The purpose of this study was to explore how social institutions in South Africa and Zimbabwe respond to the mainstreaming of pregnant learners in formal education. A case study was used as the strategy of inquiry. Utilising a phenomenological, social constructivist and interpretivist lens and guided by a theoretical framework of action science theory, this exploratory qualitative study set out to investigate and compare how various stakeholders in South Africa and Zimbabwe respond to the policy of mainstreaming pregnant learners in schools. Data collection methods took the form of focus group and key participant semi-structured interviews, document analysis and a researcher observation and reflective journal. Two research sites comprised the case study. The sample at each of the identified sites consisted of 12 pregnant and former pregnant learners; 12 mainstream learners; 6 parents/legal guardians; 6 teachers; 6 community representatives on the school governing body. Data analysis consisted of a mix of hermeneutic, content and discourse analysis. Three findings emanated from this study. First, the socio-cultural beliefs, norms, practices and expectations of the community about pregnancy and ideal motherhood were more influential governing variables to educational access and participation of pregnant teenagers than the official school policy. Second, educators at both sites were found to have inadequate capacity to assist pregnant learners with schooling. Third, the South African school was found to provide more access to pregnant learners because of the more liberal and open response to teenage pregnancy. In contrast the conservative tendency to conceal the problem was observed at the Zimbabwean site. This study revealed that institutional policies that do not take into consideration the social, cultural and lived experiences of the relevant stakeholders are difficult to implement. The proposition is that there is usually a split between policy and practice, and that policy can be nothing more than political symbolism. An all-inclusive and consultative approach to policy formulation processes is recommended as an intervention strategy that could be used to counteract the problem.