Exam papers are still leaked and group copying remains a problem but overall the 2016 matric exams are approved for release, said examination quality control body Umalusi on Thursday.
"Umalusi is satisfied that apart from leakages and group copying, the examinations were fair and we approve the release of the results," said Professor John Volmink, the Umalusi council chairperson.
Volmink said irregularities have been a thorn in the side of the examinations for many years and they had hoped they would not be faced with the same challenge this year.
"Most will remember that in the 2014 NSC examination, the credibility of examinations was tarnished by widespread group copying. Last year the system had to deal with unfortunate paper leakages of Life Sciences paper 1 and 2. In 2016 once again we had to deal with paper leakages in Limpopo which spilled into Gauteng," Volmink said.
He said investigations revealled that the leakage was restricted to two schools in Limpopo and affected less than 100 pupils; those learners will not get their results with the main release.
Volmink said there were again reports of group copying.
"We note evidence that indicates that the phenomenon of group copying has not been eliminated. There were reports of group copying in KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng and Mpumalanga," he said.
The irregularities were not limited to the state's DBE National Senior Certificate (NSC) but also affected the private examination boards — the Independent Education Board (IEB) and the South African Comprehensive Assessment Institute (Sacai).
This year 815 609 pupils sat for the DBE NSC exam, 11 775 candidates took the IEB exams and 1713 wrote under Sacai.
There were more "progressed learners" this year than in previous years. In 2014 there were about 30 000 progressed learners writing the NSC examination while the class of 2015 had 66 088 progressions. In 2016 the number increased substantially to 109 400.
Volmink was pleased with the improvement of marks in subjects such as physical science and history which meant the raw marks did not have to be adjusted but there were other subjects with a significant decrease in marks.
"Subjects such as geography showed a marked drop in learner performance while other subjects such as life sciences, business studies and economics and several home languages have not shown the progress that was hoped for. While there are many subjects where the learner performance fluctuates from year to year, we have singled out mathematics as one of the key gateway subjects where the needle has not moved significantly over the years in this country. In fact what is alarming is that since 2014 mathemetical literacy has also joined mathematics as a learning area where the learner performance is critically low," he said.
The IEB results will be released on Friday, December 31 while the DBE results are expected to be released on January 5. Minister Angie Motshekga is expected to announce the national pass rate on January 4.