How to choose a school for your child. The South African public VS private school discussion

This subject was top of mind in my life for almost 3 years. I really battled to get my son into the schools I would have liked him to go to – I applied to about 9 schools and only ended up getting accepted into 2 of them: one that was not-so-great and last on my list and one that I love but is expensive. I settled for the latter based on what the schools had to offer in terms of what I was looking for BUT it really hits the pocket! At the end of the 3-year process, everyone close to me was sick of hearing about my school-finding-stress. These are some of the learnings I have summarised from my experience – I have included some standard features as well as an overview of the blended option.


Public schools:

Some standard characteristics of public schools:

  • Preference is given to children that live in the area (A-list) and those whose parents work in the area (B-list).
  • Fees are affordable, ranging from approximately R7 000 to R18 000 per annum.
  • Usually have an average of 35 children per class.
  • The standard of facilities and the variety of extra murals available is varied from school to school. Some institutions have the funding for impressive facilities, while some don’t. The good news is that most extra murals are free.
  • The skills and qualifications of teachers vary from school to school.
  • Applications are done one year in advance – there is usually no deposit is required to secure your child’s position after acceptance.

There are quite a few exceptional public South African schools, which have excellent pass rates, infrastructure and teachers. Do your research and find out which schools are closest to your home and workplace. Visit the schools to explore their facilities and extra murals.


Private schools:

Some standard characteristics of private schools:

  • Your work and home address are not key criteria for acceptance – parents need to be able to afford the school fees.

  • The school fees is expensive, ranging from approximately R30 000 to R100 000 per annum.

  • Individual attention is emphasised with 15-25 children per class. As a result parent-teacher-child involvement and communication is easier.

  • Sophisticated facilities and a wider variety of sports, art and cultural extra murals are available, sometimes at an additional cost.

  • Teachers are well trained and qualified. The use of technology is often featured.

  • Applications are considered from the time you are pregnant or when your baby is born. A deposit is required to secure your child’s position in the school deposit (usually equivalent to one month’s schools fees or more).


The “happy medium”:

New schools such as Curro, Pioneer Academy and Spark Schools have established low-cost private schooling options for South African parents that want a premium education at an affordable amount.

Some standard characteristics of low-cost private schools:

  • The school fees are reasonable (approximately R7000 to R60000 per annum).
  • Blended learning is used i.e. a combination of online learning and classroom learning
  • The uniform is “sports-like” to enable dual-purpose – comfortable in class and appropriate for the sports field. I think this is so clever and considerate to parents.


Back to basics:

The best way to go about it is to:

  • Do you research about schools in your area and check that the school is registered with the department of education.
  • Determine your budget.
  • Attend the open days – ask questions and speak to a diverse group of parents that have sent their children to that school.
  • Apply as early as possible. I would advise that you send applications to 2 – 3 schools minimum.


A good resource for a schools list is if you’re considering private/semi private schools and if you’re looking at public schools.


It is your responsibility as the parent to drive this process and later on, the relationship that you will have with your child’s teacher (topic for another day).

Wishing you the best of luck, it can be a nightmare but don’t give up until you feel you have found the option that will work best for you and your family.



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  1. I’m going through this period myself, I’m stressing just thinking about my currently 2 Year old daughter starting school/ where. Great insight.


    1. Thank you for the feedback Itumeleng. It’s a daunting process – document your “must haves” and determine your budget then go from there. Visit the schools and get a feel for the culture and environment.

  2. Thank you for this post Thando. We’re moving back home after so many years away. I had no idea where to start looking for a school. This post has been very helpful. Cheers for the link.

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