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Durban - Teachers' unions are claiming a major victory after the Department of Basic Education agreed to demands to write the “objectionable” Annual National Assessment exams only every three years.

But the celebrations could be short-lived with one union having already identified new problems within the re-engineered ANA, which it says will not be tolerated. The union is demanding a meeting with the department to thrash out the issues.

The Education Department announced on Tuesday that the assessments would now be written every three years, which was a key demand of the unions.

The SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) said it was happy with the compromise, the National Professional Teachers Organisations of South Africa (Naptosa) said although it was a victory, it foresaw new problems with the assessments, and the National Teachers Union (Natu) said no agreement had been reached with the department.

Director-General of Basic Education Mathanzima Mweli told the media in Pretoria on Tuesday that the department had “re-engineered” the controversial ANAs.

A “re-engineered” assessment system would replace the Annual National Assessment at South African schools in 2018.

“We are now talking about an integrated assessment framework with three legs,” he said.

This, Mweli said, would involve a “systemic assessment”, which would take the place of the ANA and be carried out every three years.

“We’ve responded positively to the outcries... They (the unions and education experts) are saying we haven’t created enough space for development,” he said.

It would also involve a “summative assessment”, covering the education system’s exit points - possibly in grades 3, 6 and 9 - and a “diagnostic assessment”, which was voluntary for teachers to use.

Last year, the department postponed the assessment after an uproar from teachers' unions.

“It was our demand that the test be written every three years, so this is a victory for the unions,” said Sadtu provincial secretary Nomarashiya Caluza.

“We felt that it was pointless to write the test annually without having the time to address those challenges that had been identified. We proposed that, so we fully support this if the department has changed it.”

She said the writing of the test put unnecessary pressure on the teachers and burdened them with administrative work.

“We started this campaign to stop the writing of ANA in 2014, but the tests were still being written. It was in 2015 when we said enough was enough, and we intensified our campaign and the tests were stopped,” said Caluza.

Anthony Pierce of Naptosa said this was a victory for them as they had been at the forefront of the discussions on behalf of the unions and had compelled the department to give in.

“The outcome is the product of discussion that has been taking place over the past 15 months.

“There are still a few concerns with the grades that have been chosen. It means you will be testing progress on the very same people, monitoring the performance of the very same people and leaving others out, which means you are not doing justice.”

He said the department was giving disproportionate attention to the ANA.

“Assessments are generally a nightmare for teachers. The department needs to give all assessments in general the same attention.”

Allen Thompson of Natu said they had not agreed to the new plan and would request a further meeting with the department.

“As far as we know, there is no agreement with the department because we objected to what they were proposing.

“Their plan means they have replaced one ANA with three ANAs.

"There is now the systematic assessment that will test whether they had met requirement at a certain grade, the diagnostic assessment that requires the teacher to test the pupils' level of understanding of a subject before, during and after. And there is the summative assessment which will be compulsory and would require learners to write a national paper, and this will be phased in gradually,” said Thompson.

He said there could be no just assessment without intervention to address the problems highlighted.

The Mercury