Prominent media coverage of ‘Binding Constraints’ and ‘Laying Firm Foundations’ reports

The recent ReSEP reports on “Identifying Binding Constraints in Education for the PSPPD (Project to Support Pro-Poor Policy Development) and “Laying Firm Foundations: Getting Reading Right” for the Zenex Foundation have generated widespread media coverage over the last few weeks.

On radio, Gabrielle Wills and Martin Gustafsson were invited for a discussion on SAFM while Servaas van der Berg spoke on RSG and on some local radio stations. The reports were also discussed on TV when Janeli Kotzé and Nompumelelo Mohohlwane appeared on Freek Robinson’s programme, Regstreeks on KykNet.

These reports have featured in at least 12 newspaper articles, amongst others in Mail & Guardian, Die Burger, Beeld, The Mercury, Business Day Live and Times Live. Mail & Guardian even devoted an editorial to our findings. You can read some of the articles below:

The reports also caught the attention of Deputy President, Cyril Ramaphosa, who requested ReSEP to present to the Human Resource Development Council (HRDC), which he chairs.

On 10 June, Servaas van der Berg presented the highlighted key findings of both the reports to the HRDC in Johannesburg. His key message articulated the considerable reading deficits of children across the country and the relevance of a binding constraints framework for addressing issues of basic service delivery in education.

He also drew attention to concrete suggestions for addressing the reading crisis in the reports. The six key policy recommendations stressed at the end of his presentation included:

  • Emphasizing reading as a unifying goal for primary schooling
  • Continuing to test students regularly through reformulated ANAs as a measure of learning outcomes in primary schools
  • Using DBE workbooks to measure curriculum coverage
  • Teaching primary school teachers how to teach reading in African languages and in English 
  • Prioritizing the elimination of extreme class sizes in the Foundation Phase
  • Giving more attention to reading in African languages. 

It is satisfying to see our hard work coming to fruition. We hope that ReSEP’s research will have a lasting effect on policy debates and developments to the benefit of all South African children.


New ESRC/DFID Research Project: Outlier Township & Rural Schools in South Africa

At RESEP we are excited to announce our latest research initiative funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) in conjunction with the Department for International Development (DFID). As part of the “Raising Learning Outcomes in Education Systems Research Programme” our proposal was one of eight international projects to be funded in 2015.

The focus of the research initiative is to better understand how some schools in challenging contexts manage to succeed against the considerable odds that they are up against. For this project we will be collaborating with our long-term colleagues Nick Taylor (JET), Ursula Hoadley (UCT) and Jaamia Galant (UCT). From the RESEP side Nic Spaull will be leading the project together with Servaas van der Berg and Gabrielle Wills.

From our earlier research and collaborations with qualitative researchers we have seen that there are considerable benefits when combining different approaches, and specifically the analysis of large scale datasets in conjunction with in-depth qualitative research. In this project we will be focussing on 60 primary schools in three provinces, namely, the Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, and Limpopo. The study takes the form of a matched-pair analysis where in each province we will select 10 outlier schools from rural areas and/or townships, and each exceptional school will be matched to a neighbouring school that is performing typically for that area.

By selecting schools that are serving the same community, that typically have the same government resources and district support, we hope to better understand which school factors lead to success in these contexts and whether they are common or different across the three provinces. We are especially interested in the School Leadership and Management (SLM) dynamics associated with high functioning schools. To that end we will also be developing a new SLM instrument to better capture the SLM practices in these schools. Almost all the surveys that have been developed to measure SLM come from places like the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States. It is perhaps unsurprising that these instruments aren’t well suited to a developing country like South Africa, or many other African countries.

We aim to answer the following questions:

1. What practices and behaviours of school leadership and management practices contribute to high student achievement of schools in challenging contexts (specifically townships and rural areas)?

2. How do we measure and codify these practices?

Our research project involves not only in-depth qualitative interviews and observation, but also gathering information on student achievement. We want to understand to what extent SLM practices are correlated with student outcomes in these schools and which of the various measures of SLM are the most closely associated with achievement.

