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New project aims to raise learning outcomes in South Africa

18 July 2017

Johannesburg

A new project undertaken by the Centre for Educational Evaluation and Accountability at the UCL Institute of Education (IOE) aims to understand how accountability, trust and capacity interconnect to improve children's learning outcomes in South Africa.

The four year project, which starts in September, is the first of its kind in South Africa. Focusing on the country's public primary education system, the researchers will assess how these three themes impact on one another over time and how they affect the improvement of schools in different areas.

Dr Melanie Ehren, Principal Investigator (PI), hopes that the findings will help to remove some of the barriers that prevent these schools from improving. Speaking of the project, she said:

"The findings will help us better understand the conditions in which accountability leads to system improvement; particularly how capacity and trust are essential enablers for external accountability to have a positive impact."

Researchers in the field have highlighted South Africa's widening performance gap between rich and poor students and its high dropout levels - especially among black Africans. The project will build on the Centre's recent systematic review, which argues that a lack of trust inhibits the implementation of effective assessment and inspection systems.

The researchers will look at how the relations between accountability, capacity and trust produce (or fail to produce) a pattern of change in learning outcomes over time and create a divided, unequal system. For example, teacher unions can reject inspections of teachers and block the publication of assessment data, and limited capacity prevents key stakeholders from effectively using the data that is available.

The researchers argue that this 'vicious' cycle of distrust, lack of accountability and lack of capacity renders the system powerless to improve and creates a series of binding constraints that must be addressed.

Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the project falls under the second strand of the Centre's work: educational accountability. This strand explores the external evaluation of schools, school networks and education systems through school inspections, high stakes testing, and (school report card) monitoring.

Media contact

James Russell
Tel: 020 3108 8516
Email: james.russell@ucl.ac.uk

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Image: Johannesburg (courtesy of Phil Saad via Flickr).