Kate Wilkinson Frequently asked questions about SA’s matric results answered

Can you pass matric with a 30% average? How many pupils drop out? Kate Wilkinson answers some of the most frequently asked questions.

Click on the image to read the infographic in full size.
Click on the image to read the infographic in full size.

1. Can you pass matric with a 30% average?

While it is theoretically possible for a pupil to obtain a 30% average and pass, it is extremely unlikely – if not impossible – in reality.

Experts say this belief comes from a misunderstanding of the matric pass requirements. Pupils are not passed or failed on the average of their marks. In order to pass a pupil needs to obtain at least 40% in three subjects (one of which must be a home language), and 30% in three other subjects.

READ: Can you really pass matric with a 30% average? The claim is misleading

2. What does the matric pass rate tell us about the quality of education in SA?

While the matric pass rate grabs the most headlines, it is not suitable – when used in isolation – to assess the state of South Africa’s education system as a whole.

The department of basic education concedes this: “Contrary to popular belief, the matric pass rate on its own is not a good measure of academic achievement in the schooling system, nor was the pass rate ever designed for this.”

The matric exam does not allow for year-on-year comparisons of the education system, but rather determines the opportunities a pupil can pursue after school.

READ: Why the matric pass rate is not a reliable benchmark of education quality

3. What other assessments provide insight into the education system?

 No single assessment – such as the matric results – can provide comprehensive insight into South Africa’s education system.

There are a number of datasets available to assess the state of South Africa’s education system. These include, among others, the Southern and Eastern Africa Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality (SACMEQ). A 2012 study, which used SACMEQ data, found that while 71% of children in Grade six were functionally literate, only 58.6% could be considered functionally numerate.

In a 2015 study, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, South Africa’s Grade 9 pupils were placed 38th for mathematics and 39th for science out of 39 countries. 

READ: Assessing South Africa’s schooling system

4. How many pupils drop out before writing matric?

A large percentage of South African pupils drop out before writing the final matric exam. For example, when the 2016 matrics started Grade 2 in 2006, there were 1,054,582 of them. (Grade 2 is used as a base year for comparison as the Grade 1 year is unusually large because of the high proportion of pupils that are held back.)

However, only 610,178 full-time pupils wrote their final matric exams in 2016. Pupils drop out for a number of reasons including lack of money, pregnancy and wanting to look for a job.

READ: Assessing South Africa’s matric exam results

5. What do people mean when they speak of the ‘real’ matric pass rate?

When people refer to the “real” matric pass rate, they mean the throughput pass rate or the percentage of pupils who started school in Grade 1 that passed matric 12 years later.

The matric pass rate in 2016 was 72.5% but only 37% of public school pupils who were in Grade 1 in 2005 passed their matric examinations. (However, as noted above, the Grade 1 year is unusually large. Using Grade 2 as a based year for comparison 42% passed). 

The methodology used to calculate the “real” matric pass rate has been criticised by education economist  Martin Gustafsson. South Africa has high repetition rates, with 15% of Grade 1 pupils repeating the year in 2015.

This results in grades swelling due to the repeating pupils. Using these earlier enrollment numbers to calculate the percentage of students that ultimately pass, produces a lower “real” matric pass rate.

READ: The flaw in SA’s ‘real’ matric pass rate figure (as calculated by the EFF & DA)

6. What percentage of South African schools are ‘dysfunctional’?

Results from international, standardised tests show that between 75% and 80% of South African schools can’t impart the necessary skills to pupils.

Pupils in these schools are more likely to be functionally illiterate (unable to read a short and simple text and extract its meaning), functionally innumerate (unable to interpret common everyday units of measurement) and that they perform significantly worse in both science and maths.

READ: Are 80% of South African schools ‘dysfunctional’?


Have you seen a claim about the matric results that needs checking? Leave a comment below or tweet us: @AfricaCheck.


Additional Reading

How well does matric measure the health of our education system by Stephanie Allais

The when and how of leaving school by Martin Gustafsson

A note on matric result trends by Stephen Taylor

South Africa’s Education Crisis: The quality of education in South Africa 1994-2011 by Nic Spaull

© Copyright Africa Check 2018. You may reproduce this piece or content from it for the purpose of reporting and/or discussing news and current events. This is subject to: Crediting Africa Check in the byline, keeping all hyperlinks to the sources used and adding this sentence at the end of your publication: “This report was written by Africa Check, a non-partisan fact-checking organisation. View the original piece on their website", with a link back to this page.

Comment on this report

Comments 2
  1. By Alfred Mokoena

    I just need to verify something about the drop out rate. In determing the drop out rate you seem to imply that a child will take exactly 12 years to leave the system and that is not accurate. For example if a child repeats a grade once, according to your model that child is classified as a drop out and that is incorrect. What happens to kids who die for example? Your model classifies them as drop outs again. My really question is: does your model take into account the number of kids who are repeating a grade or who have died?

    Reply Report comment
  2. By Linda C

    I have heard that so-called “top schools” are forcing risky students to register as private candidates so that the school can still achieve 100% pass rate. Is this ethical and is it allowed? Surely it is a vote of no-confidence in the student and the teachers?

    Reply Report comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Africa Check encourages frank, open, inclusive discussion of the topics raised on the website. To ensure the discussion meets these aims we have established some simple House Rules for contributions. Any contributions that violate the rules may be removed by the moderator.

Contributions must:

  • Relate to the topic of the report or post
  • Be written mainly in English

Contributions may not:

  • Contain defamatory, obscene, abusive, threatening or harassing language or material;
  • Encourage or constitute conduct which is unlawful;
  • Contain material in respect of which another party holds the rights, where such rights have not be cleared by you;
  • Contain personal information about you or others that might put anyone at risk;
  • Contain unsuitable URLs;
  • Constitute junk mail or unauthorised advertising;
  • Be submitted repeatedly as comments on the same report or post;

By making any contribution you agree that, in addition to these House Rules, you shall be bound by Africa Check's Terms and Conditions of use which can be accessed on the website.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.