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Newsletter 109 Education Sector Review

The DBE published a report on the review of Education Sector Review 2015-2016. This is a summary. The full report can be found under the resources tab.


  1. The current report is in part a response to the National Development Plan’s call for more evidence-based planning and more intensive use of government data.
  2. The current report thus focuses largely on the attainment and performance outcomes of the schooling system, in other words how good the system is at keeping learners in school, and the degree to which learners acquire expected skills.
  3. Enrolment of children aged 7 to 15, which has been well above 95% for at least a decade, has moved closer to 100%, the enrolment ratio for 2014 being 99% and the highest ever recorded. The figures indicate that nationally around 57 000 children aged 7 to 14, all of whom should by law be attending school, are out of school at any point in time.
  4. The schooling system has in recent years faced largely unanticipated increases in enrolments at the primary level as larger birth cohorts moved into the system. To illustrate, these increases brought about a 7% increase in Grade 2 enrolments between 2011 and 2012. In 2015, the number of learners in grades 1 to 5 was higher than it had been at any time since 2002.
  5. By 2015, nationally an estimated 95% of children were receiving Grade R before proceeding to Grade 1.
  6. Grade repetition figures remain high and can be seen as a reflection of the inability of many schools to get teaching and learning right and the burden of home background disadvantage. LURITS is beginning to provide accurate grade repetition figures, after years of uncertainty around this problem. It is now clear that particularly high levels of repetition are found in Grade 10, where in 2015 23% of learners were repeating that grade, and Grade 1 (a figure of 15%). Overall, 12% of learners were repeating their grade in 2015. The trend has been for provinces with the highest levels of repetition, in particular Limpopo, to reduce this. For instance, Grade 11 repetition in this province was reduced from 27% in 2013 to 15% in 2015, partly in response to national policy limiting the number of times a learner could repeat grades 10 to 12. Even at the primary level certain provinces, such as Mpumalanga and Free State, have substantially reduced repetition. However, the overall effect has been for provinces to become more like each other. The overall level of repetition (12%) does not appear to be changing substantially.
  7. Despite enrolment ratios which are near 100% up to age 15, the goal of ensuring that all youths complete at least Grade 9 remains an elusive one. In 2015, approximately 12% of youths were still not completing Grade 9, and this situation has remained largely unchanged since 2010 (before that year some progress towards the current completion rate of 88% did occur). This is often an overlooked problem, yet it is a serious one if one considers that the 12% of youths concerned would be particularly vulnerable as they are especially unlikely to possess the basic literacy skills needed for improving their prospects. Close to half of the country’s youths without Grade 9 are in KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape.
  8. By 2015, 57% of youths were successfully completing Grade 12, meaning they obtained a National Senior Certificate (NSC). This is the highest this indicator value has ever been, and follows 15 years of almost uninterrupted increases.  Current increases suggest it is possible to achieve the target that 75% of youths obtain the NSC from a school by 2029.
  9. Perhaps the clearest evidence on the trend in learner performance in recent years, apart from the TIMSS data, comes from an analysis of Grade 12 mathematics and physical science examinations data conducted by the DBE in early 2016. This analysis points to large increases in the numbers of learners reaching critical performance thresholds, such as a mark of 50, 60 or 70, in either of the two subjects. To illustrate, the number of learners reaching a mark of 60 in mathematics increased by 25% between 2008 and 2015. The figure for black African learners was as high as 65%, with the learner numbers increasing from around 11 300 to 18 800. This reflects the fact that the trend has been towards diminishing racial inequalities. The bulk of the overall 2008 to 2015 increase is the result of improvements in the outputs of historically disadvantaged schools. The DBE’s analysis takes into account the fact that the same marks are not exactly equivalent across years. It was thus necessary to adjust the trend for physical science downwards and the mathematics trend upwards. The methodology used for the analysis is summarised in the current report and details can be found in a separate technical report published by the DBE.