Newsletter 159 - NEEDU - Schools That Work II - High Learning Time

BEST PRACTICE 6.1—HIGH LEARNING TIME: Teaching time is managed tightly to make every minute count. Managing teaching time tightly to make every minute count is a prevalent practice in all highperforming schools. To do this, SMTs tighten up their monitoring systems to ensure that teachers use time within the day and across the year efficiently and effectively.


There is a close match between time that teachers and learners actually spent at school by the end of each academic year (implemented time) and the allocated time in the school calendar (planned time). At the outset, the high-performing schools do not have more teaching time than other schools but because they guard it jealously, by the end of the school year, learners in these schools are exposed to more learning opportunities owing to minimal time losses. Effective use of learning time is not the standalone factor of high-performing schools, but a core component that functions within a multifaceted system to promote learning and growth. The centrality of learning time lies in the fact that if it is not managed effectively, it has a negative impact on learner proficiency owing to reduced learning opportunities. Local and international scholars have used complex analytical tools to identify particular practices and policies that generate real and lasting improvements in learning outcomes. These practices are exhibited by high-performing schools in this study. Among the practices that generate real and lasting improvements in learning outcomes, the condition of schools adhering strictly to time allocated to teaching consistently emerges in research as one of the key elements that have the greatest impact on learning outcomes.

In any class, learners do not learn at the same pace. It is for this reason that some learners need more time than others to learn. Because this, in reality, does not fit the time allocated to different subjects as prescribed in CAPS, teachers tend to "aim for the middle." That is, they teach in a way that will work for most learners—to the exclusion of struggling or lagging learners and gifted learners. Discussed below are different approaches how high-performing schools use time to generate better performance for all learners in their classes. These approaches include using allotted time efficiently and effectively; mitigating factors that lead to loss of teaching time; and creating more learning opportunities for learners. Each of these approaches is discussed in detail below.


High-performing schools do not have more time than other schools, but they employ an integrated series of practices to maximize the use of that time. By the end of the school year, unlike in other schools where teaching time is wasted, these schools have lost little or no teaching time. Schools in our sample ensure that learners have enough time to learn in school by adhering to planned schedules, improving teacher learner and attendance, and building skills for effective classroom management to minimise disruptions. They are able to do this because not only do they strictly adhere to allotted time (planned time) but they also use it properly:

Pupils must be at the school until the very last day. On the last day, we still teach four periods–so there’s nothing like us missing time at the end or we playing in the field or watching movies. We teach up to the end. It's our culture that you may not attend any other functions such as union meetings during school time or celebrations of any kind because we need to observe the time-on-task on a daily basis.

These schools structure the use of time within each day and across the year. They do not simply provide more classroom time, but they also strive to make classroom time as efficacious as possible. The purposefulness with which these schools structure time illustrates their priority for academics. They manage classrooms tightly to make every minute count. This enables them to maximize time-on-task.In our school, we don’t have scheduled morning, afternoon, weekend and holiday classes because we strongly believe that if teachers use every minute of the seven hours each day to teach, they should be able to complete the curriculum. If a learner is struggling with a particular topic, teachers support that specific learner. We believe learners need rest. How can they rest when they are at school seven days a week? We have strong internal controls and accountability. For example, period registers are controlled by learners themselves. They check if the teachers come to class and on time. If a teacher does not come to class or comes late, the class captain records that. All class captains submit their records to the Principal’s office. Learners are our clients and they have the right to demand that teachers do not rob them of the opportunity to learn, which is their constitutional right. So, we are always aware that learners are watching us.

The meta-analysis of NEEDU findings (DBE 2017a) shows that in low-performing schools, the variation between planned time and implemented time is attributed to the following eight factors:

· Non-adherence to notional time allocation prescribed in the curriculum;

· Learner and teacher poor attendance;

· Learner and teacher late coming;

· Teachers leaving school early for a variety of reasons;

· Teachers and learners returning to class late after break;

· Poor time management for the National School Nutrition Programme; and

· Early commencement of mid-year and end-of-year examinations.

