In this paper we question the existing practice of reporting enrolment statistics that ignore quality, but also quality-statistics that ignore enrolment differentials. The extant literature on education in Africa is bifurcated in that reports focus either on the quality of education or on access to education, but not both. This is problematic for two reasons: 1) observing access to education without regard for the quality of that education clouds the analysis, primarily because labour-market prospects and social mobility are driven by cognitive skills acquired rather than only by years of education attained, and 2) analysing the quality of education without taking cognizance of the enrolment and dropout profiles of the countries under review is likely to bias the results due to sample selection. In the paper we propose a new composite statistic - effective enrolment - that calculates the proportion of the age-appropriate population that has reached some basic threshold of numeracy and literacy proficiency. Put simply, it is enrolment that produces learning. To do so we combine household data on enrolment (from the Demographic and Health Surveys - DHS) with survey data on cognitive outcomes (from the Southern and Eastern African Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality - SACMEQ III) for ten sub-Saharan African countries: Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. We calculate and report the effective enrolment rates for each country by gender, location and wealth quintile as well as highlighting the patterns of differential access and achievement across countries and sub-groups. As far as we are aware, these figures are the most accurate and comprehensive statistics on basic education system performance for each of the ten countries under review. Using these figures for analyses overcomes the selection bias inherent in all cross-national comparisons of educational achievement, and is far superior to simple comparisons of traditional enrolment rates. We argue that the method should be applied to all developing regions, and outline the prerequisites for doing so. The paper refocuses the discussion on education system performance in Africa by providing a composite measure of access and quality and in so doing places educational outcomes at the centre of the discourse.