Matriculation Results 2007 & Fluctuating Pass Rates: Department briefing

Basic Education

12 February 2008
Chairperson: Prof S Mayatula (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department tabled a full analysis of matriculation pass rates per province and per year since 2001, as also a comparison of pass rates with or without endorsements. Most of the pass rates had been steadily declining over the last years, apart from a few minor exceptions in two of the provinces. On the positive side, there was an increased number of matrics writing the exam in 2007, and the gender gap in performance was narrowing quickly. A strategy for the improvement of learner achievement had been in place since 1999, but recently a national forum for learner attainment had been established in order to address improvement of the pass rate, and had identified other issues such as improving the motivation and performance of girls, and performance and interest in science and mathematics. The National Strategy for Learner Attainment that had been implemented in under-performing schools who achieved lower than 20% pass rates had shown good progress, although some schools required more drastic changes and more resources. Timely delivery of school textbooks and development of specialist subject advisors were focus areas. The new matric curriculum was now being implemented, and Grade 10 to 12 learners were being prepared. The plan for 2008 introduced strategies for better accountability of teachers, better supply and delivery of learning materials, teacher development and support and language improvement and learner motivation programmes.

Questions from Members addressed the shortage of and need to re-train teachers, the issue of salaries, the previous years’ dwindling pass rates, the reason why some provinces were consistently performing well, and the need for interventions throughout all schooling years. An e-mail alleged to have been passed between Departmental staff members, suggesting that some results had been released before others, caused concern, but the Department clarified that results under investigation could be delayed. Further questions were directed to accountability, qualifications of teachers, negotiations between the Department and teachers, proper management of schools, teaching in home languages, crime and violence at schools, the disparity between passing the matriculation examinations and gaining university admission, assistance to those learners failing matric, and the problems experienced in rural schools, especially with delivery of textbooks. Those questions not answered during the meeting would be addressed in writing.

Meeting report

Matriculation pass rates for 2007 and measures to address fluctuating pass rates: Department of Education (DOE) briefing
Mr Duncan Hindle, Director General, and Mr Nkosi Sishi, Chief Director, National Examinations, Department of Education, tabled and briefed the Committee on figures relating to the pass rates of matriculants (matrics) from 2001 to 2007. These figures were also represented as percentages and categorised into provinces. Western Cape was the most successful at matriculating learners, followed by Gauteng. In all provinces, except North West and Limpopo the numbers of learners writing matriculation examinations (matric) had increased. The total number of learners writing matric in 2007 ws 564 774; an increase of 124 507 since 2003. While the pass rate had increased numerically every year since 2001, the percentage pass rate had steadily decreased from 70% down to 65% over the period 2004 to 2007. One of the reasons stated for the 2007 decrease in pass rate was that there were a number of pupils who, in Grade 11, were already borderline cases and who might have ultimately failed in Grade 12.

A breakdown of the pass rates, into those who passed with or without endorsement, was also presented, with a provincial breakdown. Internationally the usual rate of endorsement stood at around 20%, while South Africa had a 16% rate of Grade 12 passes with endorsement, which was said to be unacceptable. The pass rate with endorsement had also declined over the last few years. Western Cape was cited as an example, having had a percentage of 26% of those passing with endorsements in 2004, but 24% in 2007. All provinces, except North West and Limpopo, had shown a decrease in pass percentages in 2007.

Mr Sishi was, however, pleased to note some improvements on the previous year. There was an increase of 16 714 learners passing Grade 12. 13 559 more learners had passed Mathematics, and 4675 more learners had passed science in comparison to the previous year. One more school had more than 100 passes in Mathematics at Higher Grade (HG) and ten more schools had more than 100 passes in Science HG. Female candidates had improved their level of performance since 1996, and had narrowed the gap of comparison to their male counterparts from 8.3% in 1996 to a remarkable 1.6% in 2007

A strategy for the improvement of learner achievement had been in place since 1999, but recently a national forum for learner attainment had been established in order to address improvement of the pass rate of matriculants. Other issues requiring attention had stemmed from this forum, such has how to improve the motivation and performance of girls, and how to improve the performance and interest in so-called gateway subjects like science and mathematics.

In 2005 the Minister had launched the National Strategy for Learner Attainment (NSLA), which was implemented in schools that had been identified as under performing. Schools with pass rates of less than 20% were grouped into this category and were given special attention. Some schools were in such a dire condition that change would have to be more fundamental and would require more resources. This could not simply happen overnight. Good progress had been made, as in 1999 there were 1034 schools that had a pass rate of below 20%, whereas this figure had declined significantly to 118 public schools having a pass rate of below 20% in 2007.

The timely delivery of school textbooks was another major focus area, as well as the development of specialist subject advisors to support and train teachers. There was still a great shortage of these advisors, with only one or two available per province. 

Mr Sishi said that 2007 had been the last year of the old Grade 12 curriculum. Preparation of learners for the new curriculum was already under way, with Grade 10 learners writing an exemplar or test run of the examinations they could be expecting in their matric year. The Grade 11 learners of 2007 would also be given the opportunity to experience the new form of examination by writing national examinations in four of their subjects this year. Similarly the results would be verified for quality assurance and integrity.

The NSLA Plan for 2008 consisted of various strategies for intervention in order to improve education. These included better accountability of teachers, the speedy supply and delivery of learning materials to schools, teacher development and support, language improvement and learner motivation programmes.
Mr G Boinamo (DA) said in order to improve the matric results, the Department would have to go about training and retraining teachers to be more resourceful. The issue of salaries would have to be addressed, as there was a dire shortage of teachers. This career had to be made a far more attractive option. While it had been mentioned that the 2007 matric results might have been influenced negatively by the passing of borderline Grade 11 learners, he asked what had accounted for the previous years of dwindling pass rates.