The schools that produce good results in the NSC, some of which serve large proportions of disadvantaged learners, understand the pivotal role of time. SMT members make sure that time loss is kept to a minimum. Thus, extra time in these schools is not used to compensate for time loss. “You do not waste time because you are counting on providing extra time. You must use the time that you have effectively. Lost time can never be replaced; it’s gone forever,”.  Accordingly, as discussed further below, the purpose of providing extra time is not to compensate for lost time. On the contrary, extra time teaching is the enhancement of classroom teaching that is based on assessed-learner-skill-deficit and is targeted to address specific and discrete knowledge or skill deficits. Such learning opportunities “provide a means of reaching learners which regular [school‐time] programmes are not effectively serving and can be beneficial in schools’ efforts to narrow achievement gaps and guide at‐risk learners to succeed academically.”


More support and teaching time are provided, either during the school day or outside normal school hours, to learners who need more help. Teaching is adjusted based on frequent monitoring of learner progress and needs. Most high-performing schools (97%) identified expanded time as a key ingredient in their ability to produce good results in the NSC examinations. An average school day has grown markedly in highperforming schools. These schools use more hours than the conventional school calendar (planned time). Teachers in these schools are effective within the conventional school calendar and use the time added to advance learning further. The following sub-sections will make clear why an increasing number of teachers have found it worth sacrificing their time to expand school time.

RATIONALE/PURPOSE FOR EXTENDING PLANNED TIME: These schools employ an integrated series of practices to maximize the use of teaching time (i.e. planned time). If they have to extend teaching time (i.e. extra classes), there is a clear purpose for doing so. The use of additional time ranges from providing many opportunities for teaching and learning, to academic support to struggling learners, to teacher development and collaboration. The extension of the planned time in high-performing schools can be categorised into six purposes: to complete the curriculum; give more support to struggling or lagging learners; re-inforce what was taught in class; do remedial work, revise or catch-up; and build in many more opportunities for teacher development and collaboration. Each purpose is briefly discussed below.

· To complete the curriculum: In the majority of the high-performing schools, most of which are serving learners from disadvantaged backgrounds, teachers report that they use additional or extra-time to cover more material and examine topics in greater depth. These schools work hard to complete the curriculum as early as in May to allow more time for revision in preparation for both the trial (mock) exam in September and the final exam (NSC examinations) in October. Other schools complete the curriculum anywhere between June and September. The expected date to complete the curriculum is either prescribed by the district, PED or is self-imposed by the school. Completing the curriculum early, as teachers in most schools report, cannot be done without extending the allotted time in the school calendar (i.e. planned time). I spend three hours every Saturday trying to finish the syllabus alone because it is so extensive. You have to have your extra lessons because our syllabus is so wide in that we’ll never be able to finish our work on time. The syllabus is too long for you to just finish it in the normal school day. We want to cover the syllabus faster, so that we have enough time for revision. So, in the morning extra class, the teacher introduces a new lesson, then during the allocated period we just continue with what we started in the morning. That’s why everyone must attend all morning extra classes at 6 o’clock. Most of us have taken it [getting to school early] as a habit. We have gotten used to this. This is the way we do things here.

· To give more support to struggling or lagging learners: Recognising that it is unreasonable to expect all learners to learn at the same pace, teachers use assessment results to identify not only struggling or lagging learners who need extra help, but also learners who are gifted and are ready to accelerate. One of the major things we learned was that if learners are already three to four years behind when they get here from primary schools, teachers do not have enough hours in the day to overcome those deficiencies. So, we extend our school day to allow teachers to provide more support. Teachers use additional time to focus on individual learners who are struggling or who need extra help and provide a vehicle for teamwork to strengthen their performance early, before educational problems increase in intensity.

· To re-inforce what was taught in class: Another reason for providing extra classes proffered by teachers in many of the high-performing schools is to re-inforce what is taught in class. “Sometimes it takes more time for a learner to understand a concept which another learner can grasp immediately,” one teacher notes “You can’t find time during school working hours to cover the breadth and scope of the curriculum. This is where providing extra time becomes unavoidable,” another teacher in the same school adds. Many other schools share the same sentiments.

· To do remedial work: Some teachers use extra classes to support learners who need extra help, which teachers cannot do during a lesson because they are limited by time.

· To catch-up or revise: It is unavoidable that teachers would miss some of their classes owing to many reasons such as illness, attending workshops, union meetings and memorial services. When time is lost, teachers use extra classes as catch-up sessions.

