Western Cape Features in World Education Study | Western Cape Government


Western Cape Features in World Education Study

28 November 2010

McKinsey & Company, the international management consulting firm, has included the Western Cape in a study of improving education systems in twenty (20) countries.

"We are pleased to note that McKinsey & Company sees the Western Cape Education Department as an example of good practice," said Donald Grant, Western Cape Education Minister.

"We have a long way to go, but the study suggests that we are on the right road. We'll study the report carefully to see how we can fine-tune our strategy, so that we can move from good to excellent in the not-too-distant future."

McKinsey released its findings today (Monday, 29 November 2010). The report is entitled "How the World's Best Performing School Systems Keep Getting Better".

The study sought to answer questions such as: "how does a school system with poor performance become good?", and "how does one with good performance become excellent?"

McKinsey included the Western Cape in the latest study because of the improvement in the province's literacy results in Grade 3 and 6 over the past eight years.

The Western Cape Education Department (WCED) is implementing a comprehensive strategy to improve literacy and numeracy performance, which includes annual diagnostic testing of learners in Grades three (3), six (6) and nine (9).

McKinsey organised an international, online "webinar" today (29 November 2010) to discuss the results. Participants included education specialists in Canada, Hong Kong and the Western Cape, moderated by McKinsey partners.

Brian Schreuder, Deputy Director-General, Curriculum Management at the WCED, represented the Western Cape.

McKinsey researchers interviewed two hundred (200) system stakeholders and analysed 600 interventions in 20 countries.

McKinsey says that the report identifies reform elements that are replicable for school systems elsewhere as they move from poor to fair, good to great and to excellent performance.

The report identified eight key findings, namely:

1. A system can make significant gains from wherever it starts.

  • The report notes that "even systems starting from low levels of performance, such as Madhys Pradesh in India, Minas Gerais in Brazil, and the Western Cape in South Africa, have significantly improved their literacy and numeracy levels within just two or four years, while making strides in narrowing the achievement gap between students from different socio-economic backgrounds".

2. There is too little focus on "process" in the debate today.

  • The report identified three important intervention types, namely, education structures, resources and process. Most successful interventions highlight "process", or how instruction is delivered, rather than content.

3. Each particular stage of the school system improvement journey is associated with a unique set of interventions.

  • The report found a striking similarity between interventions in different countries that managed to achieve improvement, for example, from poor to fair and upwards, irrespective of culture, geography, politics or history.

4. A systems context might not determine what needs to be done, but it does determine how it is done.

  • While interventions were similar, the report found considerable variation in how interventions were implemented.

5. Six interventions occur frequently at every performance stage for all systems.

  • Common interventions included: teacher and principal training; student assessment; improving data systems; policy and legislative improvement; revising standards and curriculum; and ensuring appropriate rewards and remuneration.

6. Systems further along the journey sustain improvement by balancing school autonomy with consistent teaching practice.

7. Leaders take advantage of changed circumstances to ignite reforms.

  • Three circumstances typically triggered reform. These included a socio-economic crisis; a high-profile, a critical report; and notably, a change of leadership.

8. Leadership continuity is essential.

  • The study found that leadership is essential for both sparking and sustaining reform. Some regions had managed to maintain continuity despite changes in political leadership. These included Armenia, the Western Cape and Lithuania.
  • Key elements of the WCED's literacy and numeracy strategy include diagnostic testing and analysis, target setting, teacher training and support, coordination, critical engagement and ensuring sustainability.

The full report and an executive summary are available on the McKinsey web site at:

For comment by McKinsey & Company, contact:
Paul Cook
Cell: 082 329 8102

For comment from the Western Cape Education Department, contact:
Brian Schreuder
Cell: 082 373 5989

Media Enquiries: 

Paddy Attwell
Director of Communication
Western Cape Education Department
Tel: 021 467 2531
Email: pattwell@pgwc.gov.za