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PRESS STATEMENT: EE congratulates learners who passed Matric 2015; notes specific improvements; continues to caution against over-emphasis on Matric results and advises greater scrutiny

Equal Education congratulates the 455 825 learners who wrote passed the 2015 matric examinations! We also congratulate the teachers, principals, and administrators who work tirelessly each day to help our youth succeed!

While the deterioration in matric pass-rate from 75.8% to 70.7% is being criticized, we advise an even greater scrutiny of the pass rate. 

According to Umalusi, the decline in the pass-rate drop is explained by the improvement in the quality and standards of the papers [1].  Although it is encouraging to see attempts to improve the standard of the National Senior Certificate (NSC(, EE continues to caution against a narrow focus on the matric pass-rate as it remains an insufficeint indicator of the overall health of basic education system. A rise or fall of the matric pass rate does not tell a clear story about the overall quality of the education system.

EE therefore encourages greater focus on a number of points that stand out from this year’s results:

Dropout rate

The pass rate captures only the percent of the learners who have written the test who have met minimum requirements. It fails to account for learners who never make it to matric for a variety of reasons which were explored in EE’s earlier statement [2]. Therefore, for some perspective on the pass rate it is useful to take into account the dropout rate. The total number of full time matric candidates increased from 532 860 in 2014 to 668 122 in 2015 [3]. This is an increase of 135 262 students and reflects a decline in the dropout rate [4]. The Department should be commended for this improved retention. Nevertheless, an estimated 478 163 learners who enrolled for Grade 10 in 2013 still did not make it to matric in 2015 – reflecting a 41.71% dropout rate [5]. More progress must be made to rectify this abysmal situation!

Cohort pass rate

For a better understanding of how the matric pass-rate reflects the quality of the education system, one should use a “cohort matric pass rate.” We define this as the percentage of learners in Grade 2 who pass matric 11 years later. It is a better indicator than the matric pass-rate of the quality of our education system, and of the percentage of South Africa’s youth who are receiving an education. Of the 1 118 690 learners [6] who enrolled for Grade 2 in 2005, 455 825 learners ended up writing and passing matric in 2015. Thus, the pass-rate of 70.7%, when measured against all those who began school in 2005 reveals a cohort pass-rate of approximately 40.7%. While this is still well below the quality of education our children deserve, it does however reflect an improvement over the 2014 cohort pass rate of 36.4%.


Performance Inequality

While interpreting the 2015 results, one must look at which provinces, quintiles, and communities are succeeding and which ones are falling further behind.

In 2015, 166 263 learners or (36.4%) of the 455 825  learners who wrote matric met the minimum requirements to study towards a bachelor’s degree, an increase from 28.3% in 2014 [7]

In 2015, regional inequality in matric results increased significantly.

Once again, the Western Cape (WC) had the highest proportion of matriculants qualifying for Bachelor’s at 42,3% up from 38.8% in 2014 [8].

In 2015, rural provinces in such as Eastern Cape (EC), KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) and Limpopo consistently recorded pass rates below the national average [9]. In fact, performance in these provinces has worsened in 2015.

Urban provinces such as Western Cape and Gauteng continued to record pass rates well above the national average at 80% [10]. This is to be expected, given that in these provinces less than 1% of schools lack water, electricity or sanitation [11] and schools there have the highest teacher to learner ratios in both primary and secondary schools. Inequality in performance between provinces can to some extent be attributed to the poor state of resourcing and infrastructure in rural schools.  Every year, and last year in particular, EC and KZN struggle to provide adequate scholar transport to its learners due to a lack of funding [12]. The majority of learners in these provinces still have to walk long distances to get to school. Unless access to school resources improves in these areas, learners will continue to underperform. 

The NSC passes for quintiles 1 to 3 combined increased by 40, 5%  from 199 905 learners in 2014 to 288 370 in 2015 compared to a 29,8% increase in passes for quintiles 4 and 5 learners from 106 315 to 151 375 in 2015. On the other hand, Bachelor passes for quintiles 4 and 5 schools still remain higher increasing by 45,7% from 50 674 to 73 810 in 2015 compared to 32,5% increase for Bachelor passes for quintiles 1 to 3. The huge increase in the number of passes in lower quintiles is encouraging but in order to truly to close the inequality gap, a significantly higher number of learners qualifying with Bachelors Passes should come from quintiles 1 to 3.  It is still yet to be seen in the 2015 DBE Technical Report where the majority of learners scoring below 30% are located. Last year, the majority of learners from public ordinary schools with the lowest pass rates (below 30%) were located in in quintiles 1 and 2 [13]. 

In order to better understand inequalities in the education system, DBE needs a more comprehensive assessment of the matric results and present them in more  illuminating ways such as rural vs urban, township vs suburban, former white schools vs former black schools, etc. We once again call on the DBE to do this, on researchers to do this independently, and on journalists to interrogate the question of inequality as much as possible.  

