Original Research

No-fee school consistently outperforms Progress in International Reading and Literacy benchmarks: Presenting early grade reading data from a case in Makhanda, Eastern Cape

Kelly A. Long, Tracy N. Bowles
South African Journal of Childhood Education | Vol 14, No 1 | a1376 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajce.v14i1.1376 | © 2024 Kelly A. Long, Tracy N. Bowles | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 19 May 2023 | Published: 17 April 2024

About the author(s)

Kelly A. Long, GADRA Education, Faculty of Research and Communications, Makhanda, South Africa
Tracy N. Bowles, Department of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies, Faculty of Humanities, Rhodes University, Makhanda, South Africa


Background: The Progress in International Reading and Literacy 2021 results draw stark attention to an ongoing crisis in primary education in South Africa. Research attempting to understand and address continued underperformance has focused on literacy learning and teaching in schools where the language of learning and teaching (LOLT) is the same as the learners’ home language. What has yet to be addressed is that a significant dilemma still exists for the many English Second Language (ESL) learners who attend schools where the LOLT is English.

Aim: To establish to what extent involvement in the Whistle Stop School (WSS) early grade reading programme impacts on reading rate and comprehension performance for ESL learners learning to read in English.

Setting: This research examines the WSS programme in partnership with a local quintile three school.

Methods: Longitudinal, quantitative secondary data was used from oral reading fluency and comprehension assessments conducted annually over the first six years of the programme.

Results: Results showed that involvement in the WSS programme had a significant impact on learner performance, with those learners involved in the programme notably outperforming those not in the programme and existing national benchmarks.

Conclusion: Small-scale though the WSS is, the results demonstrate that with the right approach, the national goal to see every 10-year-old learner reading for meaning may be achievable.

Contribution: This research aims to contribute to national conversations around early grade reading in South Africa by addressing the paucity of early grade reading learning research, specifically for ESL learners where LOLT is English.


early grade reading; comprehension; oral reading fluency; literacy intervention; English second language; primary education; foundation phase; learning to read.

Sustainable Development Goal

Goal 4: Quality education


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