Using data from SACMEQ II, this paper examines the disparities in reading literacy scores of sixth-graders between rural and urban areas in 14 school systems in southern and western Africa. Compared to their counterparts in urban areas, rural students on average had inferior literacy scores and lower levels of family socioeconomic status, were older in age, were more likely to have repeated a grade and had less home support for their academic work. Rural schools also compared unfavourably to urban schools in terms of the quality of school buildings, the number of school facilities and equipment, the number of instructional resources available to reading teachers and the general reading proficiency of teachers. The analysis shows that in addition to student demographic characteristics, differences in school context and resources were largely responsible for the rural-urban gaps in students’ reading scores in these school systems. While highlighting the crucial role of school resources, the paper suggests that improving school processes and strengthening home support for children’s academic work are also indispensable to eliminating the inequities in students’ learning outcomes both between and within schools.