The Gauteng education department has been forced to withdraw a controversial examination circular following objections by the provincial branch of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa).
Naptosa Gauteng’s objection centred on a document titled Examination Instruction 7 and dated May 11, by the department’s chief director for examinations and assessments, Bheki Ngubane. The document outlined a three-year agreement on common assessments and exams for pupils in grades three, six, nine, 10 and 11. Grade three pupils do not write exams but are instead given tests called “common tasks”.
The teacher union’s main bone of contention was that the new exam instruction would increase teachers’ workload by including an additional level of moderation of pupils’ answer papers “and therefore unilaterally amending the job description of teachers”.
Speaking in her private capacity, Marion Joseph, who is Naptosa Gauteng’s professional development officer, said she was deeply concerned about initiatives that “cast teachers in little more than an administrative role”.
“There seems to be a determination to do externally set exams, such as the common exams, and all teachers have to do is ‘administer’ these tests/tasks/exams, fill in forms, tick blocks and submit to other reporting and accountability measures. This is time-consuming and takes a teacher’s focus away from their core business, which is teaching.”
According to the circular, the moderation of pupils’ tasks and answer scripts in grades three, six, nine, 10 and 11 would be done at school, circuit, district and provincial level. Previously, schools in Gauteng set their own papers — with the exception of the matric examination.
The circular said that pupils attending public schools as well as private schools subsidised by the provincial education department would now write the so-called common tasks in grade three in both English first additional language and home language, as well as maths, while those in grades six, nine, 10 and 11 would write provincially set papers in certain subjects.
These included English first additional language, maths, natural sciences and technology in grade six and English first additional language, maths, natural sciences and economics and management sciences in grade nine.
Grade 10 and 11 pupils would write provincially set papers in accounting and economics and nationally set papers in maths and physical science.
A teacher, who did not wish to be identified, described the four levels of moderation as “ridiculous”, saying not even the marking of matric papers undergoes such stringent moderation processes.
According to the department’s plan, teachers would first moderate at least 10% of their school’s scripts marked in a subject — or a maximum of 10 papers — before teachers teaching the same subject at schools within a particular area moderated the papers.
Next, teachers from schools within a district who were teaching the same subject would then moderate 10% of marked scripts that had not been previously moderated.
Lastly, the province would select 10 scripts each from 10 schools per district that would be moderated in June and November by appointed moderators.
Naptosa’s other objections included:
- the absence of any reference in the document to assisting teachers to set their own assessment tasks and exams in the future; and
- the involvement of foundation phase teachers (grades one to three) in the four-level moderation process of pupils’ answer scripts despite national policy stating clearly that there should be no moderation of answer papers in the foundation phase.
According to a newsflash from Naptosa to its members on June 13, the union said it had informed Gauteng education department head Edward Mosuwe that these requirements constituted unfair labour practice.
It told its members that they were under no obligation to take part in any peer or district moderation as the union had only agreed to moderation at school level.
Naptosa Gauteng said national policy was clear that there should be no moderation of answer scripts in the foundation phase.
“Unless the district officials can provide teachers with a DBE [department of basic education] circular/government gazette changing this particular policy, foundation phase teachers are under no obligation to take part in formal moderation processes.”
Joseph said education authorities appeared to be opting for “quick fixes” in an attempt to address past gaps in teacher education.
“While there is no doubt that many teachers received initial teacher education in the past that did not equip them to meet the educational demands of a democratic South Africa, education authorities appear to be opting for the ‘quick fixes’, which in my opinion continue to diminish the role of the teacher as a professional.”
Said Joseph: “There is no room for the creativity and innovation that made teaching for people like me the best job in the world.”
The department confirmed that the examination circular was withdrawn.