Western Cape optimistic of improved matric results again this year

Premier Helen Zille and Minister Debbie Schäfer

Western Cape Government

In just over a month, our full-time candidates will begin to write the 2014 National Senior Certificate Examinations (NSC) on the 27th of October.

In the run-up to the release of the results on 6th January 2015, there will be healthy competition between provinces, which is good for our country’s education system.  When we look at the results we must ensure that we are comparing apples with apples, and that we are measuring the right indicators.  In particular we must ask whether the results genuinely reflect improved performance in both quality and quantity.

In the Western Cape, we have seen our performance increasing every year since 2009, and we are confident that this trend will continue this year.

The indicators that we regard as crucial in measuring the NSC performance include:

  • increases or decreases in the number of candidates writing and passing
  • increases and decreases in the number of candidates achieving access to a bachelor’s degree pass (which reflects quality)
  • increases and decreases in the number of mathematics and science passes and;
  • increases and decreases in the number of underperforming schools.

It is important to note that merely comparing the “pass rates” of provinces hides more than it reveals because it encourages provinces and schools to facilitate children “dropping out” of school if they run the risk of failure, and bringing down the “pass rate”.

This practice, known as “culling” defeats the purpose of education for these children and is unacceptable.

RETENTION IN THE SYSTEM IS KEY

In the Western Cape, we have placed great emphasis on ensuring that we keep as many learners in the school system as possible for as long as feasible, and we are particularly proud of the improvement in our rate of retention.  This is a key indicator of the success of an education system.  We are also committed to assisting as many of our learners as possible to obtain an NSC pass.

This year we have a record number of NSC entrants, with a total of 49 165 full-time registered candidates currently on our system. That is 1 529 more candidates than those who wrote last year (46 231are from public ordinary schools and 2 934 from independent schools).

In 2012, 72 714 Grade 10 learners were enrolled in our Public Ordinary Schools. Currently, there are 46 231 Grade 12 learners from Public Ordinary schools enrolled in the NSC exams. Therefore our current retention rate from Grade 10 to Grade 12 is 63.5%. This is up from 53.1% in 2009. Table A (Annexure).

The Western Cape has improved its retention the highest retention rate of any province and takes care to avoid the practice of “culling” to improve pass rates.

HOW RESULTS ARE ANALYSED

As we have shown above, the percentage pass rate is not an accurate measure of the education system’s performance.

In fact, the pass rate can often be open to manipulation. This was evident with the release of the 2013 NSC results in January this year.

On the 6th of January 2014, it was revealed that the national pass rate in the 2013 NSC examinations had increased from 73.9% in 2012 to 78.2% in 2013 – the highest pass rate in the history of post-1994 education in South Africa. It was also revealed that, provincially, the Free State achieved the highest pass rate, followed by the North West Province, Gauteng and then the Western Cape.

It soon became evident that the “pass rate” was in fact misleading and within a few days the more informed analysts started publishing data that revealed a different set of results.

While the Western Cape was initially slammed for what was described as “mediocre performance” and a drop in ranking, closer analysis showed that we had, in fact, improved on every indicator that mattered.  The Western Cape had achieved record results.

These included a record number of passes; a decrease in the number of underperforming schools; an increase in the number of candidates passing mathematics and physical science; a growth in the number of Bachelor Degree passes to over 40% of candidates writing. (The highest percentage of bachelor passes in the country). And our pass rate also improved to 85.1%.

After further analysis of the results it also became clear that we had achieved the most important indicator of all – that of retaining and passing more learners in the system than any other province.

THE “REAL MATRIC PASS RATE”

The “real matric pass rate” is determined by comparing the number of learners enrolled for the NSC exams to the number of Grade 10 learners enrolled two years before that.

Unlike the overall “pass rate”, as announced each year, the “real matric pass rate” factors in the retention rate.

The results of the “real matric pass rate” for the 2013 NSC show a very different ‘ranking’ to that announced by the National Minister for Education at the beginning of 2014, as is shown in Table B (Annexure).

It is clear that the Western Cape retained almost 20% more learners in the system than the Free State and 21.5% more than the North West, yet the Free State was credited with the highest “pass rates”.  This method of calculation undoubtedly encourages the practice of “culling”, so that schools can achieve a higher pass rate by “losing” weak learners along the way.

In the Western Cape, we do actively discourage this practice.

QUALITY OF MARKING IN THE NSC

Our commitment to quality also extends to the marking of our matric exam papers.

That is why the Western Cape has, for the last four years, been conducting competency testing for markers so to ensure that we appoint markers who demonstrate that they know how to mark and the content of the subject they are marking.