Mr B Mthembu (ANC) asked why it was always the same provinces that performed well, like the Western Cape and Gauteng. Interventions should not focus only on matric but on the entire schooling career from Grade R through to Grade 12. The outcome of matric was in essence a reflection of all those years and should be addressed as such. This required a long-term approach and a look at systemic and management issues. He reiterated that certain provinces were under performing with alarming regularity, especially the Eastern Cape.

Ms D van der Walt (DA) said that the Committee had access to some different results on the pass rates and that she had in her possession an e-mail that was a communication between two Departmental members of staff, where it was stated that some results had been released before all the results had been captured. This brought the trustworthiness of the results into question.

Mr RPZ van den Heever (ANC) commented that the mentioned email should be regarded as anecdotal and and should not cloud the trustworthiness of an institution like Umalusi,the quality assurance body,  or the legitimacy of results.

Mr Sishi said that it was a reality that each province had to meet deadlines in submitting their results, and that these then had to be verified. Results that were still under investigation would be held back and could not be released in time for the deadlines.

Ms van der Walt recounted that in years gone by Grade 11 had in fact been more difficult than Grade 12 and that if one passed Grade 11, one was almost assured of a pass in matric. She asked why this seemed to be no longer the case. Principals could not necessarily be blamed for everything as circuit managers had to sign off schedules. The Grade 12’s of 2007 were those who had been in Grade 1 in 1996. It would be interesting to compare how many learners started out in 1996 in Grade 1, compared to those who had passed matric in 2007.

Adv A Gaum (ANC) said that while the standard of the examinations and the curricula was perhaps acceptable, the problem seemed to arise around what actually took place in the classroom. The steps that had been outlined would go some way towards addressing this issue, but he questioned whether they would be enough. He said accountability was important but could only work if sanctions were in place for those teachers who did not perform up to scratch. It seemed as though these plans were all still in their developmental stages. He asked what the Department had done regarding teachers who were still not qualified. Successful schools needed proper management and therefore principals should be supported and empowered in this regard.

Mr Hindle said that there should be no unqualified teachers in schools, unless they had been appointed by a school’s governing body from the community. There were processes in place that allowed foreign qualified teachers to be appointed, and Limpopo had, for example, taken this route. There was a management training course available for principals, which would probably still be expanded.

Adv Gaum asked what the status was of the plan to institute teaching in home language in schools up to Grade 6.

A Member asked what the outcome of the research was that Mr Sishi had mentioned with regard to the use of second languages and what would be done to assist those whose second language was English or Afrikaans.

Mr Hindle said that the issue of teaching in a child’s home language was a complex one, as in some schools in Gauteng there were children speaking almost all of the eleven official languages finding themselves together in one school. It would be impossible to cater for such a requirement at this stage. He said it should really be a parental choice

Mr R Bhoola (MF) asked for the number of those who had not passed matric and mentioned that negotiations between teachers and the Department had not yet been resolved.

Mr Hindle said that teacher negotiations were on track and both parties were confident that an agreement would be reached. The Occupation Specific Dispensation (OSD) also provided for incentives for teachers who did good or excellent work. Teachers on the other hand that were guilty of misconduct would be sanctioned.

Mr Bhoola asked what the Department intended doing about crime and violence in schools.

Mr Hindle said the Department would be doing a full briefing on safety at a later stage.

Mr A Mpontshane (IFP) said the presentation had raised more questions than answers and that problems had to be addressed through all grades.

Mr Sishi assured members that their intervention covered all grades and did not just focus on matric. There was the reading strategy, which was in place from Grade R to Grade 9 and assessments were done in Grades 3, 6 and 9. These strategies might need revisiting.

Mr Mpontshane asked whether the Department was aware of the disparity in standards between what was required to pass matric, and what was needed to enter university and the business world. He applauded the plan to promote accountability, but questioned whether day-long workshops for subject training were really sufficient.

Ms P Mashangoane (ANC) asked how those that had failed matric would be assisted.

Ms C Dudley (ACDP) asked whether learners were being accommodated at the beginning of the year and whether the School Nutrition Programme programme was on track. She asked if the no-fee schools were improving matters and whether the issue of crime and violence in school was being addressed. 

Prof Mayatula said that a brief on nutrition would be presented in the following week.

A Member said that it seemed that rural schools had been forgotten and that often they did not receive textbooks until late in the year. She wanted to know whether this was being monitored and whether the subject advisors only provided their services with regard to subjects at HG level.

Mr B Mosala (ANC) commented that he had recently visited a school that had been waiting for textbooks. The Department had visited this school the previous day and had ensured the delivery of textbooks the very next day. He wished to commend the Department for this, but at the same time questioned why this could not have been the case in due and normal process.

Prof Mayatula suggested there should be some hotline to the Department to ensure the speedy delivery of books.

Mr Hindle mentioned that there was in fact a hotline number: 0800202933.

A Member asked what would happen to those learners who had passed without endorsements, as they could not return to school. She commented that Umalusi had dropped the pass rate even further from 40% down to 33%.

The Chairperson suggested, and it was agreed by the Department, that he should submit his further questions to the Department and that they respond to the outstanding questions in writing to the Committee.

The meeting was adjourned.


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