National Examination for Grade 9

Some issues surrounding learner performance in the grade 9 ANA for Mathematics in South Africa: Is there a case for introducing a National Examination for Grade 9 Mathematics?


Dr VG Govender (ACM: Advisory Committee for Mathematics)


Introduction and background

The South African school curriculum comprises two distinct components, the General Education and Training (GET) part (grades R – 9) and a Further Education and Training (FET) part (grades 10 - 12 ). This structure assumes that the GET serves as preparation for the FET. However, this has not always been the case.

The introduction of outcomes-based education in South Africa in 1997 heralded a new era in education in South Africa. This was implemented by the new democratic government in South Africa to overcome the curricular divisions of the past (DBE, 2011). The outcomes- based approach ushered in a new way of teaching and learning. It also impacted on the assessment of learners, especially at the junior grades at school. When outcomes-based education was introduced to high school learners in 2001 (grade 8) and 2002 (grade 9), the assessment of learners also changed with the introduction of the Common Task for Assessment (CTA) for grade 9 learners. The CTA was regarded as an “external examination” and comprised 25% of the promotion mark (DoE, 2002). There were serious challenges in the implementation of the CTA. The CTA for Mathematics did not effectively assess what learners needed to know for the FET. After much deliberation, the CTA was discontinued in 2010.

In 2011, the Department of Basic Education introduced annual assessments (ANA) in Language and Mathematics for grades 1 – 6. In 2012 the annual assessments were extended to grade 9. When the results of the 2012 ANA for grade 9 Mathematics were released, there was a national outcry about the poor performance of learners. The national average of 13% indicated that there were serious issues with regard to the teaching and learning of Mathematics in grade 9 and earlier grades.

Some of the findings in a report by Govender (2013) pointed to possible reasons for the poor performance of learners in the Grade 9 ANA for Mathematics in 2012. These included the poor Mathematics qualifications of teachers, poor utilisation of existing resources by teachers, gaps in learner knowledge, and the scheduling of the ANA to be written in September when only about 75% of the work had been covered.

In response to the poor performance in 2012, the Department of Basic Education (DBE) put a number of measures in place to ensure that the 2013 proceeded as planned with a view to improving learner performance. These measures were also reported in the AMESA review of the 2013 ANA paper for Mathematics (AMESA, 2013).

However, the release of the 2013 ANA results showed that there was still a lot to be done. Although there was an increase in the National average, from 13% to 14 % in the 2013 grade 9 ANA for Mathematics, this very miniscule increase showed that more is needed to be done if this average mark is to be increased more significantly.

In the light of the issues regarding the implementation of ANA and the performance of learners (in both 2012 and 2013), the following research question was formulated for this report:


Research question

What are the issues surrounding learner performance in grade 9 Mathematics?
To answer this research question the following sub-questions were posed:

  • Do the ANA results reflect the true situation with regard to teaching and learning of grade 9 Mathematics?
  • Would a national examination for grade 9 Mathematics be a way of addressing poor learner performance?
  • What support do grade 9 Mathematics teachers need to improve their learners‟ results?



The sample for this report consisted of subject advisors and teachers from five South African provinces. They participated voluntarily in this report and, although the sample was small, provided some rich data in which the writer could work with.


Research methodology and design

Both quantitative and qualitative data was collected. The quantitative data included the percentage pass rate for ANA grade 9 and the final examination pass rate while the quantitative data involved responding to various questions on the survey.


Data collection

Data for this report was collected from a survey using questionnaires. In the survey, the following issues were discussed:

  • Reaction to the grade 9 ANA results
  • ANA results for some schools and possible reasons for such performance
  • Grade 9 final results for the same schools
  • The introduction of a grade 9 National Examination for Mathematics
  • Measures by provinces and districts to prioritise grade 9 Mathematics
  • Support for grade 9 Mathematics teachers
  • Any other comment, not covered by the survey.

The data collected were analysed in the context of the research questions.



The National Average of 13% in the 2012 grade 9 Mathematics for ANA

There was a mixed and varied response to the national average of 13% in the 2012 ANA for Mathematics. Only three participants responded with a “yes” or “no” as to whether this national average was a true reflection. The combined responses, with an emphasis on key trends and features, of all participants are included here:

