Gauteng Primary Literacy Strategy (GPLS)
Gauteng Department of Education

A. Problem Analysis

 1. What was the problem before the implementation of the initiative?
In 2010, the Gauteng Department of Education has gathered substantial evidence of patterns of literacy and mathematics achievement in the province. Evidence has been gathered from the national Department of Education’s Systemic Evaluations in Grade 3 and Grade 6, as well as cross-national studies of literacy and mathematics including the Southern African Consortium for Monitoring Quality (SACMEQ II) and more recently the Progress in International Reading Literacy Studies (PIRLS). 2006 Systemic Evaluation provides the first and only major government study of the levels of primary literacy and mathematics in the country. The study showed that only 28% of all Grade 6 learners in the sample were reading at levels that are required by the national curriculum. Almost two third of all children were marked at “not achieved” on the standardised test. The scores for literacy from both the Systemic Grades 3 and Grade 6, for all years consistently show that the majority of children, particularly Black children are not reading and writing at the levels required by the curriculum. The international study, Progress in the International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) 2006 shows that South African children are substantially behind international median scores, with only 13% of children scoring at low or above on the test compared to the international median of 94% (Table 1). The Annual National Assessment Results for 2008 are consistent with earlier studies, showing that over half of Grade 3 learners are either not achieving (level 1) or only partially achieving (Level 2). The situation appears to get worse by Grade 6 with six out of every ten learners not reaching the minimum curriculum standard in Language within the Gauteng province. There are three alternative explanations for these study trends. • Change in learner outcomes has occurred, but the measurement instruments are inappropriate or insensitive. • Innovative policies have not been fully implemented, or will take longer to be institutionalised. • Innovations in policy implemented thus far are ineffective, inappropriate or underdeveloped. Given the wealth of evidence from multiple sources, it is unlikely the first explanation is valid. While substantial progress still needs to be made in developing high quality measures of literacy and mathematics in South Africa, the existing studies have produced consistent findings. There certainly was support for the second explanation. There was both scientific and anecdotal evidence that the policies have not been effectively implemented. Teacher development strategies and resource provisioning has been, at best, uneven, if not seriously inadequate. The final explanation for the underachievement of Gauteng and South African primary school learners suggested that existing policies and programmes were ineffective.

B. Strategic Approach

 2. What was the solution?
In response to President Zuma’s 2010 State of the Nation address, the MEC for Education, Ms Barbara Creecy initiated the Gauteng Primary Literacy Strategy. In 2012 it was expanded and renamed the Gauteng Primary Language and Mathematics Strategy. The Strategy was envisioned as means to ensure that the Gauteng province achieved the President’s language and mathematics targets i.e. 60% of learners would be at or above fifty percent proficiency level in Grades 3 and 6 by 2014. The Strategy is closely aligned to the Gauteng Department of Education’s vision of Ensuring every learner in Gauteng does well at school and leaves our institutions with the knowledge, skills and qualifications that will give them the best chance of success in adult life. The first phase of the GPLMS, 2010 - 2014 was originally designed to work in 792 (later expanded to over 900) underperforming primary schools, with over 12 000 teachers and more than 750 000 learners. The innovative project design was built on four pillars. The first focused on measuring learning achievement and using data on learner achievement to inform improvements at provincial, district and school levels. The second pillar addressed the instructional core of underperforming schools by providing systematic daily lesson plans, quality learning materials (e.g. graded readers, manipulatives and workbooks), instructional coaches for teachers in their classrooms and just-in-time training. The third pillar of the project involved collaborations with NGO partners and other government agencies to enhance support services. For example, the project employs with 3000 unemployed adults as homework assistants as part of the Extended Public Works Programme. The final pillar focused on school leaders (principals and heads of departments) and district officials to ensure alignment with the overall organisation and to prepare for long-term sustainability and institutionalisation. A key assumption embedded in the Strategy was that teachers needed intensive and extensive support and guidance to change their daily classroom instruction practice, and that improved instructional practices will have a substantial positive impact on learner performance. This intensive and extensive support and guidance came in the form of detailed daily lesson plans for language (both African languages and FAL English) and mathematics, provision of high quality learner materials including graded-readers, workbooks and textbooks, and one-on-one support from experienced and well-trained instructional coaches.

