Officials and staff
Strengthening District Effectiveness
Thank you very much to our Deputy Minister, welcome to all District Directors and DBE Senior Management. I thank the organisers for ensuring that all logistics for this meeting were taken care of timeously.
Our meeting comes after the release of the 2014 National Senior Certificate (NSC) results. Unfortunately both the NSC and and Annual National Assessments (ANA) results paint a disparaging picture for the majority of our Districts’ performances. Therefore the challenges that we face this year are daunting. After our thorough analysis of the NSC results per district, the emerging picture tells us that much more aggressive and interventionist measures must be activated to get the poor performing districts to the acceptable level of least 65 percent pass rate.
This then calls for business unusual approach. Something has got to give. We cannot do the same things over and over again and expect different results. That’s the short definition of insanity. In a nutshell, the business usual nonchalant approach that currently persists in certain districts, if not nipped in the bud now will surely sink the entire basic education sector deeper into more than the current morass.
As an Executive Authority I’ve asked certain senior managers to put their thinking caps on so that we can start right here by re-engineering the manner in which we structure the agenda of these meetings and deliberations thereof. We must without any further delay make our entire policy instruments that are already in place put to good use with the requisite speed in-order for the system as a whole to achieve tangible and long-lasting results. I am tired of announcing pockets of excellence every year. Excellence must forthwith become a norm throughout our education sector. Renowned philosopher Aristotle put it more succinctly when he once said: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
Nonetheless, I must congratulate all districts who performed at the acceptable level of 65 percent and beyond. We know it was not done by some magic. We need to return to the good old management habits i.e. getting our hands dirty. Our President His Excellency Jacob Zuma summed it many times when he said: “All teachers and learners should be in school, in class, on time, learning and teaching for at least seven hours each day.”
Let me make an example, I was in the Mpumalanga Province last week in Bushbuckridge, and, what I witnessed there was depressing. I must admit that it was only an anecdotal evidence of what might be happening in many mostly disadvantaged, rural and township schools – I saw school a group of children carrying their bags clearly on their way home at exactly 10:30 in the morning. The question that lingers on today is how many of you (District Directors) can assure me that as we speak now - teaching and learning is indeed taking place in all classrooms across the country? These are some basics that we need to muster before we implement all the mooted sophisticated monitoring and performance management tools, and I repeat the words of the President: “All teachers and learners must be in school, in class, on time, learning and teaching for at least seven hours each day.” We must ensure that we have qualified teachers in every classroom - teaching the subjects that they are qualified to teach.
According to the DBE’s “Internal Efficiency of School System Report” (2013), the major inefficiency observed in the system is the low quality of learning and teaching that characterises many of our schools. This problem is especially severe in the early grades and manifests in a delayed and incomplete acquisition of foundational skills such as reading, writing and numeracy, which are crucial for subsequent learning. The problem is evident from the following manifestations - weak School-Based Assessment practices (SBA),
As a result, teachers are unable to pick up signs of struggling learners. ANA tells us that our learners do not possess foundational learning skills. Why? Because; teachers are incapable to perform this basic teaching tool - to identify weak learners – this inability to leads to failure to develop structured and supportive mechanisms for slow learners. This failure on the part of some of our teachers has a ripple effect leading to learner grade repetition. Ultimately, learners are progressed from grade to grade until Senior Phase and even FET without having mustered the basic reading and mathematical concepts. The end result of course is the repeated disgraceful performance in the ANA results particularly in Grade 9 Mathematics.
However the most painful outcome of this failure to intervene with structured and supportive mechanisms for slow learners is that a large number of our learners by the time they reach Grades 10 and 11 are so demotivated that they actually dropout of the system. Sadly, they do so without attaining the minimum Grade 12 exit National Senior Certificate (NSC).
We also have anecdotal evidence that culling of struggling learners is rife in these grades (Grades 10 and 11). Apparently this deplorable conduct is performed by some of our Principals working in cahoots with certain Teachers as they gear themselves to produce some sort of credible NSC pass rates.
I want to state categorically clear that effective teaching and learning happens in the Foundation Phase. If you can’t focus on this phase and get the basics right yet somehow you believe in a pipe dream of producing a better matriculant later, clearly you don’t belong in the basic education sector.