· To build in more opportunities for teacher development and collaboration: Because teachers have little time outside their classroom activities to prepare for their lessons, they use increased school time for teacher collaboration. Teacher collaboration involves meeting collaboratively for curriculum planning and professional development, sharing what works in their classes, discussing and reflecting on lessons, analysing learner performance data, coaching and supporting individual teachers, and peer observations.

AMOUNT OF TIME EXTENDED (IMPLEMENTED TIME): High-performing schools are at the leading edge of the move to increase school time. Learners attend school for substantially more hours per day and more days per year than their peers in other schools. Additional time to afford learners more opportunities to learn is provided by schools, districts or parents through private tuition.

· Extra classes provided by school: Schools provide extra classes at different times in a school day: morning (62%), during break (negligible), afternoon (75%), or evening (20%). Some schools provide extra classes on Saturdays and Sundays (71%) or during school holidays (60%).

We start extra classes as soon as January—right at the beginning of the year. We offer the morning, afternoon and weekend classes. Morning classes start from 6 to 8. We are not subscribing to the seven-hour working time as prescribed by the Minister but our teachers go an extra mile. We have got morning classes, we have got afternoon classes, we have weekend programmes.

· Targeted subjects: Subjects that are prioritised for extra classes vary from school to school. While other schools prioritise specific subjects, others target all subjects: We offer extra classes for all content subjects: Maths, Life Sciences, Science, Accounting, Economics, and Business Science, for all learners.

· Extra support provided by district/province: Twenty-nine percent of the schools report that their learners attend revision “camps” during school holidays, provided by the districts, for a targeted group of schools. Tuition in these camps is provided either by district officials themselves or by good teachers selected by the district office.

· Private tuition provided by parents: Learners in 75% of the schools receive extra tuition offered by private providers at parents’ extra cost ranging from R200 per subject per month to R1600 per subject per month. While teachers in a few schools value the benefits of extra private tuition and encourage learners to attend these private sessions, others discouraged learners from attending these sessions.

HOW EXTENDED TIME IS USED: All schools emphasise that providing extra time is not done as a matter of routine. These schools also strongly believe that just adding more school time will not make a difference in learning outcomes unless the added time is used well. As one teacher cogently puts it, “you can add as much extra teaching time as you like, but if the quality of teaching is poor, extra time will not lead to achievement gains,”

· Tracking learners: Appreciating that not all learners advance through school with comparable skills and knowledge, teachers separate learners into groups based on where they are academically. Through this approach, sometimes called "tracking," teachers vary their approaches when teaching learners in separate groupings. Teachers are cautious not to use tracking to “label” or stigmatise learners. Instead, they use tracking as a two-way ratchet where learners who were shifted to a "lower" track in one topic or skill are moved to a "higher" one in another topic, or vice versa.

· Differentiated instruction: Extra time gives teachers block time to differentiate their classes in ways that enable struggling or lagging learners to receive extra support, while gifted learners are kept challenged. Using "differentiated instruction,” teachers group learners according to their varying capabilities and learning styles.

Teachers in different schools use a number of different grouping formats, including the following:

ü Grouping Format 1 (All learners in class are taught as a group): The focus of teaching is on all learners in class. However, within that structure, the teacher use differentiation so as to meet individual learner needs. Teachers group and teach learners in multiple ways, including whole group, small group, or one-on-one instruction, all of this within one class.

ü Grouping Format 2 (Targeted teaching/intervention in homogeneous small groups of learners): In a small group setting, teachers provide supplemental support to learners who struggle in the grouping format 1. Teachers assess learner progress on targeted skills regularly.

ü Grouping Format 3 (Intensive intervention): Here teaching is even more intensive, more focused and more individualised. The focus is on learners with marked difficulties. A common strategy that different teachers use to give individual attention in order to provide every possible opportunity to help struggling learners succeed is learner peer-support.

· Learner peer support: Schools differ in how they group learners. Some are on an ad-hoc basis, where they stay after school and share ideas. Some are slightly more formal in that learners are required to stay after school and work in groups, but may choose the groups themselves. Other schools place learners in subject or stream specific groups, and each learner in the group has a chance to lead the group on a particular topic, which they have researched.

· Study time and homework: Some schools provide the space and supervision for learners to study and do homework at school because they know that their home circumstances would not allow for this.