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Leaked report reveals rampant cronyism in teacher hiring

A report the basic education department has not made public shows rampant cronyism, union meddling and teacher appointments that ignore policy.

The National Education Evaluation and Development Unit (Needu) report contains data from departmental visits to 99 monograde schools and 120 multigrade schools in 34 districts across all provinces in the first half of the 2013 school year.

It was leaked to the Mail & Guardian this week by a source who said the department had “actively prevented the report from being released because of how damning it is”.

Among other problems the report raises concerns about how provinces hire teachers and the unbalanced ratio of teacher salaries expenditure to other resources.

Read the full report here

It states that “in many schools, teachers with poor subject knowledge receive little help from school leaders, whose own knowledge resources are little stronger [and] departmental heads and principals, in turn, are promoted to positions in circuits, districts and provinces without necessarily exhibiting superior subject knowledge, pedagogical skills or management capacity”. The evaluators heard complaints about this problem in most of the districts they visited.

One “very senior official in the Limpopo education department” told evaluators that he regularly got “mandates” from high up. He said: “You are told to appoint so-and-so regardless of the person’s skills and experience and if you challenge this you become a black sheep. Once you have mandates you compromise on quality. [We are] sitting with many senior managers who don’t know whether they’re coming or going.”

Needu was established in 2009 to investigate the quality of school leadership, teaching and learning between 2012 and 2014. The last Needu report released to the public in 2013 was about teaching and learning in the foundation phase in 2012.

The report leaked to the M&G this week is called the Needu National Report 2013: Teaching and Learning in Rural Primary Schools.

A second example in the report of cronyism was from an interview in the KwaZulu-Natal’s education office, which showed widespread meddling. “We are finding that there are some subject advisers who are expected to support and advise teachers when they themselves have no qualifications in those subjects … Some subject advisers have only matric as their highest qualification – they don’t have a single [university] course beyond matric, let alone a qualification,” the report quoted the official as saying.

“This mess in the system came about when about 400 vacant posts were advertised in [a circular] in 2009. The process that was followed to appoint subject advisers following the advertisement was maneuvered and tampered with. That is why we had wrong appointments to the extent that a subject adviser, because he is so uncomfortable with the content, asks teachers, who are more qualified than him, to facilitate a workshop on his behalf.”

Delayed release
The source responsible for leaking the report said a number of education stakeholders already had it, and some had speculated that one reason it had not been made public was because it showed the dangerous extent of teacher unions’ political influence in provincial departments.

“Their influence is widely known but never before has it been so clearly stated in one of the department’s own documents,” the source said.

The Democratic Alliance’s spokesperson for basic education, Annette Lovemore, told the M&G that the report was to have been released on June 18 last year.

In a parliamentary question in October last year, Lovemore asked basic education minister Angie Motshekga when the report would be released to the public. Motshekga responded: “The report will be issued on a date to be decided by the minister.”

Lovemore said the Annual National Assessment (ANA) results showed improving literacy trends, but the Needu reports painted a bleak picture.

“The minister appears to strongly prefer the ANA reports, based on exercises through which children have been coached, not comparable year-on-year, and not internationally benchmarked.”

She said there was a third Needu report on reading in the intermediate phase and the minister had not made this report public either.

The basic education department has not responded to the M&G’s questions.

See this week’s M&G Newspaper for a more detailed article about the report. Included in the article are:

  • How more than 10% of primary school pupils assessed could not read;
  • The “political horse trading that dominates the process” of deciding how many teachers the provinces should pay for each year; and
  • The vastly unbalanced ratio of spending on teacher salaries compared to spending on non-personnel needs.

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Victoria John
Victoria studied journalism, specialising in photojournalism, at Rhodes University from 2004 to 2007. After traveling around the US and a brief stint in the UK she did a year's internship at The Independent on Saturday in Durban. She then worked as a reporter for the South African Press Association for a year before joining the Mail & Guardian as an education reporter in August 2011.

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