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What do you mean by ‘good’? The search for exceptional primary schools in South Africa’s no-fee school system

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  • Gabrielle Wills

    (Research on Socio-Economic Policy, Department of Economics, Stellenbosch University)

Abstract

This paper describes a rigorous data collection process to find and verify the quality of what could potentially be high-functioning or high-performing schools accessible to the poor in three of South Africa’s nine provinces. A potential sample of outlier schools is selected using system-wide Universal Annual National Assessment data corroborated against school recommendations collected from a variety of system actors expected to be informed about school quality. Unfortunately, literacy testing in 31 purposively selected schools yields no example of high-performing, no-fee schools. However, we identify outlier or resilient students even in under-performing schools. Furthermore, within the no-fee school system there exists a continuum of functionality. Schools exist that while far from reaching good (or even adequate) median levels of English literacy, exhibit relatively higher literacy levels than other sample schools after controlling for student background differences. The presence of these relatively better performing sample schools (and performance variation more generally in the no-fee system) suggests that there is a middle-ground, a rightward movement away from dysfunction that can be reached. However, it is not clear that all system actors are able to detect variations in school quality. Our sample of respondents recommending ’good’ schools are only able to identify slightly better performing no-fee schools. For certain groups, specifically education district officials, enrolment growth appears to be a better indicator of their perceptions of ‘good’ than measures of student performance.

Suggested Citation

  • Gabrielle Wills, 2017. "What do you mean by ‘good’? The search for exceptional primary schools in South Africa’s no-fee school system," Working Papers 16/2017, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:sza:wpaper:wpapers292
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    3. Martin Gustafsson, 2016. "Teacher supply and the quality of schooling in South Africa. Patterns over space and time," Working Papers 03/2016, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
    4. Glick, Peter & Sahn, David E., 2006. "The demand for primary schooling in Madagascar: Price, quality, and the choice between public and private providers," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 79(1), pages 118-145, February.
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    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Gabrielle Wills & Servaas van der Berg, 2018. "Measuring leadership and management and their linkages with literacy in rural and township primary schools in South Africa," Working Papers 21/2018, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
    2. Hofmeyr, Heleen, 2021. "Perseverance, passion and poverty: Examining the association between grit and reading achievement in high-poverty schools in South Africa," International Journal of Educational Development, Elsevier, vol. 83(C).
    3. Heleen Hofmeyr, 2020. "Perseverance, Passion, and Poverty: Examining the association between grit and reading achievement in high-poverty schools," Working Papers 06/2020, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
    4. Gabrielle Wills & Heleen Hofmeyr, 2018. "Academic Resilience in Challenging Contexts: Evidence From Township and Rural Primary Schools in South Africa," Working Papers 18/2018, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Exceptional schools; literacy; no-fee schools; school quality; South Africa;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • I20 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - General
    • I21 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Analysis of Education

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