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Stellenbosch Policy Brief No. 07/2016

To realise improvements in the South African education system and overcome substantial inequalities in learning that exist, prioritisation must be given to improving the quality of foundation phase teaching and learning. If children are not able to master the basics of reading and numeracy in the early grades, they carry insurmountable learning gaps into higher grades and adulthood.2 Yet, learning in primary schools, specifically in foundation phase grades, is not receiving the level of support it should from at least one important tier in the bureaucratic administration: the district.

This policy brief uses School Monitoring Survey (SMS) data from 2011, a nationally representative survey of schools, as evidence of how less district support is being targeted at lower grades compared with higher grade levels, particularly grades 10 to 12 or otherwise referred to as the Further Education and Training (FET) phase. Targeting more district support at higher grades is a misallocation of resources in a system where children are failing to master even the most basic literacy and numeracy skills. It is too late to intervene with support in senior grades in preparation for a matriculation examination. Interventions must start in the earliest grades.