KZN looks to accountability sessions to jump-start dysfunctional schools

No isiZulu teachers in a province in which 80% of the population speak the language. No calculators and maths sets for pupils. Unqualified teachers. Absenteeism of pupils and teachers. Squabbles among members of the senior management teams. Death threats. No parental involvement.

These are some of the grave reasons cited by principals and circuit managers in KwaZulu-Natal, whose schools achieved a less than 40% pass rate in the matric result last year.

The lowest performing school in the province, Mgwempisi Combined School, which achieved a pass rate of 10% last year, had no isiZulu, life sciences, English first additional language (FAL) and history teachers.

The principals, accompanied by their circuit managers, were required to account for their underperformance and to present their performance improvement plans to the province’s top education officials led by MEC Mbali Frazer and head of department (HoD) Nkosinathi Ngcobo last week.

Fraser introduced the accountability sessions last year. For the 2021 matric results, only one district in the province comprising of 12 did not have a school that attained a pass rate of less than 40%.

This year 26 schools in the Zululand, Uthukela, Umzinyathi, Umgungundlovu, Pinetown, Umlazi and King Cetshwayo districts achieved pass rates of 10% to 37.8%. At Mgwempisi, which had only 10 pupils who sat for the 2022 matric exams, only one pupil passed.

KwaZulu-Natal education spokesperson said at Mgwempisi a lack of resources such as calculators and maths sets; teachers teaching subject they are not qualified to teach; absenteeism of teachers and learners and lack of parental support were identified as challenges that led to poor performance.

“It is a small and non-viable combined school with only five educators to teach all grades, that is grades 1 to 12,” said Mlotshwa about the school in the Umzinyathi district in north central KwaZulu-Natal.

“The principal retired; the SMT is not working together and there’s poor management of curriculum coverage,” he said. Compounding these problems, he said, pupils do not attend intervention programmes.

Mthaniya Combined School in the Uthukela district, in the western part of the province recorded a 14.9% pass rate. While Zithume High School in the King Cetshwayo district in eastern KwaZulu-Natal attained a 18.2% pass rate. Both these school have not been able to achieve a pass rate of above 40% in the past three years.

“Zithume has been underperforming since 2017. Learner enrolment dwindled to a point in which closure of the school was contemplated. There’s no strong leadership and management. Some subjects were without teachers. There is a lack of cooperation by parents and the school governing body is dysfunctional,” said Mlotshwa.

Mlotshwa said teachers at Zithume were receiving anonymous death threats.
“Some teachers were displaced. These factors had adverse effects on the functioning of the school. Some teachers were not qualified for the subjects they were teaching. The SMT was depleted and there is no parental involvement,” said Mlotshwa.

Asked what measures  the department took last year to deal with the poor performance of these two schools, he said at Zithume teachers received curriculum support and supervision from district officials.
“Grades 11 and 12 learners were moved to neighbouring schools to receive teaching and learning. Traditional leadership was roped in to support the school on matters of community-related challenges that were adversely impacting on the school,” he said.

He said arrangements were made to include pupils from pupils at Mthaniya in the pupil camps organised by the district.

He said a new principal and economics teacher had been appointed for Zithume, adding that it would be “twinned” with a high-performing school such as Drakensburg Secondary to assist in improving its performance.

Fraser said she was encouraged that the accountability sessions, which are only in their second year, are proving to be helpful in improving the pass rate with seven districts taking part this year.

KwaZulu-Natal was hit by devastating floods last year, which affected more than 500 schools and claimed the lives of about 57 pupils.

Mlotshwa said Dassenhoek High in the Pinetown was one of the schools that suffered the most damage due to the floods. It achieved a 36.6% pass rate last year, down from 41.1% in 2021 and 71.8% in 2020.

“Four learners from the school died because of the floods. Classrooms were destroyed and the school lost equipment, and learning and teaching support material,” he said.

KwaZulu-Natal was the most improved province in the matric Class 2022 with a 83% pass, an improvement of 6.2% and was number three nationally after Free State  and Gauteng.

Mlotshwa said the schools from the underperforming districts would be clustered according to their proximity to each other.
“A multi-disciplinary team of the department has been assigned with the responsibility of scheduling the quarterly accountability sessions. In addition, school on-site monitoring and support visits will be conducted by the provincial team in collaboration with district officials.

“The next accountability sessions to be held per quarter will also look at the school performance per quarter in order to determine whether the school is succeeding in implementing measures aimed at addressing underperformance,” he said.

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