Media Release
Minister of Education Donald Grant
Western Cape

22 March, 2011

Minister Grant and Head of Department, Penny Vinjevold, reveal strategy to improve underperforming schools

Statement by Minister Donald Grant, Minister of Education, Western Cape

The 2010 National Senior Certificate results indicate improved performance in the Western Cape, with all key indicators showing a positive trend.

More candidates wrote, passed and achieved higher results than ever, and we also saw a decline in the number of underperforming schools.

In 2010, the number of underperforming schools (high schools with a lower than 60% pass rate) decreased from 85 to 78, reversing a six year trend of increasing numbers of such schools.

These improved results were a product of targeted and sustained interventions at our schools, specifically those that had underperformed the previous year.

Successful interventions included target setting for schools, the provision of extra textbooks and resources, subject specific support and additional tuition in subjects with high enrolments and low pass rates.

Although these interventions proved invaluable in 2010, the challenge for 2011 is to create an approach that builds on, sustains and fine-tunes the strategies we already have in place so that they add even greater value for our educators and learners, as well as, help to achieve even better results at the end of this year.

At the forefront of this plan is a focus on our underperforming schools and an increase in the number of additional passes.

Our strategy includes the following:

1. Setting targets for improvement

Our point of departure is to set new targets for the year ahead.

We have repeatedly indicated that we are determined to ensure as many learners as possible have the opportunity to pass the NSC, and in so doing, substantially improve their life chances. This strategy lies at the heart of the Western Cape government’s vision of an open opportunity society for all.

Therefore, our targets in this province include both the number of additional passes at each school, as well as, the traditional percentage pass rate.

Provincially, we hope to achieve a stretch target of 36 000 passes in 2011, which is 861 more passes than were achieved last year.

This stretch target is more of a challenge then one might first assume. This year we are faced with a statistical anomaly in that the Class of 2011 is significantly smaller than in previous years. As a result of the standardisation of age of admission from January 2000, in terms of national policy, the Grade 1 intake in the year 2000 dropped by approximately 20 000 learners. This smaller cohort progressed annually through the system and is now in Grade 12.

As a result, this year’s cohort is significantly smaller than last year’s was. In 2010, 47 055 learners enrolled for the NSC, compared to 41 728 learners this year.

Despite this challenge, we are still determined to ensure that as many of our learners as possible pass the examinations.

Unlike other provinces who encourage learners that have failed the previous year to enter as part-time candidates, the WCED has done the opposite, by encouraging a range of learners that wrote last year to re-enter the system as full-time candidates, specifically those that failed by just 1-3%.

To obtain our 861 additional passes, we are also focusing on areas such as Khayelitsha, which has traditionally low pass rates.

In 2010 we targeted interventions in Khayelitsha and ultimately 276 more passes were achieved than in the previous year. We hope to build on this momentum and have set a target of an extra 300 passes this year in Khayelitsha and in other areas such as Mfuleni.

2. Learner and subject-specific support

The WCED has analysed all of our interventions from last year, with a view to improving and enhancing them for the Grade 12 learners of 2011.

Many of these programmes are also being expanded to include Grade 10 and 11 learners, with a view to prepare them for their final year.

  1. Given our focus on the primacy of texts, last year the WCED delivered 15 000 additional textbooks in our top-up programme for Grade 12 learners in critical subject areas. This year, we are doing similar top-ups, starting with Life Sciences which is one of the subjects with high enrolment rates, but with an unsatisfactory pass rate.

    The WCED has already delivered Life Sciences textbooks to every learner taking the subject in 2011. In total, Life Sciences textbooks were supplied to 350 secondary schools, with a total value of R4.3 million.

    In order to ensure that all our learners have the relevant texts, in early February, we asked schools to submit textbook shortages for Grade 12. Textbook orders to the value of R6.5 million were placed, with over 4.2 million rands worth of books already delivered.

    The WCED will also be delivering textbooks to schools where there are shortages in Grades 10 and 11 in April.

  2. This year, we will be supplying the popular “Tips for Success” booklet to all Grade 12 learners to support them in their preparation for the NSC. These booklets have now been printed and will be distributed to schools in the coming weeks.

    This booklet proved so useful to learners, that the Department of Basic Education has approached the WCED with the intention to design a similar booklet for the rest of the 8 provinces.

  3. The WCED will continue to support underperforming schools by offering a tutor programme that is focused on the needs of learners at these schools.

    This year, we have developed stricter criteria in terms of tutor selection (proven record of success at the schools at which they teach) to ensure that these learners are receiving the best possible tuition from recognised experts in their fields.

  4. Given its popularity and success, the WCED, together with the University of Stellenbosch, has expanded the Telematics Programme. A further 28 schools will now receive lessons via satellite, bringing the total number of schools in the programme to 148.

    We have identified and appointed presenters with excellent presentation skills and subject knowledge to teach the various subjects on offer, and curriculum planners have developed additional resource materials to complement the lessons being presented.

    Schools that do not participate in this programme can obtain the telematics DVDs from the WCED at minimal cost.

    For the first time, Grade 11s will also benefit from this programme.

  5. The WCED has arranged for radio broadcasts at the end of the second term on a number of community radio stations in subjects with high enrolment rates.

  6. Exemplar question papers and answers will be developed for Grades 10-12 and made available on CD to all our schools.

3. Educator and school support

The main focus of these interventions will be on our underperforming schools.

  1. The WCED will be intensifying management support at underperforming schools.

  2. An analysis of the 2010 results per subject, per school, has allowed us to develop subject specific support plans for each school and district.

  3. Subject concepts where candidates scored low marks in 2010 have been identified and will form the basis of teacher development courses.

  4. Exemplar assessment tasks have been provided to all schools on CD to assist schools in developing standardised and high quality tasks.

4. Improving the management of schools

Although we are pleased that the number of underperforming schools has decreased over the last year, we are still dissatisfied that the remaining 78 schools are failing to meet the needs of the learners in their care.

We are especially concerned with the schools that, despite significant resources and support being poured into the school, continue to underperform year on year.

Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the principals to manage their school and to ensure that their educators are giving their learners the quality of education they deserve.

Therefore, as indicated to principals last year, the WCED is taking strong action against these “serial underperforming schools” by holding their principals to account for their performance in the context of the law.

Thirteen of the schools that achieved below 60% have new principals or are in the process of receiving new principals. The remaining underperforming schools are being monitored on a weekly basis.

All underperforming schools will, in the coming weeks, receive letters in terms of the South African Schools Act and the Western Cape Provincial School Education Act, which will require them by law to formally set out the steps they will undertake to improve performance.

We will further strengthen accountability throughout the system later this year when we begin to phase in performance contracts for principals and deputy principals.

It must also be acknowledged that the Western Cape has arguably some of the finest principals in the country, and we remain deeply indebted to the overwhelming majority of principals who deliver consistently excellent results, sometimes in difficult circumstances. Therefore, while we continue to take action against those who underperform, despite assistance, we will also do everything possible to help and assist all principals throughout the province.


In all the interventions I have stated above our primary focus is on the learner.

Their best interests feed this plan and I encourage teachers, principals and parents to embrace it by helping us achieve the targets we have set.

We are confident that the increase we achieved last year is sustainable and is reflective of an overall improvement in the state of education in the Western Cape.

Therefore, we encourage all to build on this momentum by backing and supporting the Class of 2011.

For enquiries, contact Bronagh Casey:  072 724 1422 or

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