Choice of private schools paying off, admissions data shows

Choice of private schools paying off, admissions data shows

Candidates who sat the KCPE exam in private schools were thrice as likely to join national schools as their public school counterparts

Candidates who sat the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examination in private schools last year were three times as likely to join national schools as their counterparts in public schools, a review of Form One Selection data shows.

The analysis by Nation Newsplex finds that the rate of selection to Form One in a national school for a private school candidate was 59 students per 1,000 candidates compared to 19 students per 1,000 candidates for their peer in a public school.

While private schools presented 15 per cent of the more than 938,000 students who sat the examination, they received more than a third of the slots (about 8,200) available in national schools.

The about 800,000 candidates from public schools, equivalent to about 85 per cent of the candidature were left with 15,000 slots, which amounts to 65 per cent of the available places.

Parents who can afford private schools choose them because they typically offer better learning conditions for students than free public schools, which tend to have overcrowded classes and little equipment.

Overall 23,117 or two per cent out of the 938,874 total candidates were called to the 103 national schools.

"They scored low marks because of circumstances that they were studying in but once they join good schools and are exposed, the students are able to do better and realise their full potential”

When the analysis zeroed in on the original list of top 17 national schools that have existed for decades as well as Starehe Girls, it found that students from private schools got more than 2,500 (55 per cent) of the available places in these “super schools” compared to around 2,100 places (45 per cent) for their peers who attended public schools.

National schools usually dominate the top 100 in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KSCE) examination results and take up the lion’s share of University admissions through the Kenya Universities and Colleges Central placement service (KUCCPS). They also dominate highly sought-after courses such as law, information communication technology, architecture, actuarial sciences, engineering and medicine.

For instance, only a total 28 students that were selected to pursue dental surgery in the country at Moi University and University of Nairobi last year in September.


A look at past KCSE results reveals the wide-performance gaps between schools. For instance, about two-thirds (273,728) of 2014 KCSE candidates scored less than C-below, meaning that they did not qualify for university admission.

In contrast, the mean score of the top public school that year, Kapsabet High, a national school, was 11.125 (A-). Of the candidates at the school 94 scored A, 63 A-, 76 B+, 27 B and 4 B-.

The school was followed by Maseno School which had 83 candidates with A, 94 A-, 47 B+, 17 B and six with B-, giving the school a mean score of 10.9.

In third place was Alliance High School with a mean score of 10.853 with 123 candidates with A, 119 A-, 62 B+ and 28 B, 11 B-, three C+, one C and one C-. In the examination only two schools that featured in the top ten − Kabarak High School, a private school, and Rang’ala Girls in Siaya County − were not national schools.

Overall, almost 545,000 (58 per cent) students were selected to join public secondary schools this year while more than 393,000 (42 per cent) missed slots. Of those who were not selected 89 per cent (about 352,000) were from public schools.

About 66, 351 candidates were selected to join 980 private secondary schools. This translates to a primary-secondary school transition rate of 65 per cent. However, When Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i released the KCSE results this year he said the transition rate stood at 82.05 percent up from 78 percent in 2015.


When Newsplex examined the selection data by county it found that a candidate who sat KCPE last year in Isiolo County was four times (58 students per 1,000 candidates) as likely to be selected to join a national school as a candidate who sat the examination in Taita Taveta (13 students per 1,000 candidates).

The other top five counties in which candidates had the highest chance of joining national schools were Samburu with 48 students per 1,000 candidates, Nairobi 47 students per 1,000 candidates, Kajiado (42 students per 1,000) or five per cent and Wajir ( 41 per 1,000) of the candidates selected to national schools.

However, except for Nairobi which had 50, 810 candidates or five per cent of the total national candidates in last year’s examinations, the overall number of the candidates from the other four counties combined was low, about 26,000 or almost three per cent of the total national candidates.

Second to Taita Taveta from the rear was Kwale where the probability of joining a national school was 14 students per 1,000 candidates, followed by Kitui (15 students per 1,000 candidates), and Turkana and Siaya with 16 students per 1,000 candidates. The bottom five counties had 90,447 (10 percent) candidates of which 1,328 (one per cent) made it to nationals schools.


A deeper look at the scores of the students who made it to national schools suggest that candidates from hardship areas in North-Rift and North Eastern regions benefited from affirmative action with many of the top KCSE performers admitting students with less 350 marks from the regions.

For instance, a student from Mandera with less than 350 marks was admitted to Maseno School, which was placed second in the 2014 KCSE results, while Alliance High School, which came third in the same examination admitted three students with less than 350 points.

In the neighbouring Alliance Girls High, one student with less than 300 marks and seven with less than 350 marks from North-eastern and North-Rift regions made it to the school.

The Form One selection at national level was based on merit, quota allocation, equity, affirmative action and students’ choice. At extra-county schools, formerly known as provincial schools, the public-to-private ratio was 70:30 but the analysis suggests that this guideline was not followed.

The questions of poor performance in public schools, private schools taking disproportionate number of candidates to national schools, poor infrastructure in newly upgraded national schools, affirmative action and some national schools failing to attract candidates from across all counties were put to Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i by Newsplex.

However, by the time of going to press, Dr Matiang’i had not responded to the questions. His Principal Secretary Bellio Kipsang was also out of the country and could not comment on the issue.


An education specialist Andiwo Obondo supports the use of affirmative action to ensure that disadvantage children also have access to quality education. “Some parts of the country are disadvantaged and students from those areas cannot compete effectively with those coming from areas that are well endowed,” says Mr Obondo.

Kipsang defended the decision to allow candidates with less marks to join top schools saying that it gives such students an opportunity to get new challenges. “They scored low marks because of circumstances that they were studying in but once they join good schools and are exposed, the students are able to do better and realise their full potential,” he said.

In terms of numbers of candidates, Nairobi had the largest number of candidates of which 2,351, were selected to join national schools.

In other words one out of 10 candidate who joined Form One this year was from Nairobi. Although it had the fifth largest number of candidates, 37,775 Kiambu took the second highest number of students to national schools 1,504. It was followed by Nakuru which sent 1,455 to national schools out of 47,532 candidates.

Inversely, the number of students Tana River, Lamu and Taita Taveta took to National schools is almost equivalent to the number of students that were selected to join Form One at Alliance Girls High School, 270. With 2,579 Lamu had the least number of candidates out of which 82 joined national schools. In second place was Isiolo with 2,925 candidates out of which 169 joined national schools.

It was followed by Samburu which had 3,626 candidates of which 175 were selected for national schools. Marsabit had 3,818 candidates and 121 made it to national schools. In Tana River, the county that took the least number of candidates to national school, 4,064 sat KCPE and 81 were called to national schools. Although it had the ninth least number of candidates 8332, Taita Taveta ranked third lowest in the number of students it took to national schools, 109.