Maths and Science

EE noted with concern in its pre results matric results, the large difference between the decline in the number of learners writing Mathematics and Science 

The total number of matric candidates that passed Mathematics increased from 120 523 in 2014 to 129 481 in 2015. However, this reflected a 3-point decline in the percent of those who wrote matric who passed Mathematics. Similarly, there is also an increase in the number of matric candidates who passed science from 103 348 in 2015 to 113 121. This was also a 2.5% decline in the pass percentage. The increase in the number of learners passing these subjects is significant and encouraging. However, as the Minister has noted that the pass percentage in these subjects remains a challenge.  Furthermore, it is important that a larger number of learners write these subjects going forward. 


  • The drop-out rate seems to have declined down from 52% to 42%. While more work needs to be done to improvement retainment, this is a move in the right direction. As a result, this year had the largest ever number of learners write matric at 455 825
  • The overall matric pass-rate fell by 5.1 % to 70.7%. EE does nott necessarily take this to imply a decline in the overall quality of education, just as EE did not take the increases in previous years to necessarily indicate improvements. This decline can in part be explained by the improvement in retainment. 
  • Using the cohort pass rate, which avoids bias due to changes in the drop-out rate, an improvement from 36.4% in 2014 to 40.7% in 2015 is seen. While less than half of a cohort passing matric should not in itself be celebrated, the improvement in the figure should be. 
  • The absolute number of matrics passing in Maths and Physical Science has increased but despite these improvements, the percent of matrics who passed maths or science actual declined. Much work remains in increasing the number of learners writing these gateway subjects. 
  • The absolute number of matrics qualifying for Bachelors has increased particularly in quintiles 1- 3 schools
  • Matric pass rates are on the decline in EC, Limpopo and KZN where the largest number of learners are located whilst Western Cape and Gauteng pass rates have increased. Geographical inequalities are on the increase due to massive differences in quality of schools in different provinces. 

Change in education takes years and will inevitably be gradual. Recent years have seen gradual improvements in school infrastructure and textbook provision but those will take a decade to be felt in the matric results. This is not to be complacent or accepting of poor outcomes, no, EE is daily fighting to change that, with a sense of urgency. To the extent that the Minister may come under pressure for lower results, she is reaping the fruit of over-emphasising this particular marker in recent years, despite its extremely weak ability to tell us much about the state of education in SA. The very poor results in the Eastern Cape, Limpopo and KZN correlate with the very poor school infrastructure, scholar transport problems  and problems with teacher post provisioning, governance, textbook distribution and support for underperforming schools in those province — all issues that EE has taken up in recent years. These must continue to be prioritised, along with great social welfare and rural development, if we want to see results improve in these rural provinces.

A thorough study of the 2015 Technical Report, and data (which is yet to be made available to the public) is needed before drawing any firm conclusions. EE plans to study the 2015 Technical report in detail and acknowledge improvements and positive trends where noted and celebrations were justified. 

For comment from Equal Education call:

Tshepo Motsepe (EE General Secretary) on 061 987 6801

Ntuthuzo Ndzomo (EE Deputy Secretary General) on 072 931 4343

Doron Isaacs (EE Treasurer) on 082 850 2111


[1] News24 (30 December 2015) “Matric results worse than last year-Umalusi”

[2] See Equal Education Pre results press statement titled “Upcoming 2015 matric results require careful scrutiny” released 2 January 2015 at

[3] 2015 matric cohort taken from: All Africa (31 December 2015) “South Africa: UMALUSI Approves Release of Matric Results”

[4] See Equal Education Pre results press statement titled “Upcoming 2015 matric results require careful scrutiny” released 2 January 2015 at

[5] Ibid; 

[6] 2014 NSC DBE Technical Report See Figure 7: Comparison of the NSC performance by type of qualification from 2010 -2014 

[7] Ibid

[8] 2014 NSC DBE Technical Report See Figure 5: Comparison of NSC passes by provinces, 2011 to 2014

[9] Ibid

[10] ‘Table 31: Schools with water, electricity and fencing.’ p.40 “Second detailed indicator report for Basic Education sector.” Published by DBE 16 June 2014

[11] Table 31: Schools with water, electricity and fencing.’ , p.40 “Second detailed indicator report for Basic Education sector.” Published by DBE 16 June 2014; Figure 11: Distribution of learner to classroom ratio’ p.42  “Second detailed indicator report for Basic Education sector.” Published by DBE 16 June 2014

 [12] Learner Transport Presentation to the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education 3 March 2015; “Equal Education to march to KZN Department of Education on 9 April 2015 to demand scholar transport” ; “Memorial For Lutho Felepu 13 who died running for scholar transport”

[13] Table 14: Pass rates within different percentage  categories by quintiles” 2014 NSC DBE Technical Report, p.70

PRESS STATEMENT: EE congratulates learners who passed Matric 2015; notes specific improvements; continues to caution against over-emphasis on Matric results and advises greater scrutiny