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Senior Phase English Backlogs Pilot Project




Senior Phase learners need more sophisticated analytical skills for complex texts and to formulate and express their opinion on what they read. They also need to apply skills for information interpretation and transfer. However, the Annual National Assessments show that just under half of Grade 9 learners achieved a literacy rate of 50% or more. In English First Additional Language (EFAL), only 18% achieved 50% or more. In lower quintile schools, Grade 9 learners are approximately three grades behind.

Given the limited evidence on interventions to address this problem, the Senior Phase English Backlogs Pilot Project is testing interventions with Grade 8 and 9 teachers and learners. There is a critical need to understand the nature of the backlogs for the system to build effective teaching and learning strategies for struggling learners.


The Senior Phase English Backlogs Pilot Project runs from 2021 to 2023. It involves a partnership between Zenex Foundation, Nelson Mandela University (NMU), READ Educational Trust, MIET-Africa, and a University Consortium including the University of the Western Cape, University of the Witwatersrand, and University of Cape Town.

This project includes two teacher-centred pilots seeking to improve pedagogical skills and strategies. NMU will study the efficacy of a pilot assisting teachers to identify learner problems in reading comprehension and essay writing, and develop strategies and resources for remediation. The University Consortium will test a pilot to improve teachers’ pedagogical knowledge and skills using an accredited SACE course.

The project also includes two learner-centred pilots seeking to improve vocabulary, reading comprehension, and writing skills through additional support to address backlogs. READ will implement an after-school literacy intervention, including the use of digital platforms and Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). MIET-Africa will test a classroom-based intervention with reading support for learners using Learner Support Agents (LSAs). LSAs are unemployed youths trained to conduct guided reading and support learners with resources through various modes, including e-readers and tablets.


The overarching objective is to test interventions in different socio-economic contexts to improve our understanding of backlogs in Senior Phase English. The goals of the teacher pilots are to:

  1. Improve teachers’ capacity in conceptual and pedagogical knowledge to support learners to write, read and interpret texts in EFAL.
  2. Improve teachers’ capacity to diagnose learner content backlogs and adopt classroom strategies to address the backlogs.
  3. Develop project resources and materials for effective EFAL teaching.

The goals of the learner pilots are to:

  1. Develop an effective model for a structured remediation programme.
  2. Develop learners’ knowledge and skills in English as critical readers with the ability to produce texts for different purposes.
  3. Build and develop learners’ exposure to English by providing opportunities to practise successful communication and self-expression.
  4. Explore technology that learners can use independently to address backlogs.


The success of the project will be measured as follows:

  • Learners improve on their baseline marks by 10% or reach a 60% pass rate.
  • Learners read a range of texts independently and write grade-level essays.
  • Teachers are capacitated with pedagogical content knowledge in EFAL.
  • Teachers are able to prepare learners for future learning across the curriculum.


The Senior Phase English Backlogs Pilot Project aligns with Zenex’s Strategy 2025 aimed at strengthening language learning as a lever for ongoing learner success, as well as model-building for scale and system uptake. Zenex and its partners are following well-established governance processes implemented in previous interventions that have proven to be very successful in this project. This builds on previous work by Zenex, ensuring past learning and interventions are brought forward and applied in practice.

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