 3. How did the initiative solve the problem and improve people’s lives?
Over the past two decades, South Africa has implemented many large-scale school improvement projects, most of which had little if no impact on the overall school system performance. What differentiates the GPLMS are a range of unique features. First, the focus of the innovation was on the ‘core’ instructional process, rather than secondary or tertiary features of the system. It did this by putting in place tightly aligned ‘instructional infrastructure’ in the form of detailed lesson plans, high quality learner materials (e.g. graded-readers in African languages) and one-on-one instructional coaching that provide powerful opportunities for social learning in the worksite. Second, unlike post prior efforts, this large-scale improvement initiative was designed, managed and funded by the provincial government, which has legal authority over public schools in the province. The fact that ownership and strategic direction of the initiative was vested in the legal authority responsible for school provision ensured that schools did not perceive this as an add-on or temporary NGO project. While the government took the lead in this initiative, it effectively mobilized expertise from the universities and the non-profit education sector. Third, the initiative was driven by the principal of continuous improvement and formative research. Each year, substantial modifications and improvements were made to the basic business processes based on research input from evaluation reports and insights from stakeholder meetings. The dynamic approach ensures that key stakeholders, particularly teachers perceived the project as being responsive to their concerns and needs.

C. Execution and Implementation

 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
External project managers were appointed to the project and some internal departmental staff were seconded to the project. This allowed for a parallel intervention that was also up skilling people who already worked in the system. Strong links were created with the curriculum section to ensure that one message was given to schools and districts. The projected was implemented by contracting 13 NGOs with expertise in language and mathematics. These NGOS supplied 472 coaches to the project and these coaches supported teachers in their classrooms in areas of content, classroom management and pedagogy. Over and above this, district officials were brought into the process to assist with institutional requirements and also to assist with institutional change.

 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
The design of the initiative emerged as a collaboration between the political leadership, senior managers within the public service and outside university-based academics. During the implementation stages of the project, the alternations and adaptations were made based on contributions from the literacy and mathematics NGOs, insights from McKinsey and Company (that provided pro bono consulting support), teacher unions, formal evaluators and university-based academics. The management team developed a strong learning culture that permitted new insights and approaches to be incorporated into the initiative in dynamic way.
 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
During Phase I of the project (2010-2014), more than 98% of the budget for the project was allocated out of the normal provincial education budget. The province reprioritized existing budget items and aligned them around the initiative. The first year, 2010 was primarily a planning year, but by the second year (2011), approximately R52 million rand was allocated to project activities with a further R60 million being spent on LTSM. In 2012, this figure rose to R234million for project activities and R90 million for LTSM. In 2013 R234 million was again allocated to project activities with the LTSM budget just facilitating short falls and top ups. During the formative phase, pro bono funding was provided by McKinsey and Company for approximately R10 million in 2011/12 and R12 million 2013/14 from McKinsey’s Social Investment Fund.

 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
The project is effective at three levels: input, process and outcomes. The level of inputs, the project has been very successful at reprioritising and aligning existing department spending to focus on changing the core instructional practice of underperforming schools. The project has made significant progress towards achieving its objectives within the existing Departmental allocations. In addition to this important achievement, on the level of inputs, the project initiated, commission and deployed innovative sets of graded readers in four African languages, a first in South Africa. These materials will now be available to all provinces. The project has had a major success in changing teachers’ attitudes towards classroom visits/monitoring. An estimated 94 000 classroom visits have been successfully completed in the project since 2011, which is likely to constitute more classroom visits that occurred in the entire country over the past eighteen years. There is growing evidence that the project may also be reducing sick-leave and increased the amount of time-on-task in-classroom time (GDE Rapid Review, 2013). Although only measured at the mid-point in the project, there is evidence of strong and statistically significant progress toward achieving the project objectives. Department of Basic Education statistics in Table 1 shows that the 2014 target for Grade 3 Literacy has already been achieved and dramatic improvements have been recorded in Grade 3 Mathematics and Grade 6 Language. Percentage of learners achieving at 50% or more on Annual National Assessment, Gauteng 2010/2011 2012 2013 Gr 3 Maths 21 48 69.6 Literacy 33 61.7 63.1 Gr 6 Maths 23 16 38.4 Language 29 52/39* 71/57 Sources: DBE Report on the Annual National Assessment, 2011 and 2012. Note: * In 2012 the Language assessment in Grade 6 was split for Home Language and First Additional Language. These statistics need to be interpreted with caution as the instruments may not have been strictly comparable and the 2011 and 2012/2013 tests were administered at different times of the year.

