ATC101119: Report on Oversight Visits to Provincial Examination Centres

Basic Education

Report of the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education on oversight visits to Provincial Examination Centres, dated 16 November 2010


The Portfolio Committee on Basic Education, having undertaken oversight visits to various Provincial Examination Centres, reports as follows:


1.         Introduction


1.1        Delegations of the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education conducted oversight visits as follows:


·     On 29 October 2010 a delegation visited the Mpumalanga Department of Education in Bushbuckridge, one of the province’s four regions, where they visited the Orhovelani High School and the Eric Nxumalo High School.


·     On 5 November 2010 another delegation visited the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education, concentrating on the Umlazi, Ilembe and Pinetown District Offices.


1.2               In the spirit of co-operative governance the Portfolio Committee had invited the provincial legislatures to accompany the Committee on its oversight visit.


1.3        The visits followed general concerns around the maintenance of the Matric Examination integrity, the state-of-readiness and security during these important examinations. A key issue raised in the past was the leakage of question papers in Mpumalanga during the 2009 National Senior Certificate (NSC) examinations. Significantly, this was not an isolated occurrence in the province as breaches of this nature occurred previously on more than one occasion, costing the State millions of rands.


1.4        The purpose of the oversight visits was to assess the state of security systems for the printing, distribution and storage of examination question papers. The delegation also aimed to monitor the conduct of examinations in the provinces, to provide support to the departmental teams and ensure the delivery of successful and credible examinations, with no or minimal irregularities.  In Mpumalanga, this also served as a follow-up to the visit conducted from 23 – 24 February 2010 during the supplementary examinations.  


1.5        This report provides a summary of the key issues that emerged from the interaction with officials of the national department and provincial departments as well as the committee’s deliberations, observations and recommendations.


2.         Delegations


2.1        Portfolio Committee on Basic Education:


The delegation to Mpumalanga: Ms M T Kubayi MP (ANC) (leader of the delegation), Ms A C Mashishi MP (ANC), Ms N Gina MP (ANC), Ms F F Mushwana MP (ANC), Mr J J Skosana MP (ANC), Ms A Mda MP (Cope), Mr N M Kganyago MP (UDM) and Mr K J Dikobo MP (Azapo).


The delegation to KwaZulu-Natal: Ms M T Kubayi MP (ANC) (leader of the delegation), Ms A C Mashishi MP (ANC), Ms N Gina MP (ANC), Mr Z S Makhubele MP (ANC), Ms F F Mushwana MP (ANC), Mr D Smiles MP (DA), Ms A Mda MP (Cope) and Mr N M Kganyago MP (UDM).


2.2        Parliamentary Staff:


Mr L A Brown (Committee Secretary), Mr D Bandi (Content Advisor) and Mr J Van Der Westhuizen (Committee Assistant)


2.3        National Department of Basic Education:


Dr S N P Sishi (Chief Director: National Examinations, Assessment and Measurement)


2.4        Mpumalanga Department of Education:


Mr B C Mkwinika, Mr M J Lushaba and Mr M A Mtetwa. Officials deployed from the National Department: Mr T P Ngwenya (Deputy Director), Dr M D Ramoroka (Deputy Director) and Mr P D Ngubane (Deputy Director).


2.5               Mpumalanga Provincial Legislature


Ms B T Shongwe (Deputy Chief Whip – Provincial Legislature) and Ms N S Mtsweni (Chairperson: Portfolio Committee on Education).


Although all relevant unions were invited only members of the South African Democratic Teacher Union (SADTU) were represented during this visit.


2.6        KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education:


Mr S Z Mbokazi (Acting Superintendent-General), Mr T C Makhaza (Manager: Security Advisory Services), Ms N L Mthembu (Acting Senior General Manager), Mr B Mthembu (Director: Examinations), Ms N V Mcambi (Acting Manager), M T De Vos (Provincial Examinations) and D Govender.


The South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) was represented by Mr P B Mkhize (Provincial Education Convenor) and Mr N E Shandu (Regional Education Convenor).


