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Confirmed: Principals deliberately hold back pupils to inflate school Matric pass rates

May 9, 2017
Confirmed: Principals deliberately hold back pupils to inflate school Matric pass rates

A Deputy Director-General in the Department of Basic Education (DBE) has confirmed that Principals deliberately hold back learners to inflate their school pass rate, the Democratic Alliance (DA) said on Tuesday.

"The DA has, therefore, asked the Chairperson of the Basic Education Portfolio Committee, Ms Nomalungelo Gina, to request that Minister Angie Motshekga briefs the committee on what she is doing to stop this practice," said Gavin Davis MP - DA Shadow Minister of Basic Education.

"The DA raised alarm bells regarding this practice when it emerged that a key reason for the Free State achieving the highest matric pass rate in 2016 was due to the relatively low proportion of learners who go on to write matric in that province.

"This has raised suspicions that weak learners in some schools and provinces are encouraged not to write matric in order to artificially inflate the pass rate – a practice known as 'gatekeeping' or 'culling'."

According to the Department of Basic Education’s figures, 1 100 877 learners enrolled for Grade 10 in 2014, but only 610 178 enrolled for Grade 12 in 2016. This means that 44.6% of learners either dropped out of the system altogether or remained stuck in Grade 10 and 11.

The picture across all nine provinces is as follows, with the ‘drop-out rate’ being highest in the Northern Cape (54.4%), North West (52.7%) and the Free State (51.6%):


Class of 2016

Grade 10 (2014)

Grade 12 (2016) candidates

Dropout rate (%)

Total Gr 12 candidates passed

“Real” Pass Rate (%)

Northern Cape

22 034

10 041


7 902 (78.7%)


North West

67 734

32 045


26 448 (82.5%)


Free State

55 293

26 786


23 629 (88.2%)


Eastern Cape

154 220

82 902


49 168 (59.3%)



189 170

101 807


63 595 (62.5%)



264 816

147 648


98 032 (66.4%)



94 528

54 251


41 801 (77.1%)



174 471

103 829


88 381 (85.1%)


Western Cape

75 791

50 869


43 716 (86.0%)



1 100 877

610 178


442 672 (72.5%)



In the Free State in 2014, there were 55 293 learners enrolled in Grade 10. But, in 2016, only 26 786 of those learners actually wrote matric. If we look at the number of learners in the Free State who obtained a matric pass (23 629) and divide them by the number of learners who enrolled in Grade 10 in 2014, we can calculate a ‘real pass rate’ of 42.7% -- the third lowest in the country.

In the Western Cape in 2014, there were 75 791 learners enrolled in Grade 10. In 2016, 50 869 of those learners wrote matric and 43 716 passed. Using the same method as for the Free State above, we can calculate a ‘real pass rate’ for the Western Cape of 57.7%.

"In other words, the Free State’s claim to be the best performing province is misleading. Any assessment of performance must take into account the number of learners retained in the system. It is clear that, in the Free State, relatively fewer learners make it to matric, which is why the pass rate was high in 2016," described Davis.

"The DA wrote to Minister Motshekga to request an investigation into the high ‘dropout’ rate, and specifically whether it is the result of learners being ‘culled’ by schools under pressure from districts and provincial education departments.

"She replied to acknowledge that the dropout rate is a problem, but she was silent on whether it is a result of “culling” and declined to investigate further."

The DA has, therefore, written to the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee to request that, in the light of the Deputy Director-General’s comments, Minister Motshekga explain to Parliament what she is doing to stop the practice known as “culling”.

"It is unfortunate that there are Principals and education officials who attempt to ‘game’ the system by holding back learners. We need to know who these Principals are, how widespread the practice is and what the consequences are for those found guilty of manipulating statistics and the lives of our learners," said Davis.