This paper focuses on Grade 7 learners in two township schools where the relationships between performance on language and reading tests in the home language and English were investigated in relation to examination performance in mathematics. In both schools reading ability rather than language proficiency in English emerged as a strong predictor of mathematics achievement. The schools serve as a case study for exploring some of the socio‐economic, teacher and classroom factors underlying differential school performance in mathematics. Because the new curriculum presupposes a highly literate environment, it is suggested that mathematics learning will be negatively affected if learners lack adequate reading skills. The findings suggest that quality schooling is a strong determinant of both reading and mathematical achievement. The new mathematics curriculum has the potential to make a difference only if schools improve learners’ literacy development
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