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Grade 4 Reading Catch-Up Programme: summary of impact report



Grade 4 Reading Catch-Up Programme: summary of impact report

Name of organisation/service provider:
Wits University: Led by Prof. Brahm Fleisch, Dr Stephen
Taylor and Dr Thabo Mabogoane

Name of Project / Intervention:
Reading Catch-Up Research Project

Duration of Project:
January 2014 – January 2015

Province, area:


In 2011, the Gauteng Department of Education (GDE) implemented a Reading Catch-Up Programme to augment the GDE’s Gauteng Primary Literacy and Mathematics Strategy (GPLMS) Programme. The GDE found that many schools were unable to benefit from the GPLMS Programme because of the poor levels of English competence amongst learners.

As such, the GPLMS developed and implemented a reading Catch-Up Programme in 750 schools to remediate the learning gaps in underperforming Grade 4 classrooms. This comprised an 11-week English programme focusing on spelling, vocabulary, reading and comprehension to enable learners to acquire the grade appropriate English competencies, targeted at learners that do English as First Additional Language.

The programme focused on re-teaching select Foundation Phase English skills and content to provide learners with the necessary basics that should have been acquired in the earlier grades. The programme was designed to replace the English curriculum for a single term to ensure that learners in these schools had an opportunity to master the basics of English language literacy before moving ahead with their Grade 4 work.

The 11-week programme consisted of three key elements, namely:

  • the provision of high quality teaching and learning materials (including scripted lessons plans, readers, posters and teacher guides);
  • teacher training; and
  • teacher coaching.

The Zenex Foundation agreed to support a study to evaluate the Reading Catch-Up Programme given its immense relevance in the current context of learner backlog problems, especially in relation to the transition to English as the language of learning and teaching from Grade 4. This study that was undertaken in the Pinetown District of KwaZulu-Natal in 2014 and the research report was completed in January 2015.

  1. Research Question

What is the impact of the Reading Catch-Up Programme on English (FAL) performance of Grade 4 learners?

Key Findings

Overall the study showed that both control and intervention schools improved their performance, noting that the intervention schools performed slightly better. When the data was disaggregated further it revealed that the schools that received the intervention showed gains in certain areas of reading (spelling and grammar). In addition it is evident that learners who scored 50% or more in their pre-test scores gained considerably more from the programme than learners who scored lower than 20% on the pre-test.

The following explains some of the key findings of the study.  The first two findings pertain only to schools that received the intervention/programme:

Finding 1: Time on task improved in the intervention schools over the 11-week period

Most teachers indicated that they welcomed the structure, routines, standardised methodologies and content of this project. There was some evidence of improved time on task and work rate, despite the constant tension around pacing required in the 11-week programme.

Many teachers felt that the pace required in the 11-week programme was too fast, and they were not used to preparing for or implementing 10 English lessons per week, even though the  CAPS demands a similar coverage and pacing as the intervention.

Teachers covered about two-thirds of lessons that they were required to do in the project.

Finding 2: Teacher competence was a challenge

Teachers’ own competence to teach English was identified as an ongoing challenge. Specifically:

  • teachers generally gave poor instructions, and did not give enough verbal or written feedback to learners with regards to their written work;
  • the management and use of classroom resources was another challenge. Teachers did not display the flashcards and other resources that were part of the programme in a meaningful way to reinforce learning that had taken place; and
  • the use of unplanned code switching was pervasive. Some teachers taught the entire English lesson in isiZulu, using English only for key words or phrases.

Finding 3: Pre-test learner performance was low as expected

Pre-test results were very low in both the intervention and control schools as expected. Both control and intervention schools show very similar trends of learner performance in English (FAL).

The pre-test was pitched at a Grade 3 level, with some items from Grade 1 and 2.

Learners that achieved 50% in the test are regarded as being competent. Most learners scored below 50% in the pre-test. Specifically, 68% of learners scored below 20% and 1% scored above 80 % in the pre-test for both the intervention and control groups.

Finding 4: Overall finding is that the post-test comparison showed that both intervention and control schools improved performance

The study showed slight improvements in post-test English performance for both intervention and control groups with intervention schools performing only slightly better than the control group.

The researchers explain that some of the change that was also seen in the control group can be attributed to the Hawthorne Effect. The Hawthorne Effect occurs when individuals improve an aspect of their behaviour or practices ‘in response to their awareness of being observed’. Just the knowledge that one is being observed improves teaching and learning. Irrespective of whether a school was assigned to the control or the intervention group, they were all subject to external scrutiny particularly around learner performance testing (i.e. pre- and post-testing) and would thus both improve. This means that the intervention resulted in even less effect than it appears if one accepts this explanation for the improvement in performance in most schools. However, it also raises issues about accountability and its role in improving performance in schools.

Finding 6: Intervention works better for learners with better pre-test scores

When the data was analysed in more detail it pointed to the possibility that the impact was larger for children who initially performed better on the baseline test. This suggests that the learners with some basic knowledge and skills benefitted more from the intervention. As such, learners who obtained 0 for the pre-test generally also obtained 0 for the post-test, whilst learners that obtained 50% and above for the pre-test showed improvements of between 5 and 20%. 


Even though the Project did not overall lead to improved learner performance in literacy, it did show  gains in specific literacy skills, specifically spelling and grammar, particularly for learners that had some basic literacy knowledge.

Despite the gains with respect to spelling and grammar performance, the learners did not improve in English literacy to the level to enable them to deal with the demands of the Grade 4 curriculum. Thus the average performance for English was 24% at pre-test level and 26% at post-test level, not enough to secure successful performance in Grade 4 English (FAL).

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