National Minister of Education Angie Motshekga speaking at Natu teachers union conference held at the Coastal Hotel.Picture Zanele Zulu

Durban - Pupils may be failed only once in Grades 10 to 12, the Department of Basic Education has proposed.

While the proposed change would not guarantee a struggling Grade 12 pupil a matric certificate, it does mean that pupils who start struggling in Grades 10 or 11 would have to receive support to enable them to progress.

This proposed regulation, which the department insists is not set in stone, was published in the Government Gazette in December, but teachers have only now come to realise what it would mean for schools.

The premise was reinforced on Tuesday when Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga told a conference of principals in Durban that failing pupils was not the solution for learning difficulties.

Tim Gordon, the national head of the Governing Body Foundation, said he had heard of the proposed regulation through “unofficial channels”.

While he understood Motshekga’s problem, which included having 13- and 17-year-olds in the same classroom, he was not in favour of her proposed solution.

An alternative “but credible” study path needed to be made available to pupils instead, he said.

Matakanye Matakanye, the secretary-general of the National Association of School Governing Bodies, said that he welcomed the proposed regulation, although he had not yet seen it.

He would be in favour of it, but only if remedial support was provided to pupils, as well as advice on following a different curriculum stream.

Motshekga told delegates of the National Teachers’ Union (Natu) that, ideally, pupils should not be failed at all, and at most should be held back once.

Learning would be improved not by failing “slow” children, but by supporting them, she said.

The proposed policy states that a pupil “may only be retained once” in the further education and training phase (Grades 10 to 12), to prevent the final three years of high school stretching beyond four years.

While this already applied in Grades 1 to 9 (the general education and training phase), the possibility of it being extended to senior pupils has caused concern.

The deputy chief executive of the lobby group, AfriForum, Alana Bailey, said that the consequence would be uncertainty about whether pupils who reached Grade 12 had done so on merit.

Motshekga believed there was a direct link between the rate at which pupils were repeating grades, and the finding that by the time Grade 1 pupils reached Grade 12, half of their original number had dropped out of school.

Motshekga also used the opportunity to speak about teacher absenteeism, saying it was “embarrassing” for the government to have to repeatedly tell teachers to be punctual and prepared. “We are professionals. It is a non-negotiable,” Motshekga said.

She disclosed that during a visit to 451 schools in a province which she declined to name, 1 000 teachers, including principals, had not reported for duty.

After the conference, Basic Education Department spokesman Panyaza Lesufi told The Mercury that media reports had been incorrect in saying that schools had been given a directive not to fail pupils in Grades 10 to 12 more than once.

Lesufi insisted that such a regulation was not set in stone but was merely a proposal, which the public was invited to discuss.

The department was exploring ways to plug the mass exodus of high-school pupils from the system, he said.

The Mercury