Former whites-only schools were still setting the pace for quality education in South Africa, while poorer schools - attended mostly by previously disadvantaged pupils - relied heavily on the dedication of their teaching staff to keep up.

These are among the findings of the SA Institute for Race Relations in the latest South Africa Survey, due for release next week.

The survey found that race was less important as a factor of scholastic achievement than the type of school a child attends. Across the board, pupils attending former “Model C” schools - a hangover from predemocracy efforts to begin integrating schools in 1992 - did better than those attending fully-funded township schools where pupils do not pay fees.

The matric pass rate for blacks at Model C schools in 2009 was 88 percent, compared to only 55 percent overall for black pupils at all government schools. Coloured pupils achieved an 88 percent pass rate at former Model C schools (76 percent overall), while Indian pupils scored 98 percent (92 percent overall).

White pupils attending both Model C and other state-funded schools achieved a 99 percent matric pass rate in 2009.

Researcher Marius Roodt said former Model C schools were, in general, still better resourced and managed than other schools - despite receiving less money from the government than fully state-funded schools.

But he noted that a number of “extremely poor schools” achieved 100 percent matric pass rates in 2009, a situation that could be ascribed to the dedicated teaching staff at these schools.

Schools once reserved for Indian pupils under apartheid, administered by the now defunct House of Delegates, and schools then reserved for coloured pupils, administered by the House of Representatives, did worse than former Model C schools, but out-performed regular government schools, the survey found.

It also noted that the number of pupils opting out of the public school system to attend independent schools rose significantly from 256 283 in 2000 to 386 098 in 2009 - an increase of about 50 percent.

Researchers warned that, even off a very small base, the trend may suggest that parents are “losing faith in the public school system”.

With the exception of the Free State and KwaZulu-Natal, all provinces had seen a rise in independent school enrolment since 2000, with the biggest increase recorded in the Eastern Cape (422 percent).

The survey also noted that parents lacked confidence in the quality of education offered at no-fee schools.

Roodt warned that education standards at no-fee schools needed special attention, as it “does not help having no-fee schools which do not provide pupils with a decent education”. - The Mercury