  • A number of teachers who teach Mathematics in grade 9 are under-qualified or unqualified. Many grade 9 teachers last experienced grade 9 Mathematics when they, themselves, were in grade 9. These experiences were not usually the best as they were faced with poor teaching and are now passing on this poor teaching to their own learners. In this way they perpetuate a cycle of mediocrity.
  • It has been observed by subject advisors that under normal circumstances, there are challenges of curriculum coverage in respect of grade 9 Mathematics. This is further exacerbated with the timing of the ANA, where learners have to write in September when only approximately 75% of the work has been covered. This has resulted in some schools having to “rush” through the work without any revision or consolidation. At the same other schools, which are far behind in terms of “curriculum coverage” do not take the ANA seriously as they knew it was a “systemic” assessment and did not count for promotion. The participants agreed that the ANAs would be a more accurate reflection of learner performance if they were written in November.
  • There are various interventions for teachers and learners at the grade 12 level. There is very little or no intervention at the grade 9 level. Intervention at the grade 9 level is definitely needed as those teaching grade 9 tend to be “unqualified” or “under-qualified” and require much-needed support.
  • Another important factor to consider is the promotion of learners in the General Education and Training Band (GET). Learners are promoted in the GET without a proper moderation of school based assessment (SBA) and in many instances without having passed Mathematics.
  • The attitude of the learners was another important factor. For most of them this was just “another test” and they did not prepare adequately. This probably stemmed from the schools‟ views that the ANA was there to test the system and not individual learners.
  • It would appear that learners were not used to such a rigorous form of testing. Teachers reported that the ANA was set at a higher level than what learners were used to.
  • Teachers were under pressure to complete the marking of ANA papers in a short space of time therefore they could have opted to follow a right or wrong approach in allocating marks and ignore the allocation of marks to „steps‟ to get to a solution.


2012 Mathematics ANA Results of some schools

Participants were required to provide the ANA results for selected schools in their regions

ProvincePercentage of learners
passing ANA
Location of school
Table 1: Mathematics ANA results of some schools
A1 0% Rural
A2 3% Rural
A3 10% Rural
A4 8% Rural
B1 45% Urban
B2 48% Urban
C1 0,33% Urban
C2 0% Urban
D1 18% Urban
D2 12% Urban
E1 60% Urban
E2 10% Urban

These results appeared to be in line with those provided in the report by Govender (2013), with only three schools getting a pass percentage of more than 40%. Although, the questionnaire did not request specific details about the school background, the writer of this report did check with the participants about these particular schools. It would appear that these three schools were located in “affluent” areas.


Province A

The schools in province A had similar performances in the ANA. Learners at these schools were not used to writing formal long papers. They got tired while writing and also asked for assistance. Some indicated they did not know what to write. Learners were not used to balanced- test papers, covering levels 1 – 4. At school, they were given tests which are not balanced and only cover level 1 type questions. The SMT members at these schools were not able to provide proper guidance to their Mathematics teachers as they were usually “History” or “Language” specialists. Furthermore, moderation of SBA was non-existent.

Teachers who teach across the grades in high schools tend to focus or concentrate only on the senior FET grades while grade 8 and 9 learners are not given the necessary support. Schools do not have the necessary teaching resources to make a positive contribution to Mathematics teaching. Learners tended to have problems with the language of learning and teaching (LOLT), English, which differed from their own language.


Province B

The two schools from province B were also very similar in performance. In both schools the work was not completed in time for the ANA. One of the schools did not do the Statistics section of the work and their learners performed poorly in this section. The other school did not cover triangles. However, both schools tried their best to motivate their learners and have extra classes.


Province C

Both schools from province C have approximately 300 learners from very poor income households. Despite the schools being well-managed and being serious about improving learner performance in grade 9, it would appear that measures by the schools to improve performance were not successful and that more needed to be done at these schools.


Province D

Due to incomplete coverage of the curriculum, the learners at the two schools from province D were not ready for the ANA. It would appear that both teachers and learners did not take the ANA exam seriously as it was not a measuring tool for the learners‟ progression to the next grade.


Province E

In province E there were clear differences in the ANA performance of both schools. In the first school, where learner performance was quite impressive, the teachers were described as hardworking and truly concerned about making a difference in their learners‟ ANA results, while also seeing the bigger picture. They realised that if learners do not perform well at grade 9 level, then they will lack certain fundamental basics which are needed for the FET. For them it was crucial to lay a solid foundation.

Curriculum coverage is effectively monitored by school management and enough time is allocated for revision. Furthermore, there are ample opportunities for learners to demonstrate an understanding or lack thereof in tests, examinations, projects etc. These teachers do not only fulfil the minimum requirements for the curriculum but far surpasses them. Learner performance is tracked using a question- by- question analysis and parents are invited to teacher-parent consultations to discuss the progress of their children. Teaching takes place as planned, and sufficient time is spent on individual topics. Problematic areas are given special attention and extra time, if needed. Grade 8 learners are taught all the topics and are thus better prepared for grade 9. Learners are given regular homework which are checked and discussed the next day. All of this happens in the framework of good leadership and good discipline which is vital to the ethos of any school.

