But questions remain about whether the schooling system is set to ensure only the best pupils make it to matric — disadvantaging many others


As another new school year begins, what has become clear is that interventions in public schools by the Free State education department are delivering the goods.

The province, which is not one of the most resourced, has for the past five years been the best performing with regards to matric results, outperforming public schools in Gauteng and Western Cape.

The last time the Free State was not the best performing province was in 2018 when Gauteng managed to surpass it. From that point on it has been one-way traffic.

If other provinces want to achieve excellence, surely they should learn from what Free State is doing and incorporate some of the lessons in their public schools.

Despite being a poor province, Free State has been punching above its weight, consistently achieving academic excellence.

Its strategic interventions in some areas are rolled up in partnership with non-governmental organisations such as the Cyril Ramaphosa Foundation and the Kagiso Trust.

The two organisations formed Kagiso Shanduka Trust (KST) in a bid to transform the Free State education sector in 2013.

Mmabatho Maboya, CEO of the Cyril Ramaphosa Foundation, has been watching the Kagiso Shanduka Trust partnership with the Free State education department yield results since it began 10 years ago with the District Whole School Development Programme.

The focus was to transform teachers, school management and the district to create a system that produces results.

The model begins with a needs analysis in which the performance of a school is thoroughly studied. An empowerment workshop is then conducted to draw up a strategic plan for the leadership of the school. The same is done for the district officials.

“Our model not only works with schools. It is more of a systemic change model. To change the system you do not only work with the individual schools but also officials in the department,” Maboya told the Sunday Times in April.

The programme includes teacher development, curriculum support, youth development, infrastructure development and social welfare projects.

If other provinces want to achieve excellence, surely they should learn from what Free State is doing and incorporate some of the lessons in their public schools. If the interventions work in a less resourced province, surely they should work better in provinces with more resources.

However, despite the Free State’s great achievements with matric results, it was alarming that 37.2% of grade 10s failed in the province in 2023. In the same year when seniors shone, those in lower grades performed dismally.

While Free State matriculants took top honours and were the toast of the country after achieving an impressive 89% pass rate, it emerged their grade 10s were the worst performers, with 63,655 candidates failing.

In lower grades the picture was also bleak, with 25.9% of the 66,889 grade 8 pupils failing.

This brings to the fore questions about whether the province deliberately ensures only the best end up sitting for exams in matric to ensure it outshines other provinces.

Surely the same interventions Free State has introduced for its matriculants — barring its shocking failure rate in lower grades — can work for other provinces.