In February 2013, Umalusi, the Council for Quality Assurance in General and Further Education and Training and the body which approves the NSC results, was quoted in the Business Day as “strongly recommending” competency tests for matric exam markers.

The recently released Ministerial NSC Task Team Report also came out in support of competency tests for matric markers.

Just this week, it was announced that the National Department would be introducing quality control measures for NSC exam marking across the country. Essentially, the DBE is proposing that we tighten up moderation of marking.

The WCED already applies rigorous moderation at all levels of the marking process, namely at four levels – the Internal Moderator, Chief Marker, Deputy Chief Marker and Senior Marker. A tolerance range is also already set at about two marks per question.

Whilst we welcome the move to tighten moderation nationally, the proposed quality control measures are still a far cry from competency testing for markers.

Eighteen months after Umalusi called for competency tests, the Western Cape remains the only province to implement them.  We remain committed to these tests, despite resistance from SADTU, and despite the fact that it may prejudice our results as a result of higher standards being applied.  This was recognised in the Task Team Report.

This needs to be taken into account when analysing results.

SCHOOL BASED ASSESSMENTS

Another thing that needs to be carefully watched is the marking of school based assessments.

These marks are gleaned internally at schools, and as a result have been the subject of some controversy.

Three weeks ago, a letter was purportedly sent to education district staff in the Northern Cape in the name of Dr M Ishmael (indicated as Deputy Director-General: Curriculum and Assessment) of the provincial Department of Education.

In the letter, which specifically relates to Grade 12 internal school assessments, Dr Ishmael apparently instructed schools to ensure that all learners received at least 60% for their school-based assessments.   If this mark was not obtained, Dr Ishmael required that the teachers revise the content of the assessment tasks before repeating them, in order to achieve better performance.

This kind of intervention is an enormous problem, and does little to improve the credibility and quality of the NSC.

THE WESTERN CAPE’S PREPARATION AND EXPECTATIONS

Bearing all this in mind, the Western Cape is cautiously optimistic that we will continue on our upward trajectory in this year’s NSC.

Our Grade 12 learners have worked hard to ensure that they achieve their best possible result.

Our WCED officials have offered significant support to schools, by way of a number of initiatives including:

  • intensive management support from our district offices;
  • mentoring programmes;
  • tutoring programmes both after school, on weekends and during school holidays,
  • subject-specific support for schools with historically low pass rates; and
  • the delivery of additional textbooks in critical subject areas.

The WCED will continue to assist learners in the remaining 42 days with intensive support to schools. Districts, schools and learners will be studying the September exams to identify weak areas that need support. The WCED will also be conducting a number of ‘Spring Schools’ during the September holidays.

Candidates are encouraged to make use of the available resources that have been provided to them by the Department. They can make use of the exemplar exam papers that have been given to them, and to download additional papers or access lessons off the WCED matric support website (wced.school.za) or other platforms.

In 2013, we had a record number of 40 558 candidates passing the NSC with a provincial pass rate of 85.1%. In 2014, we hope to grow even further the number of candidates passing with a stretch target of 43 000 passes.

If we achieve this target, it will be the highest number of passes ever achieved in this province since the inception of the NSC. It will also represent an increase of over 9 000 candidates passing since 2009 – a clear indication that the retention of learners within the system has improved significantly.

While we are excited about the record ‘quantity’ of passes that we can achieve this year, we are also confident that we will sustain the improvement in the quality of our results.

In 2013, in the Western Cape, 40.9% of candidates achieved access to Bachelor Degree study.

This figure was the highest in the country. Our target is, once again, to achieve over 40%, while at the same time increasing the number of passes.

A further indicator of success is the reduction of underperforming schools. An underperforming school is a school that has achieved less than 60% in the NSC.

In the last five years, this province has managed to reduce the number of underperforming high schools from 85 in 2009 to 23 in 2013 – a significant achievement. In 2014, we expect the existing underperforming schools to decrease by around 50%, in line with our goal of decreasing the number of underperforming schools in this province to zero.

CONCLUSION:

In summary, the Western Cape will be aiming for the following in the upcoming NSC exams:

  • An increase in the number of learners passing matric from 40 558 in 2013 to this year’s “stretch target” of 43 000.
  • To achieve approximately 20 000 bachelor degree passes – 40% of candidates writing.
  • A reduction in the existing number of underperforming schools by 50%.

We are aiming to achieve all this whilst maintaining competency testing for matric markers, not inflating our School Based Assessments and not culling our weaker learners.

We urge all parents and communities to continue supporting our candidates over this time and we have every confidence that their hard work will be rewarded.