former head of the Mpumelanga education department, Dr Mashinini, to head up a task team that would work with the 130 odd underperforming schools. He would be visiting each one of them to determine what kind of support they needed. The DOE was encouraged that various organisations, including teacher unions, had offered to “adopt” some of these schools to give them more support. The DOE would now have to ensure that such support was spread among all the schools that needed it. The DOE would in 2007 provide a list of 130 schools that could be ‘adopted’ in this manner. It would be wonderful if each member of the Committee could perhaps take responsibility for just one such a school. The DOE was concerned about those schools that had deteriorated.

Mr Hindle said that the DOE recognised that there was a concern around endorsements and that the kind of progress they would like was not being made. He believed that teachers’ quality of preparation and content knowledge, as well as their distribution played a role. There were schools that offered maths but did not have a qualified maths teacher, while there was a number of other schools that had up to eight or none such teachers “locked up in one school”. This was a consequence to the approach to appointments which were largely managed by schools themselves. The Minister had asked the DOE to reconsider the matter so that they could ensure that each high school had at east one qualified maths teacher, especially considering that maths literacy was now a compulsory part of the school programme.

Ms Vinjevold felt that while the DOE had to “deepen and broaden” some of the things they did, there was no need for a new strategy. From studies they knew that three things made a difference: time, teachers and textbooks. The DOE had never before spoken so sharply about time and textbooks. The DOE would be doing a survey of textbooks, and would insist that district officials monitor schools and the time spent teaching. Teachers’ content knowledge was a medium and long term strategy which the DOE tried to address through the teacher framework. The DOE had developed a forty week work schedule aimed at giving teachers guidance and direction. This would make it easy for the DOE and the committee to monitor coverage and pace of teaching. In addition they were also issuing exemplars of what the standards should be at the various grades. All of these supported teachers.

Mr G Boinamo (DA) emphasised the importance of inculcating a culture of learning in learners as well as teachers so that learners could be prepared to pass and pass well from as early as Grade 1.

Mr Hindle responded that it was essential to start building from firm foundations set as early as the pre-school Grade R level. This was where the basis for later success as far as literacy and numeracy should be developed and strengthened. In the end the firm foundations aid at these levels would make success possible. The Minister put much emphasis on the literacy and numeracy strategy.

Mr Boinamo felt that the doing away with colleges for primary school teacher training had left a vacuum: university trained teachers were not trained to deal with younger children, and thus failed to give them the firm foundation needed to facilitate success.

Mr Hindle responded that the public perception was that the colleges had been closed, when in fact they had been incorporated into universities. Universities had historically focussed on high school teaching, but that had since changed and they now focused on foundation phase as well as high school training.

Ms P Mashangoana (ANC) commended the delegation for the support it had shown the Minister at that morning’s media briefing. She wondered what short term measures had been put in place to address textbook shortages. At one of the schools the Committee had visited up to four learners were sharing one textbook. She mentioned that in some areas learners had to travel long distances so that they could do math and science subjects which were not offered in the schools in their areas.

Mr Hindle said that the DOE was always presently surprised at the Minister’s handling of media briefings. He agreed that textbooks were vital, especially in the absence of a good qualified and prepared teacher. The DOE was dealing with the matter at the moment. The Department had made a commitment to provide all Grade 10s with the seven textbooks they needed, but had been unable to deliver.

He added that much of the scene for the remainder of the year was set within the first few days of the school year. If teachers were not serious and textbooks and other material were not available then it sends the wrong message to learners. The Department was now giving serious consideration to the production of learner workbooks, which they would aim to make available to all learners or on before the first day of school. This would mean that all learners would have the minimum requirements to pursue the subjects they were doing, on their desks. These would not replace textbooks but would serve as a minimum requirement until the textbooks became available.

Around the availability of science as well as other subjects, Mr Hindle said that this pointed to the attention needed in terms of curriculum redress. The DOE had to ensure that the curriculum offerings in matric were offered across the country so that learners did not have to leave their homes or travel long distances just to have access to the subjects they wanted to do.

Ms M Matsomela (ANC) wondered what had contributed to the closing of the gender gap as far as the results were concerned.

Ms Vinjevold explained that both boys’ and girls’ performance had improved, but that girls improved faster.

Ms Matsomela said that during school visits they observed that underperforming schools were preparing a business plan and had to indicate their weaknesses and strengths. She wondered what happened what interventions the DOE took once they recognised what a school needed.

Mr Hindle said that every school was obliged to develop a development plan as per the requirements of the SGB. Many of these plans spoke of infrastructure that needed to be improved, while very few mentioned the need improving learning outcomes, and get better quality. He said that a number of provinces had indicated that they were becoming much more rigorous in the manner in which they assessed development plans. This applied to all schools, not only the under performing ones.

Mr A Mpontshane (IFP) noted that there was a large gap between rural and urban districts. The highest performing urban schools were also mostly those that had previously been for whites only. Rural districts performed the worst. He wondered whether the DOE had a special strategy in place for addressing the needs of these schools.

Mr Hindle agreed that rural urban differences were still a pattern al across South Africa. The DOE had a ministerial committee on rural education and was now working with the recommendations it had made. That Committee had concluded that small, rural schools were neither financially nor, more importantly educationally, viable. This situation was worse in the case of farm schools on privately owned and where landowners did not sign Section 14 agreements.

In the Free State and the North West these very small rural schools were amalgamated at central points and learners boarded there, going home at weekends. While in principle the DOE was not really in favour of boarding schools, they felt that these context provided the learners a better opportunity at success. These schools were also more cost effective, and he had no doubt that it was also educationally more effective. He added that there would always be rural schools and the DOE would have to consider at what size one simply lost all the benefits that one would normally gain from being at school.

