PB05/2016

Excessive class sizes in the Foundation Phase

Stellenbosch Policy Brief No. 05/2016

Author(s): Nic Spaull

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Abstract:

In previous research we have stressed the importance of learning to read by the end of Grade 3 (see ‘Learning to Read and Reading to Learn’, 2016). However, teaching young children to read is notoriously difficult in an over-crowded classroom. As Snow et al. (1998)2 have explained: “The abilities and opportunities of teachers to closely observe and facilitate the literacy learning of diverse groups of children are certainly influenced by the numbers of children they deal with.”

In this policy brief we analyse the Annual Survey of Schools (ASS) data of 2013 – a data base that records enrolments by grade for all public schools in the country – and focus on Grades 1– 3 (Foundation Phase). We find that there are considerable inter-provincial differences in the extent of extreme class sizes at this critical point of schooling. In the Western Cape very large classes – defined as 46 learners or more per class – are rare, with about 3% of Grades 1– 3 learners in these types of classes. However, in a province like Limpopo or the Eastern Cape the figures are ten times higher with 41% of Grade 1– 3 learners in Limpopo being in very large classes and 36% of Grades 1– 3 learners in the Eastern Cape being in classes of 46 learners or more. In both Gauteng and Mpumalanga this is 33%. In the Eastern Cape and Limpopo between 10–15% of Grade 1– 3 learners are in extreme class sizes of more than 60 learners.