SA SHOULD shift its "narrow focus" away from the matric pass rate as it is an insufficient indicator of the state of the basic education system.

This is according to Equal Education, which said on Wednesday the pass rate was not a clear reflection of the overall quality of education.

Department spokesman Elijah Mhlanga said what Equal Education was saying is "what we have already said".

The national pass rate has dropped to 70.7%, from 75.8% in 2014.

The Western Cape was the best-performing province, with an 84.7% pass rate, while the Eastern Cape was bottom of the class at 56.8%.

But according to Equal Education, the pass rate only captures the percentage of pupils who write the exams and meet minimum requirements. It fails to account for pupils who do not make it to matric.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has written to Education Minister Angie Motshekga to ask that she establish an independent inquiry into the matric results. DA spokesman on basic education Gavin Davis said the poor retention of pupils was a major problem.

Equal Education general secretary Tshepo Motsepe said the dropout rate had to be considered. "An estimated 478,163 pupils who enrolled for Grade 10 in 2013 still did not make it to matric in 2015, reflecting a 41.71% dropout rate. More progress must be made to rectify this abysmal situation."

For a better understanding of how the matric pass rate reflects the quality of the education system, one should use a "cohort matric pass rate".

"We define this as the percentage of pupils in Grade 2 who pass matric 11 years later. It is a better indicator of the quality of our education system and of the percentage of youth who are receiving an education than the matric pass rate."

Mr Motsepe said of the 1.1-million pupils who had enrolled for Grade 2 in 2005, 455,825 wrote and passed matric last year, which represented a cohort pass rate of 40.7%.

"While this is below the quality of education our children deserve, it does reflect an improvement over the 2014 cohort pass rate of 36.4%."

Inequality remained a determining factor in the quality of education pupils receive. Western Cape and Gauteng, which are urban provinces, recorded pass rates well above the national average.

"This is to be expected, given that in these provinces fewer than 1% of schools lack water, electricity or sanitation. Schools there have the highest teacher-to-pupil ratios in primary and secondary schools."