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This is a presentation made at the First International ODL Conference at UNISA, Pretoria. The findings were drawn from an evaluation of the SOFIE (Strengthening open and flexible learning to support educational access in contexts of high prevalence rates in SADC countries) project, which aimed to use Open Distance and Flexible Learning (ODFL) to reduce barriers to access and attainment among secondary school students in a context of high HIV and AIDS prevalence rates. Funded from the joint DfID/Economic and Social Science Research scheme, SOFIE was led by the Institute of Education, London, collaborating with three institutions in Africa: the Centre for Educational Research and Training, Malawi; the Institute of Education, Lesotho; and the South African Institute for Distance Education, South Africa. In a context where learners experienced disruptions to attendance and progression in school, the project implemented an affordable model based on a circle of support for vulnerable learners. The evaluation of the intervention produced mixed results with some significant improvements in the performance of students in mathematics, where the project had received notable support from the teachers and their association. The findings of the study point towards various policy and practice initiatives including increased monitoring and support of learners at risk of dropping out of school.