Mr B Mosala (ANC) said that teachers who went to examination marking centres often complained about the catering and accommodation there. Such bad facilities impacted on the morale of the markers. He wondered whether the DOE could deploy officials to monitor the conditions under which marking took place.

Ms Vinjevold responded that both the DOE and Umalusi monitored all marking centres. It was an ongoing problem but they were addressing it.

Mr Mosala wondered whether the DOE was satisfied with the system of invigilation.

Ms Vinjevold explained that invigilators were trained every year as part of the ongoing process of improving quality. It was only in the Western Cape that community members were also involved in the invigilation. The DOE did random spot checks to see that the invigilation went well. These processes were improved on every year so as to ensure the integrity of the examinations.

The Chairperson said that’s some of the matriculants in his constituency had wondered why their exam scripts had never been returned to them and why they had to pay if they wanted their papers remarked. Some wondered why in this “era of transparency” there was still some secrecy around the exams.

Ms Vinjevold explained that if there was no fee attached everyone would want to have their papers remarked. The DOE had in the last few years tried to reduce the fees; in some cases if the learner made a very strong argument the fee may be waived. At this point the fee could not be taken away. With 850 000 learners writing 6 papers each, returning the scripts would be a logistic nightmare. Learners could apply to, for free, see their scripts in a supervised way. The DOE kept papers for two to three years in case someone wanted to have theirs remarked.

Prof Mayatula requested an update on the options available to learners who failed Grade 11.

Ms Vinjevold said that there was approximately 860 000 learners in Grade11 in 2006. In 2005 the DOE wrote into policy that if you failed and you were an older person and did not want to proceed on the new curriculum, you would have the opportunity until 2011 to write the exam on the old curriculum. The most qualitative approach however would be for those learners who were still young to proceed on the new curriculum. This was still the approach the DOE promoted.

The DOE had opened up the opportunities to write exams on the old curriculum. Those who wanted to leave school or wanted to do it part-time or through the distance centres could to still write the senior certificate progressively. They could also write the exams through the Further Education and Training (FET) colleges, which now also offered bursaries or could get involved in learnerships. She added that in 2006 approximately 180 000 Grade 11s failed. The provinces were dealing with schools individually to ensure that no one was disadvantaged and that everyone was encouraged to continue with their education.

Prof Mayatula raised a number of concerns related to no funding schools. The biggest dilemma facing Quintile 2 schools, was that the money only became available in April. According to the cat schools were not allowed to collect fees. He wondered what transitional arrangements had bee placed to address these schools financial needs between January and April. The Committee would need a more detailed presentation on the matter. In the Eastern Cape on got the sense that the “no fee” school budget “pushed down by the Minister, had not landed”. Al these schools budget had to function on very small budgets.

Mr Gaum added that he thought that poorer schools were declared as “no fee” schools yet he saw media reports of a school that had not applied to be declared as such, having received that status.

Mr Hindle explained that it was National Treasury that made funds available to the provincial treasuries. Many schools were in the position the Chairperson had described. They would get money in April and in virtually all cases it would be far more than they would ever have been able to raise in fees. They would have their funding and would be able to manage the year far better than before. The DOE had given instruction to every province to release a “petty cash” amount to schools. Provinces were saying that they could not release funds yet because until they did not have the results of the tenth day survey they would not know how many learners would be attending the schools. The DOE had advised to go ahead and release the money based on the previous year’s figures, and to then reconcile figures at a later stage. Mpumalanga ad done this already and the DOE would advise other provinces to do so too. He added that because this was the first year there had been some problems – schools would be expected to manage the allocation they received in April so that it lasted until the following April. The Minster of Finance had picked up on the concern and had indicated that he should be approached should there be any serious problems. He added that the DOE wanted to be clear that the no fees schools should be schools of choice and not just “some deprived and disadvantaged” schools.

The DOE felt that all quintile one and two schools i.e. 40% of schools in the country should be included. There was a very clear indication around how the declaration of the schools was to take place. In the end provinces were given discretion to move schools so that those schools that accommodated poorer learners benefited. He added that provinces were obliged to consult with schools before declaring them “no fee” schools.

He asked Members to if they became aware of schools that had clearly been put in the wrong category they should let the DOE know, so that they could take it up with the provinces. He believed that the system of “no fee” schools was a valuable one, and the President had given direction that their number had to be expanded.

The Chairperson said that he was surprised that in the Western Cape schools were not familiar with “quintiles” - in Oudtshoorn not a single school or official new what quintiles were.

Mr Hindle felt that is question would be better posed to the Western Cape Head of Education. He could not believe that any school was unfamiliar with it. Schools took this very seriously because the quintile they were in determined how much money they did not get.

Mr Mpotshane wondered how influential unions were especially as far as the appointment and dismissal of teachers was concerned. He referred to a case where an undisciplined teacher had been reappointed out of fear that unions would cause problems.

Mr Hindle said that he thought that the dynamic was shifting. The South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) was very proud of how schools had performed in the last matric examinations. A school in Khayelitsha had been in the below 20% category and in 2006 had a 97% pass rate. The principal of that school was a SADTU official in the province. SADTU was one of the organisations that had offered to adopt schools. He felt that while such occurrences might take place at a local level, provincial and national officials would declare that such behaviour was not tolerated. He urged Members to report such incidents.

The Chairperson requested the DOE to supply the Committee with the list of 130 under performing schools.

The meeting was adjourned.




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