Back to Africa Check

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

This article is more than 6 years old

After the release of South Africa’s official matric pass rate of 75.1%, two different and much lower “real” matric pass rates were shared by political parties.

“The actual pass rate for 2017 is 41%,” read a statement from the Economic Freedom Fighters (EEF).

Their calculation seems to represent the “actual number of students who started in Grade 1” and passed matric 12 years later. (Note: Africa Check contacted the EFF for clarity but has not received a response. We will update this report if we do.)

The Democratic Alliance pegged the number lower than the EFF’s, at just 37.3%. This figure represents “the number of Grade 10s from 2015 who passed matric [in] 2017”, according to the party’s deputy shadow minister of basic education, Nomsa Marchesi.

‘Real’ matric pass rates too low

We tried to replicate the EFF’s calculation but came up with a different figure. Of the 1,155,629 pupils who started Grade 1 in 2006, only 34.7% obtained a matric pass in 2017.

We came within spitting distance of the DA’s figure, however. Just 37.4% of 1,074,746 pupils in Grade 10 obtained a matric pass.

This methodology of calculating the “real” matric pass rate has been used widely in recent years. But a Stellenbosch education economist, who has worked with the department of basic education, criticised how it is calculated in a number of posts on Facebook (1, 2, 3 and 4).

High repetition rates in schools

Speaking to Africa Check, Martin Gustafsson said that the methodology is flawed due to the high repetition rates in South African schools.

The latest numbers from the department of basic education show that 12% of all pupils were repeating a grade in 2015. The department has suggested that this is due to the “inability of many schools to get teaching and learning right and the burden of home background disadvantage”.  

The share of repeaters was higher in Grade 1 (15%) and Grade 10 (23%). The effect of repetition is also visible in Grade 12, where 214,829 pupils over the age of 20 wrote the 2017 matric exam (including 766 who were 27).

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

“You are double counting learners because those learners are there year after year,” says  Gustafsson.

“What you should be counting is non-repeating Grade 10s. But the problem is that the repeaters figures are not widely publicised.”

Over 50% of 24-year-olds passed matric

The “real” matric pass rate also doesn’t provide insight into the share of young people ultimately achieving a matric pass.

“A very important question is [whether] you want to include people who fail matric on the first attempt, but then the next year write supplementary exams and one or two years later get their matric,” he explained. “Because not everyone will get it at 18.”

Gustafsson suggests that a calculation of the “proportion of youths who will get a national senior certificate” would produce a “true matric pass rate”.

Using combined data from the 2014, 2015 and 2016 General Household Surveys, Gustafsson estimated the share of young people between 20 and 28 who had obtained a matric pass. (Note: Three years of the survey were combined to avoid fluctuations in the data due to the samples taken each year.)
Just over 40% of people had obtained a matric pass by age 20. The age with the highest proportion of matric certificate holders was 24 (52.4%). Gustafsson notes that “this shows that in the 2014 to 2016 period just over half of youths were obtaining a matric, with a considerable proportion doing so some years after age 18.’

These figures include people who passed the Independent Examinations Board assessment.

“To do a public-only ratio would be very messy, and is not very useful,” argues Gustafsson. “What we should be worrying about is what proportion of youths [that] get the Matric, regardless of their school or the examination board.” - Kate Wilkinson (9/1/2018)

Additional reading:

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

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

Zille’s right: All W Cape matrics who passed eligible for tertiary education – but so are North West’s

Republish our content for free

We believe that everyone needs the facts.

You can republish the text of this article free of charge, both online and in print. However, we ask that you pay attention to these simple guidelines. In a nutshell:

1. Do not include images, as in most cases we do not own the copyright.

2. Please do not edit the article.

3. Make sure you credit "Africa Check" in the byline and don't forget to mention that the article was originally published on

Add new comment

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
limit: 600 characters

Want to keep reading our fact-checks?

We will never charge you for verified, reliable information. Help us keep it that way by supporting our work.

Become a newsletter subscriber

Support independent fact-checking in Africa.