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This paper describes the expansion since 2001 of a public pre-school programme in South Africa known as ‘Grade R’, summarises the findings from an impact evaluation of the introduction of Grade R, discusses the policy recommendations flowing from the evaluation and reflects on the process of implementing the recommendations. The Grade R programme has expanded dramatically, to the point where participation is nearly universal. Although a substantial literature points to large potential benefits from pre-school educational opportunities, the impact evaluation reported on in this article demonstrated that the Grade R programme, as implemented until 2011, had a limited impact on later educational outcomes. Improving the quality of Grade R, especially in schools serving low socio-economic status communities, thus emerges as a key policy imperative. Recommended responses include professionalising Grade R teachers, providing practical in-service support, increasing access to appropriate storybooks, empowering teachers to assess the development of their learners, and improving financial record-keeping of Grade R expenditure by provincial education departments. The impact evaluation was initiated by the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME) and the Department of Basic Education (DBE), and was conducted by independent researchers. The move towards increased evaluation of key government programmes is important for shifting the focus of programme managers and policymakers towards programme outcomes rather than only programme inputs. Yet the process is not without its challenges: following a clear process to ensure the implementation of the lessons learned from such an evaluation is not necessarily straightforward.

Samuels, M. L., Taylor, S., Shepherd, D., Van der Berg, S., Jacob, C., Deliwe, C. N., & Mabogoane, T. (2015). Reflecting on an impact evaluation of the Grade R programme: Method, results and policy responses. African Evaluation Journal, 3(1), 10-pages.