Newsletter 164 - NEEDU - Schools That Work II - Learning Outcomes


Learning outcomes are not only defined in terms of what learners will know but also what they will be able to do or demonstrate as they progress through each grade and phase. Thus, learning outcomes, as defined in this study, refer to observable and measurable outputs with regard to knowledge, skills, and attitudes. This study sought to establish how high-performing schools:

· Achieved the outcomes relating to attainment and what learners learn, as encapsulated in the Action Plan to 2019 (the Basic Education Sector Plan) and the NDP; and

· Developed social skills to furnish learners with experiences that nurture aptitude in critical thinking, problem solving, teamwork and the like. Briefly discussed below is how high-performing schools in this study work towards achieving these outcomes of the schooling system.



First and most importantly, the high-performing schools have a laser-like focus on learner achievement. The focus on academic achievement in these schools, especially those in quintile 1 to 3, are driven by a quest to change their conditions where many learners come to school with academic skills that are substantially below grade level. These schools described how the considerable scale of challenges they faced necessitated spending more time on interventions designed to get learners to desired achievement levels. All quintile 1 to 3 schools and some quintile 4 schools, mostly located in townships, described circumstances that led to them spending more time supporting learners to improve their academic achievement and paying less attention on enrichment programmes. These circumstances include the following:

· They have a large proportion of learners who come from poor or disturbed home backgrounds, where support for their learning, and expectations of their achievement, are low.

· Many learners are subject to emotional and psychological tensions, owing to their circumstances.

· The communities in which they live are subject to severe urban ills, such as drug and alcohol abuse as well as gangsterism that often characterise poorer communities. It is interesting to note that these schools significantly out-perform their peers with regard to the pass rate and the quality of results, as illustrated in Figure 12 to Figure 23 in Part III in this report. As they collected data from schools, NEEDU researchers saw many certificates acknowledging schools’ outstanding academic performance pinned on the walls in the Principals’ office and in the reception area. Researchers also saw school cabinets full of trophies in recognition of schools’ academic excellence. In short, these schools make it clear to the most casual observer that academic performance is highly prized. The aspects of teaching featured in this report are positively associated with improving academic achievement.



In order to meet increasing pressures for greater accountability of academic outcomes, many schools in this study focus more on curriculum delivery (academics). As a result, the second facet of schools’ mission—affording learners a well-rounded education—tends to take a back seat, even though research indicates that these “secondary” educational opportunities can have enormous impact on learning and growth (Allis and Frederickson, 2006). This trend of favouring academics over a wellrounded education is patently obvious just by looking at how learners are spending their time in school. Without a doubt, the primary purpose of school is to prepare every learner to read, write, and calculate. However, schools are also held to a more far-reaching mandate, in addition to developing academic skills. However, many schools in this study, are shedding other enrichment programmes to make room for interventions in the academics. Only a 29% of schools in the lower quintiles in this study provide enrichment, or extra-curricular programmes. This can be contrasted with 100% of the quintile 5 schools which provide strong extra-curricular programmes.


Perhaps not surprising, the effect of this shedding of enrichment programmes usually affects lowincome learners attending schools in the lower quintiles harder than their more affluent peers and does so in two ways. Firstly, schools in the lower quintile, which serve learners from poor backgrounds are shedding enrichments at a faster rate in favour of the academics. For example, schools in the lower quintiles, were silent about time spent on the enrichment programmes. Instead, they were vocal about increased time spent giving learners extra classes in different subjects or remediation sessions. Many of these schools have either scaled back their capacity to furnish an array of enrichments or they simply cannot afford to offer such programmes, in contrast to more affluent parents who are able to support their schools to supply these types of activities. Thus, more affluent learners not only have ready access to schools and other places that offer enrichment programming, they also have the financial wherewithal to participate in those activities. Secondly, poorer learners in schools serving learners from poor backgrounds have little or no access to enrichment learning during hours outside of school. Poorer learners tend to have much less access to these types of opportunities, so the resulting phenomenon becomes what Farbman (2015) calls the “opportunity gap.” There is a growing body of evidence that suggest that for children to lead fulfilling and productive lives, it’s not enough for schools to focus exclusively on academics (Steedly et al, 2008, Feitosa et al, 2012). These studies conclude that, one of the most powerful and cost-effective interventions is to help children develop core social and emotional strengths like self-management, self-awareness and social awareness. These are strengths that are necessary for learners to fully benefit from their education, and succeed in many other areas of life.


The literature is clear: School improvement efforts that attend to just academic programmes miss important elements of what makes schools successful. These important elements include the noncognitive and socio-emotional needs of learners that lay the foundation for ultimate academic success.