In the second school there are a myriad of factors that lead to low learner attainment. In this school there are poor teaching methods and irregular teaching sessions. There is a high rate of learner absenteeism. In this regard, there is a lack of discipline from both teachers and learners. Important topics from the curriculum are not covered in both grade 8 and grade 9. This tends to lead to a skewed learner performance. Teachers are demotivated by lack of interest from learners and learners reciprocate by having a lack of interest due to poor teaching

Final Mathematics exam and ANA results of some schools

The next table shows the final Mathematics results of the schools mentioned in table 1. The ANA results are also shown for comparison purposes.

ProvincePercentage of learners
passing ANA
Percentage pass in final
Mathematics exam
Location of school
Table 2: Final Mathematics exam and ANA results of some schools
A1 0% 13% Rural
A2 3% 17% Rural
A3 10% Not given Rural
A4 8% Not given Rural
B1 45% 40% Urban
B2 48% 40% Urban
C1 0,33% 38% Urban
C2 0% 36% Urban
D1 18% 56% Urban
D2 12% 53% Urban
E1 60% Not given Urban
E2 10% Not given Urban

Although there appeared to be an increase in the pass rate for Mathematics in the final examinations (with the exception of province B) when compared to the ANA, there was still a concern that not enough learners left the GET with good Mathematics passes.

Some of the reasons for these poor final results were:

  • The Grade 9 Mathematics workbooks, which were supplied by the Department of Basic Education to all schools, are not used at all or only partly used.
  • With one or two exceptions, SMTs do not monitor or check teachers work.
  • Teachers do not complete the work-schedules (pace-setters) for Mathematics.
  • Geometry is poorly taught or not taught at all.
  • Teachers do not introduce mathematical concepts to learners in a meaningful way.
  • With the exception of province E, the final examination papers for grade 9 Mathematics are set by teachers at individual schools. These papers comprise too many level 1 and 2 questions.
  • The final pass mark also includes school based assessment (75%) and this inflates the final mark (provinces A, C and D).

The person who provided the data for province E reported that the final results for the two schools in province E were very similar to the ANA results. He attributed this to learners in this province writing a common provincial grade 9 final exam Mathematics paper, which is very closely aligned to the ANA paper. The ANA provides the learners with much needed practice before they write the final exam paper.

Should there be a National grade 9 Mathematics examination?

The table below shows whether the provinces in the sample write a common provincial grade 9 Mathematics examination.

ProvinceCommon grade 9 exam
Table 3: Provinces and common grade 9 exam for Mathematics
A No
B No
C No
D No
E Yes

Of the 5 provinces in this report, only learners in province E write a common paper. As indicated earlier, the common provincial paper is closely aligned with the ANA. However, the majority of participants expressed support for a National Grade 9 examination for Mathematics. Some of the views expressed by the participants are outlined below:

  • Teachers cannot answer the ANA mathematical question papers without consultation. There is a need for intervention programmes such as on-going content workshops and short learning programmes for teachers. A national examination could measure the success of these interventions.
  • Teachers are unable set a well standardised balanced grade 9 Mathematics question paper; they set what they can teach, mark and understand and not according to the normal standards for grade 9. A national paper can raise the standard of Mathematics and ensure that learners receive quality Mathematics education up to grade 9.
  • In preparation for such an examination, content gaps could be addressed, thus, laying a proper foundation for the FET.
  • The writing of a national examination at the end of the year would ensure that all topics of the curriculum are covered. This may also strengthen the teaching and learning of Mathematics in grades 7 -9 as learners and teachers know that the phase will culminate in the writing of an external examination.
  • The national examination could be treated the same way as that of the grade 12 examination. The memorandum should allow for alternative responses and allow for CA (consistent accuracy) marking.
  • It could be marked at schools or at central venues in districts. This would depend on the funding available for such an undertaking.
  • The ANA could continue to be written in September and serve as a trial or preparation for the final examination.
  • There should be a common work schedule with proper monitoring and support
  • Learners would get used to writing a two hour or three hour paper, thus preparing themselves for the FET.

There was only one dissenting view on this issue. He stated that a National Exam for Mathematics would be very costly and the money could be well spent by providing support for the professional development of teachers.


Measures by provinces and districts to prioritise grade 9 Mathematics

As stated earlier, the DBE started its ANA support to provinces much earlier in 2013 when compared to 2012. In this regard, districts received ANA exemplar papers which were then given to schools. A number of teachers conducted revision sessions with their learners, using these papers. It was also an opportunity for teachers to consolidate the learning of key grade 9 Mathematics content areas. This would also ensure that learners move to the FET with the requisite mathematical knowledge and skills.

There were other measures which participants suggested which could help prioritise grade 9 Mathematics.

