The Impact of the Introduction of Grade R on Learning Outcomes

September 30, 2014Louise Albertyn

South Africa's Department of Basic Education (DBE) Foundation Phase includes a pre-school greade known as "Grade R" or "reception year". Grade R is not compulsory, and not all primary schools offer grade R. 

Presented by Servaas van der Berg on 11th September 2014*

“The differential impact may imply that impact is associated with capacity, manifested in the supportive framework for Grade R in schools, availability of good teachers and parental support. Low and differentiated learning impact may be due to a wider endemic quality issue in schools rather than specific to Grade R. Quality thus needs attention.”

Grade R in South Africa

There has been a massive expansion of the provision of Grade R. In 2011, the gross enrolment rate of five-year-olds in Grade R was 79% and 89% of public primary schools offer Grade R. Norms and Standards recommend that the spending per Grade R learner should be 70% of that for the non-grade R learners (R10 500). Currently it is much less with a spending per year of R3112. Further expenditure is needed to increase practitioners and thus covered learners.

The current impact

The study combined data from various sources such as the list of schools from the basic education department’s Education Management Information Systems, and the 2011 and 2012 results of the annual national assessments. For more detail on the methodology on the study of 18 102 schools by the Research on Socio-economic Policy (ReSEP) group, the full report is available. The large dataset enables accurate estimation of effects. The impact of grade R in South Africa is small and there is virtually no measurable impact for the poorest three school quintiles, while there are some impacts for the higher quintile schools. International literature helps us to assume that one year (200 days of instruction) should bring 40 % SD gains, but this study reveals that in the case of the Grade R year:

  • Home Language gain +10,2% SD- This is equivalent to 25% of a year of learning in Home Language i.e. what the average learner learns in 50 days
  • Mathematics gain + 2,5% SD- Equivalent to 6% of a year of learning in Mathematics i.e. what the average learner learns in 12 days.

These results are even more concerning when compared to the results of an education system facing some similar challenges, Argentina. There, one year of pre-primary increased home language and Mathematics by 23% SD.

Causal effects can be estimated. Grade R has clearly has a net positive impact on learning as the effects may be lasting (little sign of fade out in higher grades), however, there is no discernible effects in bottom quintiles so instead of reducing inequalities, Grade R further extends the advantage of more affluent schools. The conclusion is that improving the Grade R programme quality is vital.


As mentioned, Grade R is completely underfunded according to the Department of Basic Education’s own criteria with large inter-provincial differences. Quality Grade R requires threshold levels of funding of both personnel and learner teacher support material. Provinces must endure that Grade R is not crowded out by other spending.

A quality year of Grade R is critical for transition to Grade One.

  • Teaching and learning should be closely monitored and dedicated personnel are needed
  • Common tools to assess language, emergent literacy and Mathematics development need to be developed
  • Quality criteria for schools to self-assess, and for monitoring and evaluation, need to be established

The Grade R curriculum plays a key role in closing gaps.

  • The importance of mediated language enrichment needs to be recognised
  • Structured curriculum support for CAPS should be provided, with practical ideas on how to achieve learning outcomes
  • More in-service training to provide practical strategies and opportunities to see and practice best teaching
  • Programmes and resources for local contexts and disadvantaged communities need to be developed

*Presenter Servaas van der Berg pictured on right.

See more blogs

Add new comment

12 + 4 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.

Who we work with: