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Stellenbosch Policy Brief No. 03/2016

The South African school system is under pressure to develop children’s potential irrespective of home background. But currently the system’s uneven functioning tends to widen the learning gap.

This brief is based on research that examines learners’ performance across the education system, using data from the Annual National Assessments.2 The ANAs have their limitations, but relative performance in these tests can reveal learning gaps and suggest how they evolve.

Our analysis of ANA results across grades shows that the learning gap between children from richer and poorer schools is already very wide by Grade 4. Most disturbingly, Grade 4 results across the school system look similar to those for the Bachelor’s pass in Grade 12 (previously known as the matric exemption). This implies that potential access to university, with all the advantages that such access confers in the labour market, is largely predetermined by Grade 4.