These include the following:

  • Grade 9 Mathematics should be placed on the national agenda.
  • School based assessment (SBA) should be moderated in grade 9 and conducted in the same manner as that for grade 12.
  • Grade 9 Mathematics teachers should be given content and pedagogical training.
  • Grade 9 Mathematics should be assisted with workshops on how to pace their work using the work-schedules or pace-setters.
  • There should be workshops for SMTs on implementing and monitoring curriculum coverage of grade 9 Mathematics
  • Properly qualified teachers should be employed to teach Mathematics in grade 9.
  • There should be national recognition and respect for Grade 9 certification.


Support for grade 9 Mathematics teachers

Participants were asked to state the kinds of support that should be given to teachers should a National examination for grade 9 Mathematics be introduced. In this regard some of the suggestions given were in line with the measures needed to prioritise grade 9 Mathematics as stated in the previous section. In addition to these measures, the following were suggested:

  • Teachers should be given exemplar papers to assist with revision and quarterly common papers be written.
  • There should be clear and detailed examination guidelines of the content for Grade 7 - 9
  • The year programme for Grade 7 – 9 Mathematics should be realistic.
  • There should be regular, on-going workshops for teachers. Teaching material must be provided to teachers in time to help them in teaching.
  • As much as content gap workshops and assistance in methodology are important, there is a need to monitor teaching and learning at school level.



This report is based on the input of a small sample of mathematics teachers and subject advisors. Even though this sample was small, the participants provided some very rich data which the writer could work with. Clearly, initiatives to improve teaching and learning of Grade 9 Mathematics have not had a positive influence on learner performance. Although the writer believes that more research needs to be done on this matter, some key findings of this report are now highlighted. These are:

  • There should be a concerted effort at all levels to promote good teaching practices for Mathematics at all levels, especially in the years up to grade 9.
  • More content workshops and training should be arranged for teachers of Mathematics. This should be organised by the Education Department, NGOs, Universities and other stakeholders. Content workshops should be more focussed with emphasis on the areas where learners perform poorly.
  • Departmental officials should monitor teaching and learning at schools. These school visits should be developmental in nature with the express purpose of improving teaching and learning. Curriculum coverage should be checked during these visits and advice or suggestions given to teachers.
  • SBA moderation for Grade 9 should occur in a similar manner as the Grade 12 moderation. Poor learner performance could be detected and addressed much earlier by teachers and district officials.
  • Teachers should be trained on how to set balanced test and exam papers in Mathematics. They should expose their learners to different types of questions during their teaching. Also ANA- type examples should be incorporated into normal classroom teaching when the relevant topics are being taught. These examples could be obtained from past year papers or from the exemplar papers supplied by the Education department.

The participants in this report were very much in support for a National Examination for Grade 9 Mathematics as a way of improving teaching and learning not only in grade 9 but across the Senior Phase. Teachers in the Senior Phase would know that the work covered in this phase is very important and would culminate in an examination at the end of the phase.

In this regard, the grade 9 school-year is an important year in a learner‟s schooling career. It marks the end of the General Education and Training (GET) Band, the end of the Senior Phase and the end of compulsory education.


Conclusion and recommendations

Despite attempts to improve the teaching and learning of Mathematics at grade 9 level, the performance of learners in the Annual National Assessment (ANA) has not been promising.

A comparison of the final grade 9 Mathematics marks to the ANA marks shows very marked differences in learner achievement. It is possible that the final marks are inflated with high school-based assessment (SBA) marks. This may give learners a false sense of achievement in Grade 9 Mathematics. The impact of poor ANA performance and inflated grade 9 final marks (as a result of school-based assessment) has serious implications for Mathematics in the FET.

Over the past few years, there has been a steady stream of learners moving from Mathematics to Mathematical Literacy, in the FET. This means that the pool of learners leaving grade 12 with Mathematics is diminishing and this impacts on the number of learners available to study important fields such as Science and Engineering at South African universities.

The problems associated with Mathematics in the FET can be traced to earlier grades. One way in which this this issue could be addressed, as this report suggests, is the writing of a common National Mathematics Examination for grade 9.

On this matter, the Advisory Committee for Mathematics (ACM) recommends that the Department of Basic Education introduce a National Examination for Grade 9 Mathematics as a means of addressing the poor quality of mathematics teaching and learning. This should be done in a consultative and planned manner with a key focus on teacher development and learner improvement.



AMESA (2013). AMESA submission to DBE: standard of ANA grade 9 paper. Available from

Cohen, L., Manion, L. and Morrison, K. (2000).Research methods in education. 5th ed. London: RoutledgeFalmer

Department of Basic Education (DBE) (2011). National curriculum statement (NCS): Curriculum and assessment policy statement. Senior Phase (grades – 9). Pretoria. Government printing works.

Department of Education (DoE) (2002). A draft framework for the development of common tasks for assessment (CTA). Pretoria: National Department of Education.

Govender, VG (2013). A survey of selected schools on the 2012 grade 9 Mathematics ANA results: Implications for teaching and learning: available from