Unfortunately the KwaZulu-Natal Legislature was not represented during the visit due to a meeting of the Provincial Portfolio Committee on Education at the legislature.


3.         Background and overview of the national examination system


The national examination system in South Africa is managed by the Department of Basic Education (DoBE) supported by the nine Provincial Education Departments (PEDs). National examinations are conducted in accordance with the Regulations Pertaining to the Conduct, Management and Administration of the National Senior Certificate. The DoBE monitors the implementation of these regulations, while the heads of examinations in the provinces are responsible for their implementation.


The DoBE sets examination question papers for the NSC. Printing, packaging and distribution of the question papers to examination centres is conducted by Provincial Education Departments (PEDs). The PEDs have further operational responsibilities which include supervising the writing of the examinations and the capturing of marks on the Integrated Examination Computer System (IECS).


In keeping with the General and Further Education and Training Quality Assurance Act, 2001 (Act No. 58 of 2001), another key role player is the General and Further Education and Training Quality Assurance Council (Umalusi), which quality assures the NSC examination through, inter alia, moderation of the question papers and Site-Based Assessment (SBA), monitoring of the conduct of the examination and standardization of marks. 


4.         Engagement with the Mpumalanga Education Department


4.1     Site tour of the storage facilities


Upon arrival, the delegation was taken on an in-loco site inspection of the storage facilities at the regional office where members were shown the different storage facilities which house the question papers and answer sheets. Encouragingly, security measures were intensified in the storage facilities since the last visit. The operations room which housed the surveillance monitor captured all footage from the surveillance cameras stationed around the facility’s entry and exit points. These images were recorded on the computer hard-drive and were accessible for up to 3 months. It was explained that the hard-drive was checked on a daily basis with a back-up system in the event of a power failure. It was explained that the system ran for twenty-four hours per day. The delegation was happy that the operations-room was operated and manned by officials from the department and not a security company. It was agreed that no system was foolproof and that officials remain vigilant in monitoring security at the facility.


All question papers were distributed from this central point to all the different circuits/clusters. Although the boxes of question papers were opened to check for actual content, none of the satchels containing the question papers were ever opened or tampered with. These satchels were only opened at the examination centre on the day of the examinations. It was mentioned that a truck with question papers had overturned that morning but that no-one was seriously injured. Contingency plans ensured that question papers had arrived at the relevant examination centre without having been tampered with.


4.2     Progress of the conduct of the 2010 NSC Grade 12 Examination


Members received a broad briefing on the progress of the writing of the 2010 National Senior Certificate Examinations throughout the country, with a breakdown of the numbers of learners registered (also per province). The examinations had commenced exceptionally well with no serious problems reported to date for the question papers.


At Ligbron Secondary School in the Mpumalanga province, the mark sheet was not included in the question paper pack submitted to the school. This omission was reported to the Regional office and a new mark sheet was generated for the school and delivered timeously to the school.


In the case of all question papers written, the learner answer scripts were collected and sealed in tamper proof envelopes and returned on the same day to the Regional offices for safe storage. These answer scripts were stored under secure conditions and access to these scripts were limited to specific officials. The DoBE was monitoring the examinations on a daily basis and a visit to specific examination centres was scheduled during the course of the examination process. A team of monitors from the DoBE has been deployed to all provinces to ensure that the examinations were being administered in accordance with the prescribed policy.


In the case of the Mpumalanga province, the question papers were printed directly under the supervision of the DoBE at the Government Printing Works (GPW). Security at GPW had improved and two officials from the DoBE were permanently stationed at GPW during the printing and packing of question papers. Question papers were delivered to regional offices under security escort, in weekly consignments. Two consignments had already been delivered and the receipt and checking of these consignments was the responsibility of the regional director. Question papers were delivered directly to schools on a daily basis and where schools were more than 75 km away from the regional office, they were collected from specially established nodal points. Question papers were also returned sealed in tamper proof bags to the regional office on a daily basis. The security at all regional offices had been enhanced and the Mpumalanga Education Department was commended for its rapid response on this matter.


In general the examinations were proceeding relatively well so far and the DoBE was confident that the 2010 examination would be successfully implemented without serious disruption or irregularities.


