The Auditor General of South Africa (AGSA) recently released their second audit report on the education sector. Focusing on the 2014/15 financial year, the report notes significant improvements from the previous year’s audit, but also highlights that serious implementation and management challenges persist in basic education.
EE echoes the concern raised by the AGSA around the lack of credible information to direct the sector’s planning. We have continuously highlighted how a lack of accurate data on school infrastructure hampers the process of fixing our schools. Inaccurate data also results in some learners being left without learning materials, while wastage occurs at other schools that receive more textbooks than they need.
Importantly, the AGSA also notes a failure by government to assess the management and administration capacity at every level of the basic educationhierarchy from schools to the national department in order to guide support measures. EE notes that in order for accountability measures to be more than punitive, there is a pressing need to provide adequate support throughout the system, especially where capacity is lacking. Provincial educationdepartments (PEDs) and district offices need to step up to lessen the bureaucratic burden on principals and school governing bodies (SGBs) and teacher professional development interventions need  to go beyond mere compliance.
The AGSAs report speaks to a number of issues which affect the quality of teaching and learning, and the capacity for systemic improvements in this area. Specifically, serious failings were found relating to both the curriculum support that district officials must provide, and teacher professional development. These two areas are crucial if schools and teachers are to be empowered to improve, rather than simply be criticised for poor performance.
The report found that seven of the nine provinces did not adequately support teachers to identify their development needs. When teachers’ professional development needs were noted, this was just a matter of compliance – schools largely did not use them to inform their improvement plan. Nor were district officials supporting schools to do this work.
The Department of Basic Education (DBE) also came in for criticism – the AGSA notes that the national department’s approach prioritises exam-related diagnostics while neglecting teacher skills and professional development. There was, moreover, poor record keeping among most provinces of teachers’ needs and the training they had actually undergone. Even more distressing, there was little evaluation of whether professional development actually worked. Without a sense of what is effective, it is difficult to build on the good practice which does exist and wipe out what is unhelpful.
The report reveals a lack of effective communication at all levels of the system – national, provincial, districts, and circuits – that play a pivotal role in ineffectual curriculum support for schools. The DBE implemented an education district policy without first assessing the districts’ ability to roll it out, resulting in some districts still struggling to implement demands like 25 per schools per circuit three years later. The results of this inadequately-informed implementation is then further exacerbated by the lack of communication between the different levels of the educations sector. The progress reports for programme evaluation were reported to have deficiencies in their accuracy, adequacy, and quality, which limited PED’s abilities to address whatever issues the districts were facing in this regard; while the PEDs failed to adequately monitor and/or follow-up on their monitoring of districts’ curriculum support systems.
The district support structure is also extremely overstretched. For example, the AGSA reveals that every district in Limpopo and Mpumalanga had over 20% more than the maximum national norm of circuits per district. KwaZulu-Natal followed close behind, with 92% of the province’s districts having at least 20% more circuits than the maximum national norm.
Furthermore, 63% of the districts that presented information about subject advisor vacancies had more than 10% unfilled vacancies. Almost half of the classes audited in the AGSA’s report had received no on-site curriculum monitoring and support; and all but one province exceeded the maximum national norm of 25 schools per circuit. Understaffing and large numbers of schools in circuits collectively mean that individual schools receive insufficient curriculum support from districts and circuits; this is in turn has negative implications for learning outcomes at the schools.
All of this points to a lack of clear and effectual communication and coordination between the levels of the education system, that directly negatively impacts school district support and impacts learners’ academic progress.
The AGSA report affirms EE’s experience on the ground: provinces, the Eastern Cape in particular, failed to plan properly in order to deliver school infrastructure. In three provinces, a project brief was not developed for infrastructure projects. In five provinces collection, storage, and distribution of project information was not planned. The need for accurate, up-to-date, school-level data of projects is a necessary first step in order to adequately resource schools. The AGSA did not mention that, often times, this data is not properly recorded by Implementing Agents (IAs) who are tasked to update the Education Facilities Management System.
IAs are at the centre of many challenges to school infrastructure delivery. Without effective monitoring structures for IAs and contractors, provinces are Planning to Fail to meet the second timeframe for the Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure in 2017.
The AGSA recommended that additional criteria should be applied when appointing contractors to ensure that projects are delivered. It is the responsibility of IAs to appoint and pay contractors in a timely and cost-effective manner, as well as to cancel tenders when contractors cannot deliver. EE expects that structures such as the Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB), which falls under the Department of Public Works, can be one resource relied upon to capacitate contractors to produce quality infrastructure for our schools. The CIDB is mandated to register all contractors who bid for government tenders, and to support, facilitate, and promote the construction industry.