Let me recap our standing rules in terms of the Policy on Promotion and Progression Requirements. This policy provides certainty and has very clear regulations guiding for grade retention and progression. Seemingly some among us (Teachers and Principals) use this policy instrument to achieve their own ends. In English it’s known as: "Cutting off the nose to spite the face". As District Directors it is your responsibility to ensure the proper management of this policy instrument. If need be you must workshop teachers and principals on how to deal with learners who are retained or progressed and do not attain the requirements of the curriculum within the given timeframes. My message is clear we cannot continue as though the 2014 ANA and NSC diagnostic analysis are not at our disposal.
We are well aware that existing strategies employed by various schools to support learners who repeat grades or have been promoted are not aligned and integrated so as to achieve immediate effects on the system.
There needs to be an alignment of interventions undertaken to improve the ANA results and the actions related to remediation and support. We can no longer tolerate the manner in which learners who experience barriers to learning are excluded and marginalised by schools in order to miraculously improve their NSC results. Learning support should become every teacher’s responsibility and not only that of the remedial specialists.
Districts and ANA
A detailed analysis of the results and learner performance in the 2014 Annual National Assessment was presented to you in the last meeting. Although some improvements have been noted in the Intermediate Phase, the performance at both Intermediate and Senior Phase levels is cause for concern. It is evident that while the system has gone some way in appointing subject advisors to assist with curriculum implementation at both the FET and Foundation Phase levels, there is no equivalent level of support for the INTERSEN phase. However, the Senior Phase is the most neglected one. It is almost a Cinderella phase in the minds of some of our teachers.
In a last ditch effort to address this anomaly the Provincial and District Action Plans were developed to make sure that this year we will do things differently to improve learner performance across the grades and phases. The Basic Education Department has developed a diagnostic report that requires districts’ focus to deal with the areas of weakness experienced by learners in the assessment.
Focus on National Senior Certificate 2014
We have made excellent progress with regard to access, redress and equity throughput our basic education sector. However, quality and efficiency is seemingly a moving target. The National Senior Certificate examination remains a high stakes examination in that it:
1. Signifies the end of twelve years of schooling.
2. Determines entry into higher education and the world of work.
3. It is an indicator of the performance of the basic education system as a whole.
4. It also provides important data that determines future programme development and planning.
Please don’t misunderstand my assertion about the importance of the NSC examination to mean I am suggesting it’s a dead-end scenario for those who don’t succeed. All learners have a second chance to improve their marks through supplementary exams or repeating Grade 12 altogether. All I am saying is this - we are now prioritising passes that matter rather than increases in overall pass rates in the NSC examinations.
The Class of 2014 entered Grade 1 in 2003, nine years after the dawn of democracy. There were the seventh cohorts of learners to sit for the National Senior Certificate (NSC). The cohort has benefited from maturity of the system garnered over the last six years. Indeed this was also the first FET cohort to write CAPs aligned NSC Examinations.
I expect this meeting to engage on the detailed analysis of District NSC Performance with a clear focus on:
1. Schools and subject performance.
2. Areas emanating from diagnostic reports that require district focus.
3. Interventions that can be supported by exemplification of learner’s performance and SBA exemplars.
4. Improving Learner Attainment in this year through the National Strategy for Learner Attainment (NSLA).
The Schools Performance Report of the 2014 National Senior Certificate Examination shows that 44 schools across three provinces (Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo) performed below 40% over a five year period. A further 517 schools performed below 40% in the three provinces. It is must be noted that despite capacity building programmes and school-improvement efforts within the three provinces, these schools have consistently delivered unacceptable results.
In order to turnaround the performance of these chronic underperforming schools, there is a need to enhance accountability through self-reflection and implementation of effective School Improvement Plans that actually lead to tangible improved learner performance. Again, we need to make sure that we get the basics right, to put it differently, “we must have the right teacher in the right class teaching effectively”.