4.3        Members Observations.


The delegation was unanimous in their observation of a marked improvement since their last visit. It was observed that the deployment of officials to Mpumalanga from the national department to assume the responsibility for the administration of the NSC process had a positive impact. The importance of these visits by the Portfolio Committee to these regions was noted, not only when the situation was challenging, but also when there was significant progress. Members emphasised that they were not there to find fault, but wanted to play a supporting role in respect of the integrity and dignity of the examination process. Of concern was the issue of the phasing out of the support from the National Department and the progress in respect of the staff who were suspended in the past. Other questions posed covered the following:

·         A sense of the overall picture in the province

·         wrong question papers delivered to exam centres

·         any risks identified in the system

·         the co-operation and working relations with the unions

·         what was the impact of only having 6 strong-rooms for 14 districts


In response, Dr Sishi indicated that a comprehensive report on all the concerns/questions raised would be made available to the delegation. He indicated that the operational plan received support and cooperation from all levels including the Executive in the Province. Although there had been initial challenges with the unions, there had been considerable improvements including the appointment of markers in conjunction with unions. The issue of the appointment of a Regional Director had been resolved amicably. There was the necessary political and union support for the withdrawal of the national office officials following the training of local officials. In crucial areas the national department would take more time to withdraw.


Another area of concern was the “ghost learners” in the system that needed to be identified and rooted out.


4.4        Visits to Schools


4.4.1     Orhovelani High School


The Principal and Chief Invigilator of the Orhovelani High School gave the delegation a brief history of the school and a broad overview of the learners writing the National Senior Certificate Exam (255 learners) for 2010. Enrollment figures for the school consisted of 1 800 learners. The school had recorded a pass rate of 70 per cent in 2009, compared with the average of 34 per cent for the circuit. Fortunately, the school had recorded no irregularities in respect of the exams to date. The Chief Invigilator expresses gratitude for the support received from the District and National Departments of Education. It was mentioned that the school recorded no more than three pregnancy cases per year (between Grade 8 and 12). Currently, there were two pregnant learners writing the final exams, with contingency plans in place should they encounter any difficulties.


4.4.2     Eric Nxumalo High School


This school is one of the largest in the circuit and in 2009 recorded 185 learners in Grade 12 with a pass rate of 46.5 per cent. Enrolment figures for 2010 stood at 192 learners. The principal informed the delegation that there had been no cases of irregularity during last year’s exams. Currently 131 learners were writing the Mathematics paper with 62 learners writing the Mathematics Literature paper. Although there were few challenges, the principal highlighted problems regarding the Computer Studies examination. Learners had to be transported to other venues due to lack of computers at the school. This created security issues as well as a logistical challenge. Although the district was attending to the problem of the computer shortages, the principal appealed to the delegation and the Department to assist with obtaining more computers for the school. The principal indicated that the school had been able to manage and control the exams efficiently. He also met with the Head of Department and as a result an extra Mathematics teacher was appointed.


Members were informed that the school had recorded a 39 per cent pass rate in 2008 which had improved to 46.5 percent in 2009 – and hoping for a further improved pass rate for 2010. The delegation was concerned that the principal would be satisfied with the low 60 per cent pass rate for the current exams.


The delegation would pursue the matter of the computer shortage at the school with the department.


5.         Engagement with the KwaZulu-Natal Education Department


The Acting Superintendent-General welcomed the visit by the delegation and mentioned that the province prides itself on its code of practice and was looking forward to succeeding in running a problem free examination. Where any irregularities were raised, the province aimed to take immediate action. He reiterated that the province would excel with good results this year.


Dr Sishi made it clear that the focus of the examinations was for learners to be able to execute their skills. The Department also acknowledged the positive results obtained in the last examinations. There was a problem during the Computer Studies and Information Technology examinations when there were power-outages in at least five provinces which affected at least 1 200 learners. Fortunately, there was a back-up paper available and the examinations were a success, except in KwaZulu-Natal where there was a further power-outage which affected at least 300 learners. Because of the distances, it was impossible to quarantine these learners and arrangements have been made to remedy the situation and allow these learners the opportunity of completing the examinations. A further back-up paper had been drawn-up which required the approval of Umalusi.


5.1        Report by the Provincial Examination Irregularities Committee  


Mr B Mthembu, Chairperson of the KZN Provincial Examination Irregularities Committees, highlighted several issues relating to examination irregularities, and also the roles and responsibilities of invigilators. Irregularities which compromise the integrity of examinations included group copying, crib notes, permitting answers to be copied, unauthorised persons writing for another, unauthorised examination venues, unauthorised reproduction of question papers and unauthorised material in the examination room.


The Code of Practice supplied all the necessary procedures to be followed in dealing with the different types of irregularities. Irregularities that did occur and are currently being investigated include the following:


(i)                   At the Arthur Blaxall High School, the Braille version of the History paper was not clear in certain questions. It would appear that the Braille machine used by Braille services was inefficient which resulted in a poor quality of print.


The invigilator was able to read out the questions that were unclear from the hard copy and the candidates were not disadvantaged. Specific attention would be paid to the marking of these question papers.


(ii)                 The Chief Invigilator of the J E Ndlovu Centre in Pinetown District was found to have a History P1 question paper in his office during the examination session - with answers to some of the questions written on the question paper.


The Chief Invigilator had been suspended and replaced. The investigation of the case continues.


(iii)                An accident on the N3 highway prevented some candidates from writing the examination. A report had been sent to the National Department and the provincial department was awaiting direction.


(iv)                Of concern was that candidates were being moved to other examination centres and at the Institute for Computer Education in South Africa (ICESA) centre where they had to pay R 3000.00 to sit for the examination. In some cases, these centres were not registered. Although ICESA has the right to charge candidates, the issues were still under investigation and not concluded.


The National Department has given all provinces a deadline of 22 December 2010 for supplying a comprehensive report on any irregularities that may have occurred during the examinations. This report would also highlight any actions to be taken. It was highlighted that KwaZulu-Natal needed to expedite the process of dealing with any cases of irregularities and conclude on them.


The Department acknowledged that there was a gap with respect to private exam centres with exam status. This gap in the policy needed to be tightened.


5.2        Members Observations


The following were observed:


·         the delegation was satisfied that all seemed to be under control

·         irregularities identified were being speedily dealt with

·         the province had not learned from past experience in respect of the power-outages and that not much in the form of contingency plans were in place

·         In the case of the J E Ndlovu Centre it was uncertain as to the lack of action being taken against other implicated individuals.

·         the movement of candidates from one examination centre (where they had to register) to another (where they were not registered) was cause for concern.


5.3               Site Visit to Umlazi and Ilembe Storage Facilities


The delegation was taken on an in-loco site visit of the Umlazi storage facilities. Members observed the loading/off-loading bay with vehicular access from the main road. This area was manned by private security. It was made clear that no question papers were stored at this facility – as soon as they arrived they were dispatched. The delegation also inspected the vaults where question papers were housed and processed. It was significant that this was a first visit for the provincial departmental officials.


5.3.1     Members Observations


Of concern were the following:


·                 There were no cameras in any of the strong-rooms or loading bay areas

·                 numerous boxes of other material, not related to the examinations, were placed in the loading areas as well as the question paper vaults. Someone was operating from a desk within the vault – an unacceptable situation.

·                 There was a huge space problem since the Umlazi District who shared storage space with the Elembe District.



5.4               Site Visit to Pinetown District Examination and Assessment Centre


At this centre, the Examinations Head was given an extra General Assistant whose main duties included handling the access to the special examinations area. Members also inspected the loading area as well as the storage facilities for the question papers and answer sheets. In the eleven years at the centre there had been one incident where a member of staff had supplied a memory stick with a trial exam paper loaded to a family member. This gap had subsequently been closed through the use of coding. The member of staff implicated had the necessary hearings and after many delays there was an appeal by the union for a plea bargain for leniency. The member of staff was fined one month without pay and returned to his post.