In his analysis of the ASIDI programme, the AGSA noted poor construction of projects in all nine provinces. Various elements of projects were not coordinated with a proper budget and timeframe. EE supports the AGSA’s recommendation for additional criteria applied when appointing contractors, and for skilled construction specialists to be employed to address skills shortages.
EE also supports the AGSA’s recommendation for a routine maintenance strategy. There needs to be an increased budget for maintenance as well as a coordinated strategy to preserve infrastructure that has been delivered thus far. A primary demand emanating from EE’s Gauteng sanitation campaign was the need to address the lack of infrastructure maintenance that resulted in infrastructure falling into a state of disrepair at a much faster rate than normal. An outcome of EE’s Gauteng sanitation campaign was that the Gauteng Education Department established a maintenance budget and plan – but that was never implemented.
Learner Teacher Support Material (LTSM), such as textbooks and workbooks, play a crucial role in supporting and strengthening curriculum implementation. Concerningly, the AGSA report highlighted issues with processes to determine textbook needs and procure the necessary textbooks.
The AGSA firstly noted that incorrect learner numbers used as the basis for ordering textbooks, results in the under – and/or oversupply of textbooks to schools. When ordering textbooks, schools have to fill in requisition forms, stating details of learners and classes in the school. The AGSA audit revealed that four provinces could not effectively verify the accuracy of requisition forms received from schools and at least two other provinces completed requisitions while they did not agree with the number of learners reported by schools.
The AGSA further raised concern around the procurement of textbooks. It is important that textbook procurement meets legal requirements and that textbook prices are not unnecessarily high. In 2010 a Ministerial Task Team made recommendations for the DBE to streamline the procurement of textbooks through a national catalogue and centralised ordering system. However, issues with  the ordering of textbooks persist.
The audit highlighted that the DBE had not established an appropriate procurement system for compiling the national LTSM catalogue and had failed to comply with National Treasury and supply chain management requirements in this regard.
Furthermore, because there is a lack of oversight, textbooks in three provinces were being purchased at prices much higher than those quoted in the LTSM catalogue. The audit stressed that while it is not compulsory for Section 21 schools (schools that have greater control over their budgets) to make use of the national LTSM catalogue, provincial governments need to ensure that LTSM funding at these schools  is used appropriately.  The report noted a variance of up to 80% for textbook prices in some schools.
It is crucial that learners have access to high-quality learning materials that arrive on time. The DBE must urgently address weaknesses in the system that prevent this from happening.
The AGSA report touches briefly on the development and implementation of the e-education strategy at the national level and provincial level. The predominant focus of  the report is on the Education Management Information System (EMIS) and the Learner Unit Record Information Tracking System (LURITS), the new DBE learner information management system. It does not provide substantive information on the state of ICT in schools across the various provinces, or the challenges and the specific strategies required for the improvement of the implementation of e-education.
With regards to e-education, the AGSA report states that at a national level, there is a lack of monitoring of the implementation of the e-education White Paper by provinces. This has resulted in the poor development and integration of e-strategies at a provincial level. The AGSA recommends that PEDs must engage in proper consultation with the DBE on acquiring a basic understanding of the requirements in the White Paper for the proper integration of e-education. A further matter of serious concern is that the AGSA has identified flaws in the new LURITS system. This suggests that it may fail to yield the reliable data the DBE desperately needs to guide planning and provision.
Given the roll-out of the 2015 ICT roll-out project specifically in Gauteng, it is perplexing that the AGSA report limits itself to administrative-level ICT, as substantial amounts of funding are already being invested in learner-centred ICT. EE is of the opinion that the AGSA could have added valuable assessments of this programme, particularly in terms  of on how this project has impacted the quality of education, challenges that have been experienced, and recommendations.
The AGSA report is not the sole arbiter of ‘good governance’, and cannot always speak to closer contexts in schools. However, it is an important tool to monitor whether government is planning well, following correct procedure, and implementing its plans. The key failings raised in this report, around unreliable data, poor co-ordination between the different levels of the education sector, a lack of accountability across both the department and its contractors, and insufficient planning and management of projects, continually undermine efforts to achieve an equitable education system.
EE urges the DBE and PEDs to implement the recommendations of the AGSA. It is important that systems put in place to address the issues raised, are designed with the input of school staff and SGB members so as to take into account challenges faced at the school-level. These systems should serve to simplify reporting and monitoring processes rather than adding unnecessary bureaucratic burdens.
Mila Kakaza (EE Spokesperson) 076 553 3133
Roné McFarlane (EE Researcher) 081 744 5627