Cape Town - More than 3 000 Western Cape pupils who failed Grade 11 last year, in some cases achieving no more than 6 percent for subjects, have been pushed into Grade 12 in line with national policy – causing alarm among principals, who say the teenagers are being set up to fail.
Grade 11 results for some of the 3 269 pupils, who are to write their matric exams this year, include scores of 26 percent for English, 18 percent for life sciences and 8 percent for maths literacy.
At one school alone, as many as 19 pupils who failed Grade 11 have “progressed” to Grade 12.
This is the result of a new Department of Basic Education policy that says pupils in the further education and training (FET) phase, Grades 10 to 12, may fail only once before progressing automatically to the next grade.
Before, this had applied to only the first three education phases: Grades R to 3; Grades 4 to 6; and Grades 7 to 9.
A number of principals have expressed concern that the pupils will struggle to cope with matric.
Paddy Attwell, spokesman for the Western Cape Education Department, said the national policy of “age-based progression in the FET phase” had been phased in over two years, Grade 10 in 2012 and Grade 11 last year.
The number of pupils who would “progress” represented 6 percent of last year’s Grade 11 class of 53 487.
“The principle is that pupils remain with their age cohort as far as possible and should therefore not repeat a year more than once in an education phase. This does not mean that they ‘pass’ – there is a difference between promotion and progression.”
Attwell said schools promoted pupils who passed. Technically, pupils who failed did not “pass” into the next grade, but “progressed”. Of last year’s Grade 11 class, 3 269 had progressed to Grade 12.
The department and schools had to support these pupils.
“Schools are understandably concerned that pupils who have progressed without passing will not be able to catch up. Our challenge will be to support these pupils adequately so they have a reasonable chance to pass matric. It will also be up to these learners to make the most of this opportunity.”
The policy says: “A learner may only be retained once in the further education and training phase to prevent the learner being retained in this phase for longer than four years. Progression in Grades 10 to 12 does not guarantee the final certification of a learner in Grade 12.”
Quinton Goodall, chairman of the Mitchells Plain School Governing Body Association, said the principals of the 16 schools in the area had raised the matter as cause for concern.
“Those pupils did not master the subject content in the previous grade, but are required to master the content at Grade 12 level.”
Goodall said this would put “severe strain” on schools, teachers and the pupils.
“Many principals believe the pupils are being set up for deep disappointment and severe failure.”
These pupils should be given “substantial additional support” by the department.
Achmat Chotia, principal of Glendale Secondary in Rocklands, Mitchells Plain, said the policy taught pupils they could progress in life without effort. “What kind of values are we instilling?”
Spine Road Secondary principal Riyaadh Najaar called for communities, principals and schools not to allow the policy to continue.
“We can’t be party to this. It is scandalous. We are here to set standards, not lower them.”
Jonavon Rustin, provincial secretary of the South African Democratic Teachers Union, said: “There needs to be some discussion about the assessment criteria. It may pose major challenges to these schools and pupils.”