Repetition, Progression and the Need for a Catch-up Plan. - Youth Capital

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Repetition, Progression and the Need for a Catch-up Plan.

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Every January, as a nation South Africa celebrates the release of the matric results and cheers for all the Grade 1 students who are just about to begin their education journey. But the education system in South Africa is like running a marathon; there are many challenges and stumbling blocks, and only the students that have a roaring and supporting crowd by their side will make it through!

When it comes to our education system, it’s critical that we understand the Admission Policy for Ordinary Public Schools and the two words most associated with it: Progression and Repetition.

What is the Admission Policy for Ordinary Public Schools?


In 1998, the Department of Education adopted the Admission Policy for Ordinary Public Schools, a document that outlines the constraints where repetition is allowed “one year per school phase where necessary” (Department of Education, 1998)[1]. This means that learners can only fail (repeat) one grade per phase  (Foundation, Intermediate, Senior and Further Education & Training). The policy also indicates that if a learner fails a grade in the same phase for a second time, they have to be progressed to the next grade (progression). The policy dubs progression as a way to ensure that students will not spend more than four years in any phase of their education journey. Available data shows that repetition is a precursor of dropout[2]; furthermore, reports shows that progressing students doesn’t ensure they stay on track in their education journey either.

The PIRLS 2016 study found that 78% of South African grade 4 (Intermediate phase) children could not read for meaning in the language they were taught in in the Foundation Phase[3]. Researcher Dr Nic Spaull[4]  highlights the provincial differences in these percentages. On either side of the spectrum we have Grade 4 students in Limpopo (91%) and Western Cape (55%), with Eastern Cape (85%), Mpumalanga (83%) and Gauteng (69%) in between.


In the same phase, repetition is already quite high. A study carried out in the Western Cape schools reported that just over half of the learners that had started grade 1 in 2007 had reached grade 7 in 2013, 6 years later. The same study also indicates how around 44% of those learners had repeated at least once[5].


For progression to be truly effective, learners who are progressed need to be provided with extra support to ensure that they are kept on track with their current grade. In the Foundation Phase, this means having a catch-up plan to oversee that students master the basic skills of literacy and numeracy.

As a response to the PIRL report, the Department of Basic Education (DBE) indicated that one of the challenges is that South Africans isn’t a reading nation, where parents and children read for enjoyment, compared to other nations.  

While parents cannot be blamed for structural problems in our education system and the educators’ difficulties in teaching basic literacy and numeracy skills, ensuring that primary school students can read for meaning is a national imperative we all need to work towards.

Many projects such as Nali’Bali, Funda Wande and The Click Foundation support primary school students in their literacy development. Pamela Mdlandla, 2020 Youth Capital Influencer says that ‘Learning shouldn’t only happen at school’ and she is right. How can you get started at home?

Zimkhitha Dudu helps her daughter with homework at home in Duncan Village, just outside East London. She believes her child will have more opportunities if she is educated and helps and encourages her. It extremely beneficial for children when parents take time to go over the school work together.


What can we do differently in our families?

While Youth Capital is working to request an effective and implemented catch-up plan at policy level, there is a lot we can do in our communities to help primary and high school students successfully making to the secondary phase. These are just some ideas.


  • Read for fun & meaning with the kids: Findings from the PIRL 2016 indicates that good readers have a home environment that support literacy. This includes having access to books, or parents who enjoy reading. As mentioned, Nali’bali, Zero Dropout and Funda Wande have many activities parents can use at home to promote reading for meaning and for enjoyment.
  • Ask the teacher for a catch-up plan: if your child is progressed, ask the teacher for a catch-up plan. Connect with other parents/relative and make sure they also ask for a plan for their kids. Student Governing Bodies (SGB) can also be included in these conversations.
  • Create a WhatsApp group with your school mates: use technology to make sure that you and your classmates can go over difficult concepts after school.


At Youth Capital, we believe that a National Catch-Up Plan is necessary in helping young people develop their skills while in school; in turn, this will open possibilities for further studies or better employment opportunities later in life. Adopt our 10-point plan and join us in ensuring that policy and decision-makers understand the power and importance of Catching Us Up!


[1] Kika, J & Kotze,J. 2018. Unpacking Grade Repetition Patterns in Light of the Progression Policy in the Further Education and Training Phase. Department of Basic Education.

[2] Van Wyk, C., Gondwe, A., & De Villiers, P. (2017). Learner flow through patterns in the Western Cape using CEMIS datasets from 2007 to 2014: A longitudinal cohort analysis. Stellenbosch: Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.

[3] Howie SJ, Combrinck C, Tshele M, Roux K, McLeod Palane N, Mokoena GM. PIRLS Literacy 2016 : South African Highlights Report. 2016

[4] Spaull,N. 2017. The unfolding reading crisis: The new PIRLS 2016 results…5 December. Available online:

[5] Van Wyk, C., Gondwe, A., & De Villiers, P. (2017). Learner flow through patterns in the Western Cape using CEMIS datasets from 2007 to 2014: A longitudinal cohort analysis. Stellenbosch: Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.

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