Local principals say the Western Cape Education Department has issued principals of high schools with instructions to condone Grade Ten examination results and promote those learners in the grade who have failed, thereby increasing the number of learners who have passed this year.
People's Post (31 October) reported that schools were fearing problems with potential Grade 10 failures; the class sizes created by those who would be left behind in the grade; coupled with the influx of new Grade Tens in 2007. The number of learners in the grade would also mean that not everyone would be able to choose certain key subjects, thereby jeopardising their tertiary education choices.
Condoning results would alleviate overcrowding for next year but, teachers say, could create future problems for the learners.
The Grade Ten issue started with the new curriculum and the demands that it places on pupils, with 75% of their pass mark based on their final examination.
Says David Miller, principal of Norman Henshilwood High School, "There are heavier demands placed on the pupils and they have literally been thrown in at the deep end. "I don't think there is one pupil who doesn't want to perform, but the system has let them down."
Simon Winter, principal of Plumstead High School, suggested that the new curriculum should have been phased in so that learners could become accustomed to new testing structures and promotion requirements.
"I would suggest a possible change in the 75% final exam mark so that the pass mark is less dependent on that result. Also, whereas before students were condoned one or two percent, they will not be now, and it's that one or two percent which could mean the difference between passing and failure," he said.
Now, in an emergency meeting called last week by the local schools circuit manager, district principals were apparently told to maintain the average pass rate achieved in 2003, 2004 and 2005 by condoning Grade Ten results and promoting learners who would have failed if their results were not condoned.
The Department has suggested a specific formula to use so that there will be a uniform approach across the province in which some learners are pushed to the next grade.
A principal in the area, who wishes to remain anonymous, told of the urgent meeting in which principals were instructed to refrain from talking to the media.
Principals like Brian Isaacs of South Peninsula High School are concerned about the state of the new curriculum and the condoning of results and how it will affect pupils' future potential.
"We were called together on Tuesday, 28 November and informed by our circuit manager that the Department would allow the once-off condonation of results, so if we take our Grade Ten pass rate for the last three years, and this year's is below the norm, we are to bring up the results to reflect the previous years.
"Sure we can put students through, but what happens when they come to Grade 12 and they realise that they can't get into Further Education and Training colleges because they don't have the marks? Then they're stuck. The Department knew that Grade Ten results were bad, and now learners are being pushed through even though they don't meet the requirements of the grade," he said.
Isaacs says that his school was able to maintain its pass rate because teachers decided to use different teaching methods and not the prescribed Outcomes-Based Education (OBE) system. "I've been warning the Department that OBE is not working and is causing students to become dumber. I don't believe in OBE and there are different ways of teaching. Good teachers use a range of different methods to educate their learners," he said.
Elwyn Visagie, the Principal of Livingston High School, says that Livingston has not been affected by the instruction to condone Grade Ten failures, as their results have remained consistent over the past three years.
The poor performance in the Grade Ten June exams sent alarm bells through the Education Department and Visagie says if that if too many pupils fail Grade Ten, it would appear that the FET is not working properly. Additionally, if there are too many pupils in Grade Ten, then the teachers in that grade would be overloaded, and there would be too few teachers allocated for Grade 11.
Paddy Attwell, spokesperson for the Western Cape Department of Education, said that any media concerns will be addressed in a press conference called by Education MEC Cameron Dugmore for today (Tuesday), but that the situation had been exaggerated in recent media reports.
"We have received five out of seven districts' results and are happy with what we have seen thus far. The results don't paint the gloomy picture that the media has suggested". When asked about the condoning of Grade Ten results, he said, "Moderation of results is not a new thing. It is usually done with matric results to bring them within a certain band range and has been a practice of the Department in the past."