 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
Extensive emphasis was place don formative evaluation in the first year of the project. The external evaluators identified very serious weaknesses with some core components of the project including the (1) the first versions of the lesson plans and (2) the learner materials, particularly the materials that had been procured for Grade 1-3 African languages teaching. The baseline evaluation combined both qualitative and quantitative research techniques. The other component of external monitoring and evaluation was undertaken by the university-based advisor. The annual Rapid Reviews involved in-depth qualitative case studies in five schools per year on key elements of the initiative. After each rapid review reports were submitted, the project team engaged with the insights and made adjustments to the one or other components of the initiative. Monthly monitoring of coaching activities was done via an extensive Management Information System and reports are analysed by the management team on a monthly basis. The GPLMS project management team also conduct frequent visits to NGOs to monitor activities. Reference groups have been established to provide stakeholders with the opportunity to input into project materials and activities.

 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
One of the major obstacles, identified in the base-line evaluation in 2011 was the poor quality of the African language graded readers that were purchased by the province. After extensive research, it became evident that the learner materials of the quality needed did not exist and had to be developed. The senior managers in the department recognized tht the development of these key learning resources would not only benefit the learners in the province, but would become a a national resource. As such, substantially funding was set aside, and one of the reading national literacy organization, Molteno Institute, building on a smaller pilot project successful developed the new learning resources in eight out of nine African languages. One of the other major obstacles related to the rapid roll-out of the initiative. Although it would have been ideal to grow the initiative one grade at a time, the political timeframe would not permit this. As such, the initiative rollout out the model in the intermediate phase, Grade 4 to 6 in the second year of implementation. The management team recognized that given the substantial learning backlogs for learners in Grades 4-6, they would need to provide a system wide remediation strategy. This lead to the highly successful English First Additional Language Catch-Up Programme. The 11 week programme allowed all learners in the underperforming schools in the higher grades an opportunity to receive entry level instruction at an accelerated pace.

D. Impact and Sustainability

 10. What were the key benefits resulting from this initiative?
The project is entering the second half of the first phase of implementation. Extensive effort has been devoted to planning for the second phase of the project. The focus of Phase II is on mainstreaming and institutionalisation of the project and building a strong management information system to accompany the project. At the centre of this are four interconnect strands. The first focuses on the building new management competencies for principals, deputy principals and heads of department so that they can gradually overtime, taken on the functions currently performed by the external instructional coaches. The second is to work with district to shift their work orientation from monitoring to support of schools. The third is to build demonstration sites, both classroom and district to become major focus for ongoing development and training. Finally, extensive investment will be made into building the capacity of Matthew Goniwe School of Leadership to assume the ongoing leaders and management of the project.

 11. Did the initiative improve integrity and/or accountability in public service? (If applicable)
It is likely that the project model is likely to be transferable to other education department in South Africa. While the specific components of the project, particularly the instructional coaches may not be easily replicated in rural provinces, other aspects of the project, particularly the lesson plans are already being used in schools across the country, particularly in Kwazulu Natal and the Eastern Cape. The other project innovations, particularly the hybrid management model, can certainly be utilized in other line departments that need a combination of expertise and experience from both the public and private sectors. The learning materials, particularly the Vula Bula Books will be made available to all provinces.

 12. Were special measures put in place to ensure that the initiative benefits women and girls and improves the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable? (If applicable)
A number of key lessons have been learnt during the first phase of implementation. First, the teachers in underperforming schools were almost unanimous in their endorsement of the detailed lesson plans. While national curriculum provides much greater guidance to teachers, the GPLMS lesson plans (which are CAPS compliant) provide concrete tasks, linked to particular sets of learner materials that are well balanced and carefully scaffolded. The lesson plans also provide teachers with insights into an extended teaching repertoire, particularly for the teaching of reading in African languages. The overwhelming majority of teachers actively encouraged their coaches to observe their lessons, largely because the coaches had developed strong trusting relationships. Not only did coaches play the role of ‘critical friends’, but many demonstrated how lessons could and should be taught in the classroom with teachers observing. After three years, there is a growing body of research that shows that teachers classroom practices are beginning to change. Teachers are spending more time teaching. They are teaching more academically challenging content. They have expanding their pedagogic repertoire. Preliminary evidence show strong performance gains, with the overall percentage of learners achieving at or above the minimum proficiency levels is going up, and more importantly, the performance gap between middle class and working class schools is narrowing.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Gauteng Department of Education
Institution Type:   Government Department  
Contact Person:   David Makhado
Title:   Director: Education Research and Knowledge Managem  
Telephone/ Fax:   27 113550560/ 27 862198568
Institution's / Project's Website:  
Address:   PO Box 7710
Postal Code:   2000
City:   Johannesburg
State/Province:   Gauteng

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