A large body of literature focusses on how efficient practices in national and sub-national administrations can improve the welfare of citizens. Yet it is difficult to demonstrate this effect empirically, partly because citizens are not randomly assigned to different administrations and standard impact evaluation techniques are thus not viable. Within education, randomised trials that attribute educational improvement to specific interventions have been influential. Yet critics have argued that these studies, by focussing on single interventions, fail to prove their validity in a context of multiple interventions and, above all, weak system governance. The current paper takes advantage of provincial boundary changes occurring in South Africa, where provinces manage schools, to measure the effects of better administration, using a quasi-experimental approach. Changing to a more effective province was found to improve the mathematics performance of secondary school students, in national examinations, by a magnitude that is half of that seen in the fastest improving countries in international testing programmes. The replacement of teachers or school principals does not explain the improvement, though the addition of administrative support staff does emerge as a likely contributing factor. Greater efficiency, and not additional funding, appears to account for most of the change. It seems noteworthy that one of the provinces found to be relatively effective makes use of fixed-term contracts for senior managers in the administration, as opposed to permanent tenure, to enhance organisational capacity.


JEL Classifications: I21, C21, H11 –


Keywords: Analysis of Education; Cross-Sectional Models; Spatial Models; Treatment Effect Models; Quantile Regressions; Structure, Scope, and Performance of Government




Gustafsson, M. and Taylor, S., 2018. Treating Schools to a New Administration: Evidence of the Impact of Better Practices in the System-Level Administration of Schools. Journal of African Economies27(5), pp.515-537.