A preliminary analysis of the school profiles and NSC subject analysis for the identified schools has been done and these provide a basis for interventions. To improve learner performance in these schools DBE is finalising an intervention plan guided by among others:
1. Diagnostic analysis of ANA and NSC results
2. Human resource provisioning
3. Basic functionality
4. School leadership and management
5. Curriculum provision and resources
6. Quality of teaching and learning
7. Teacher development
8. School governance; safety and infrastructure.
The main strategic thrust of DBE political leadership in this current term is to improve quality and efficiency in the education system. One of the interventions required is to introduce a more effective strategy to respond to the needs of the many learners who are progressed without meeting the requirements. In addition to the interventions there will be focused attention given to:
1. Strategies to improve performance in MST (1+4); and
2. Strategies to improve performance in high enrolment subjects.
The DBE has made considerable progress in improving learner achievement through a number of focused interventions. This year the sector needs to build on these gains by intensifying co-operation and collaboration between the DBE and Provincial Education Departments (PEDs). It is for this reason that the DBE is currently conducting roadshows across all provinces in a bid to mediate the 2014 ANA/NSC Diagnostic Reports, ANA Framework for improvement in Languages and Mathematics for Grades 1–6 and Grade 9. We are also paying special attention to the FET Framework for Improvement as well as the Senior Phase Framework for Improvement in Mathematics and Languages.
The aim of the provincial engagements is to share the ANA and NSC results, the diagnostic reports and the Improvement Frameworks for GET and FET. Mostly importantly we want to ensure that implementation does indeed take place. In the process we are raising the bar on accountability at all levels of the system in order to improve curriculum delivery, curriculum coverage, School-Based Assessments and learner attainment in ANA and the NSC this year and beyond. The provincial engagements will also provide information and sector expectations to provincial and district officials on how to support schools in a way that this will translate into changes in classroom practice that will, in turn, result in improved learner performance.
Strengthening District Support
We have invested a lot of human and other resources in a bid to strengthen district support capacity to circuits and schools. We have long identified Districts as a vital cog in the drive to radically transform education in all schools in this current term of office. The work to strengthen district operations and effectiveness has been packaged around four key pillars:
1. Ensuring a clear mandate and effective structure for districts through implementable but flexible norms and standards derived from existing policy;
2. Ensuring the appointment of the right people in the right roles in all districts, and raising accountability;
3. Defining/norming a minimum resource package for district officials to do their work;
4. Guide and improve effectiveness of school support through codified but flexible essential routines and operations.
Moreover we have identified various key initiatives to strengthen district effectiveness, these are:
1. The Policy on the Organisation, Roles and Responsibilities of Education Districts was promulgated on 03 April 2013.
2. The policy provides a framework within which PEDs can organise districts in a manner that makes educational sense, delegate meaningful authority and functions as well as provide them with the necessary resources and skills to enable them to perform their core functions.
3. To strengthen implementation of the Policy, it is necessary to publish regulations for minimum norms and standards in relation to core district functions.
I want to drill this point, in this current term of office, we intend raising the bar when it comes to accountability, focusing among others things on:
1. Ensuring the right people in the right jobs through strengthened recruitment criteria and processes;
2. Clarifying roles, responsibilities and key performance indicators (KPIs);
3. Filling critical vacancies; and
4. Capability building.
We are fully cognisant of the fact that District Directors have to date worked without any KPIs to guide and structure their work – and to hold them accountable for identified critical outcomes that the system is working towards. Individual provinces require District Directors to sign Performance Agreements annually but there is no evidence that these are always aligned to priorities of the sector and more critically, to improved learning outcomes.
In this regard, we have developed Draft Generic KPIs in-order to achieve a number of objectives, these are:
1. Align the work of district managers across the country to the key sector priorities.
2. Ensure alignment across the sector’s various levels – work towards the same outcomes at national, provincial and district level;
3. Centre learning and teaching towards improved learning outcomes; and
4. Use as a critical lever to hold district officials accountable for their actions as well as provide them with targeted support.
In conclusion I wish to alert all of you that data on administration and learner performance is available on the system, e.g. SA-SAMS, NSC and ANA to create the necessary environment for data driven districts and better informed decision making and interventions.
I wish you well in your deliberations.
I thank you.