Do you have what it takes to be a Foundation Phase teacher?

Find out all the facts behind teaching grade one, two and three learners, and decide whether you are the the right fit for this challenging career!

Foundation Phase teaching is the teaching of learners in grades 1, 2 and 3 in the South African school system. Generally, one teacher is responsible for teaching all subjects, and it is a foundational period as this is when reading, writing and numeracy are taught. 

Typical Foundation Phase teacher activities 

The Foundation Phase teachers are responsible for the following activities:

  • The preparation of lessons as per the CAPS curriculum requirements
  • Researching new teaching aids and support material such as textbooks
  • The development of each students’ interests and abilities through activities
  • Tracking the progress of each learner. Reporting this back to the parent or guardian as well as senior members of the school
  • Responsible for guiding and supervising work in class while retaining discipline (a sometimes difficult task with younger learners!
  • Maintain all records as required by the Department of Basic Education
  • Participate in staff meetings, parent-teacher conferences and other events as required
  • Fulfil assessment requirements such as conducting and marking tests

The Foundation Phase teacher’s role is varied and exciting but can also become overwhelming in larger classes. The suitable systems and processes need to be put in place early in a teacher’s career.

A Foundation Phase teacher in a classroom
A Foundation Phase class

What is the Foundation Phase?

The Department of Basic Education is responsible for K12 education in South Africa, and the local curriculum is called CAPS. This curriculum is divided into four phases – Foundation Phase, Intermediate Phase, Senior Phase and FET. Foundation Phase is the first three years of schooling, and the medium of instruction is the learners home language. The language of teaching and learning then switches to English in the Intermediate Phase and for the remainder of the schooling system.

At Foundation Phase, the learner’s subjects are Languages (Home and First Additional), Mathematics and Life Skills. These three subject areas prepare the learners for the rest of their school career, and it is essential to get teaching right at this level!

CAPS document for Foundation Phase

The CAPS curriculum was introduced in 2013, with a ‘Strengthening of CAPS‘ released in 2017 and a ‘CAPS Amendment‘ in 2019. A more significant revision of the curriculum is expected in the coming years. The CAPS curriculum has a transformative aim for society, guided by the following principles:

  • ensuring that the educational imbalances of the past are redressed and that equal educational opportunities are provided for all sections of the population;
  • encouraging an active and critical approach to learning, rather than rote and uncritical learning of given truths;
  • the minimum standards of knowledge and skills to be achieved at each grade are specified and set high, achievable standards in all subjects;
  • content and context of each grade shows the progression from simple to complex; 
  • Infusing the principles and practices of social and environmental justice and human rights as defined in the Republic of South Africa Constitution. The National Curriculum Statement Grades r – 12 is sensitive to issues of diversity such as poverty, inequality, race, gender, language, age, disability and other factors; 
  • acknowledging the rich history and heritage of this country as significant contributors to nurturing the values contained in the Constitution; and
  • Providing an education that is comparable in quality, breadth and depth to those of other countries. 

While these principles are commendable, they do rely on implementation at a regional and school level. Here the teacher’s role is vital, and they are responsible for using these principles to guide their day to day teaching.

What subjects do Foundation Phase teachers teach?

The Foundation Phase four main subjects, with a fifth to be added in coming years. These are:

  • Home Language
  • First Additional Language
  • Life Skills
  • Mathematics
  • Coding and Robotics (new subject which will be introduced in 2023)

Each subject has its own CAPS document, which covers all the content requirements per term, the assessment guidelines and any other information the teacher needs. The Foundation Phase teacher must know these documents thoroughly and have them on hand to refer to as needed.

The Foundation Phase section of the CAPs provides teachers with: 

Language (Home and First Additional)

In the Foundation Phase, the primary skills in the Home First Additional Language curriculum are: 

  • Listening and speaking 
  • Reading and phonics 
  • Writing and handwriting 
  • Thinking and Reasoning and Language Structure and Use, which are integrated into all four languages skills (listening, speaking, reading and writing)  

Life Skills

The Life Skills subject is central to the holistic development of learners. It is concerned with learners’ social, personal, intellectual, emotional and physical growth and how these are integrated. 

There are four study areas: 

  • Beginning Knowledge
  • Personal and Social Well-being
  • Creative Arts 
  • and Physical Education. 


The Foundation Phase Mathematics CAPS document teachers with:

  •  a definition of mathematics, 
  • specific aims, 
  • specific skills, 
  • the focus of content areas, 
  • the weighting of content areas, 
  • recommended resources for the Foundation Phase Mathematics lessons, 
  • Suggested guidelines on supporting learners with barriers to learning Mathematics, mental mathematics and enhancing the teaching of early numeracy skills. 

Coding and Robotics 

Coding and Robotics is a new subject that the Department of Basic Education is currently piloting. It will be implemented in 2023 in Foundation Phase classes. This subject is central to how learners will function in a digital and information-driven world. 

The Coding and Robotics Foundation Phase subject consist of the following Knowledge Strands: 

  • Pattern Recognition and Problem Solving 
  • Algorithms and Coding 
  • Robotic Skills 
  • Internet and E-Communication skills 
  • Application Skills

Time allocation

Weekly time allocation for Foundation Phase Teaching
Time allocation at Foundation Phase

Instructional time for Grades 1 and 2 is 23 hours and for Grade 3 is 25 hours per week. 

Ten hours are allocated for languages (split across Home and First Additional) in Grades 1-2 and 11 hours in Grade 3. Seven hours are allocated for Mathematics and 6 hours for Life Skills in Grades 1-2, and 7 hours in Grade 3. Once Coding and Robotics is introduced as a subject, an additional hour will be adding to the teaching week.

What qualifications do I need to be a Foundation Phase teacher?

There are several ways you can qualify to become a Foundation Phase teacher. These include completing:

  • A postgraduate certificate in Foundation Phase Education. This is for students with an existing degree in, for example, Drama, who has now decided to become a teacher.
  • A three year Bachelor of Education (BEd) degree in Early Childhood Development in Foundation Phase. This degree is a focused, Foundation Phase course.

Upon graduation, prospective teachers must register with the South African Council for Educators (SACE), the regulatory body for teachers in South Africa, before a school can employ them.

Foundation Phase teaching colleges

There are several excellent teacher training colleges in South Africa.

What salary can a Foundation Phase teacher expect in 2021?

Salary ranges for Foundation Phase teachers vary, based on qualifications and experience as well as the location and type of school. Starting salaries are around R144,000 per year with an experience teacher earning up to R400,000.