We have already begun our initial research processes of gathering the team and charting the course ahead. We are currently in discussions with the national and provincial education systems and actively recruiting fieldworker researchers for our initial school visits later in the year.

If you are an honours or a masters student and are fluent in at least one African language (this is a non-negotiable  prerequisite) please email with your CV and a covering letter.

ReSEP Launches Two Reports on Education


On the 24th of May the Research on Socioeconomic Policy (ReSEP) Group launched two reports which were the culmination of two years of research on South African education. The first report was for the Programme to Support Pro-Poor Policy Development (PSPPD), a joint initiative between the South African Presidency and the European Union. That report is titled “Identifying Binding Constraints in South African Education.” The second and related report was funded by the Zenex Foundation and focussed specifically on Grades 1-3. That report is titled “Laying Firm Foundations: Getting Reading Right.”

Both of the these reports highlight the centrality of ensuring that all children learn to read for meaning by the end of Grade 3. At the moment in South Africa about 60% of children cannot read at even a basic level at the end of Grade 4. These children never fully engage with the curriculum and fall further and further behind the curriculum even as they are promoted into higher grades.

The research has culminated in 10 journal articles, 12 policy briefs, 1 monograph, 2 reports and 2 policy-engagement workshops. The research covered topics ranging from excessive class sizes and learning deficits to the salaries and qualifications of Early Childhood Practitioners. It included quantitative analyses, a literature review and a special issue of the South African Journal of Childhood Education. The researchers have created a “Roadmap for Action” with detailed suggestions and recommendations for how the Department of Basic Education can ensure that all children learn to read.


The full reports and policy briefs can be found below:


  1. Laying Firm Foundations: Getting Reading Right
  2. Identifying Binding Constraints in Education
  3. Teaching Reading (and Writing) in the Foundation Phase: A Concept Note

Policy Briefs:

  1. Limited support for the foundation phase:A misallocation of district resources
  2. Increasing the supply of teacher graduates
  3. Education datasets in South Africa
  4. Rethinking pre-grade R
  5. Is school based assessment in matric achieving its potential?
  6. Improving the calibre of school leadership in South Africa
  7. The DBE’s workbooks as a curriculum tool
  8. Adding randomised control trials (RCTs) to the education research toolkit
  9. What the ANAs tell us about socioeconomic learning gaps in South Africa
  10. Learning to read and reading to learn
  11. Excessive class sizes in the Foundation Phase
  12. Building an evidence base for inclusive education in South Africa: Focusing on learners with disabilities

Why mothers aren’t accessing antenatal care early in their pregnancies

This article is based on a post by Dr Anja Smith that originally appeared on The Conversation, and can be accessed, in full, here. Dr Smith is a Postdoctoral Fellow at Research on Socio-Economic Policy (ReSEP) unit in the Economics Department, Stellenbosch University.


New research by Dr Anja Smith, Prof Ronelle Burger, and Dr Vivian Black has investigated the reasons why South Africa faces such high numbers of late antenatal clinic visits by pregnant women. By usual measurements, nearly 80% of pregnant women in the study, who were interviewed after giving birth in an urban area in the Western Cape, had visited antenatal clinics for the first time, late.

This trend is seen as correlated to the extremely high maternal mortality levels prevalent in South Africa. The WHO found that, in 2015, for every 100,000 live births in South Africa, 138 women died due to pregnancy and childbirth complications. Compared to both other developed- and developing nations, this figure is startlingly high.

Dr Smith, et al. found that late antenatal clinic visits are largely due to women not becoming aware of their pregnancies soon enough, and was more prevalent among women with lower levels of education and socio-economic standing.

To combat this, Smith, et al. suggest two areas of policy intervention that could affect valuable change:

  1. They suggest that the availability of urine-based pregnancy tests should be increased to match the distribution of free condoms, which would also assist in the treatment of the unborn children of HIV-positive mothers, when identified early enough.
  2. Furthermore, the manner in which contraceptives themselves are distributed at clinics needs to be reconsidered, as many women in the study had unplanned pregnancies. This strategy could start by emphasising the roles of contraceptives not solely as HIV and other STI preventative measures.

To read the full article and learn more about the findings and insights of the research, please read the full article by Dr Smith, here.