The Head of Examinations pleaded for more staff relative to the extra workload, as the new directive from the Department required that all scripts should be delivered and collected on the day of the exam. This was a huge exercise and put tremendous strain on the workforce. Surveillance cameras were installed at a cost of R 165 000.00. This allowed recording for up to three months and continued monitoring 24 hours a day, seven days a week.


5.4.1     Members Observations


Of concern were the following:


·         It was clear that staff was able to access the loading area as many vehicles were parked here.

·         Scripts for previous examinations were still housed in the strong room together with scripts for this year.

·         no cameras were installed in the loading bay areas.

·         numerous boxes of other material, not related to the examinations, were stored in the strong-room posing a security breach.

·         The specific case of a member of staff found guilty of misconduct but later returned to his post needed to be reviewed.

·         the security risks of bringing temporary staff into the centre without being vetted was unacceptable.

·         It was important that the Department take cognisance of the appeal for more staff.

·         From what was observed, it seemed that the examinations were not being treated with the seriousness they deserved.

·         There were serious concerns around the accountability of left-over papers and how they were being handled.


6.         Conclusion and Recommendations


6.1 Conclusion


·         Overall, the delegation noted that the security measures regarding the storage of question papers have been improved through the use of strong rooms, safes, burglar-gates, burglar alarms, and security guards in Mpumalanga.

·         Members were not entirely happy with what they had observed at Umlazi, Ilembe and Pinetown in respect of storage facilities.

·         The delegation was impressed that there had been no notable breaches or irregularities to date in all the examination centres, and commended the teams responsible.

·         There were serious concerns around the accountability of left-over papers and how they were being handled.


6.2 Recommendations


On reflection Members offered the following recommendations:


6.2.1 General (Mpumalanga and KZN)


·         The Department needed to supply a comprehensive report on the causes of the recent power-outages in the five provinces, how this was dealt with and contingency plans.

·         The Department should ensure that it communicates to all provinces the “Code of Practice” document for use as a guideline. 

·         Under-staffing had the ability to compromise the examinations and featured as a major concern throughout the visits. The Department needed to address this problem immediately.

·         The issue of unregistered centres needed urgent attention.


6.2.2 KZN


·         While it was acknowledged that there was a prior engagement to attend to, the Committee is concerned that senior officials of the KZN Department of Education left the meeting early during the oversight without providing adequate replacements. In future, the department should ensure that senior officials with adequate decision making powers are fully represented in oversight visits.

·         The turnaround time for the finalisation of current and outstanding cases needed to be speeded up.

 Umlazi and Ilembe


·         The Department needed to budget for further storage facilities and invest in CCTV cameras.

·         There was an urgent need for a register to control those entering or leaving the secure areas.




·         The Department needed to budget for further storage facilities and invest in CCTV cameras.

·         Loading bays should be free from any other vehicular activity except for those concerned with the examinations.

·         The staff member found guilty of misconduct should be moved to another centre.

·         The issue of the security risks of bringing temporary staff into the centre without being vetted needed to be addressed.


            6.2.3 Eric Nxumalo High School


·         The Department should address the problem of the computer shortages at the school.


6.3 The Department expressed that all comments received were fair and that they will be handled with the seriousness they deserved. Some of the issues would require immediate action by the Department. It was agreed that a consolidated report, ratified by the Portfolio Committee would be drawn-up and made available to all. There was great appreciation for the Portfolio Committee having embarked on this process of visits to examination centres.


6.4 Appreciation


The delegation, led by Ms M T Kubayi MP, thanked the National Department and the provincial management, represented by the senior management of the provincial departments, for the support given during the oversight visits. She also thanked the representatives from the Mpumalanga Provincial Legislatures and SADTU for their presence during the visit, and for having taken time out of their busy schedule to be a part of the visit.


A special word of thanks and appreciation went out to the Chief Director, National Examinations, Assessment and Measurement, Dr S N P Sishi, for his presence throughout the visits. The Portfolio Committee was unanimous in acknowledgement of his valued contribution, availability throughout the visits and finally his willingness and commitment to ensure that the oversight visits were a success.


Report to be considered.







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