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The South African private school that’s cheaper than some government schools

The South African private school that’s cheaper than some government schools

Private schools have made financial headlines over the past months as South African investors continue to climb into an industry that is providing massive margins – all while promising to address the shortcomings facing public education.

Census data indicates that only an estimated 48% of students who begin Grade 1 actually complete Grade 12, with most learners dropping out of school in Grade 10 and 11, while teachers and university professors claim that pass rates of 30% to 40% are just too low to be of any value, globally.

It is no surprise then that a rising black middle-class combined with an increasingly lowered barrier of entry to private schools has seen the enrollments and financial returns in private education rocket over the past few years.

These are some of the biggest players on the market right now.


Not all of the big players in South Africa’s private education arena are JSE-listed investor sweethearts.

Spark made the news in October 2016 when it closed a Series B round investment of US$9 million (R121 million) with a group of investors led by the Omidyar Network. At the time, group which currently operates eight primary schools across South Africa and aims to have 20 schools by 2019, with a capacity to serve 20,000 scholars.

What made headlines however, was Spark’s plan to disrupt the education arena by introducing a private school education for less than the cost of a government school.

According to BusinessTech’s most recent research, it costs approximately R19,500 – R21,500 a year to attend an average government fee-paying school. This excludes free government schools and former model-C schools and also doesn’t factor in extra stationery, sporting and curricular activities.

In contrast, a year of tuition at a Gauteng-based Spark school will cost R19,100 in 2017 and R21,800 a year in 2018 (excluding stationery, registration etc).

“Beyond monthly tuition, we aim to limit the amount of extra costs to Spark scholars and their families,” says Spark’s website.

“Monthly tuition is the total cost for your child to attend SPARK Schools, including daily sport, computer-based practise, and enrichment activities during the extended school day (08h00 to 16h00).  Aftercare is available for those families who require it and runs from dismissal to 17h30 daily.”

In addition the school will provide all necessary stationery for students upon receipt of an annual stationery fee and parents are not responsible for purchasing textbooks or replenishing school stationery.


JSE-listed private education group Curro boosted profits by a massive 83% in its past financial year, as it rapidly climbed to 50,000 registered students and announced plans to add 26 more schools to its roster.

The company which posted its 2016 financial year end results in March of this year, reported a 69% increase in headline earnings to R169 million – up from R100 million recorded in 2015. Revenue saw a 27% increase to R1.76 billion while annual profits increased by 83% to R162 million.

Notably, Curro also saw a significant leap in the number of learners attending its schools, adding over 7,200 learners during the course of 2016, and adding 4,400 more in the 2017 school year, taking it to a total of 47,589 learners by January 2017.

To date, the group has also added a further 26 schools and 5 more campuses, taking the totals to 127 schools and 4 campuses on the group’s portfolio.


AdvTech, owner of the Crawford college and Trinity House schools in South Africa also posted significant growth over the past financial year. This included a 24% increase in revenue to R3.4 billion, with total enrolments increasing by 13%.

Operating profit rose to R608 million, with normalised earnings coming in at 66.7c per share, yielding 19c per share.

At the end of January 2017 ADvTECH bought a 51% stake in the University of Africa (UoA), representing the group’s first tertiary partnership outside of South Africa.

The University has more than 2,000 students and offers 22 Bachelors, eight Masters and a Doctoral degree. The staff complement of 145 academic and administrative support employees is expected to grow rapidly as operations expand.

Pembury (PLG)

PLG Schools, which forms part of the Pembury Lifestyle Group, listed in the Specialised Consumer Services sector on the JSE’s AltX board at the end of March.

PLG Schools is focused on building mid-sized campuses with 600 to 1,200 learners per school and no more than 25 learners per class.

The company has already secured its first two schools for 2018, namely PLG Greenhills Academy, based in Randfontein and a property in Carlswald, Midrand with the aim of increasing its current portfolio of 19 schools.

The PLG Carlswald Academy will be open in 2018 and will comprise three additional schools being a Pre-Primary School, a Primary School and a High School, Pembury said.

The property will be expanded over time to a capacity of 1,200 students from grade 000 to Grade 12.

With the addition of the PLG Carlswald Academy, and including PLG Randfontein, the PLG Schools division will grow in 2018 from seven to nine campuses and 19 to 25 schools, with a future potential capacity of 9,000 students.

Read: How much it will cost to buy a car and send kids to school 25 years from now

BusinessTech's Staff Writer is directly plugged into the South African Internet backbone, and spits out press releases and other news as they receive it. They are believed to be cl...
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  • Joe Black

    Cheaper, higher quality and profitable (as in… not running at a loss for the tax payer – actually contributing to taxes. In case anybody was unsure what that means)

    Would love to hear what the nationalists/socialists have to say about this…

    • BallsToTheWall

      Not a nationalist or socialist, but aren’t private schools also partially funded by tax money?

      • Joe Black

        I would question the extent to which if so. Even if so then its clearly a better deal for the treasury as opposed to bloated funding that often results in sub-par performance.

      • Literally Mario

        I assume it is run just like the charter schools in the US, that are partially funded by the state.

        There are problems with chater schools (check out the one with John Oliver on YouTube) , but overall it seems that they are straight up more efficient.

        Less money, more education.

      • Bradley D

        My kids school gets no support at all, zero.

      • Juan Olivier

        You mean socialist? Nationalists tend to be pro-capitalist.

      • Stefan Alberts

        My daughter is in a former Model C school. Government pays the salaries of only 27 of the 65 teachers. The annual running cost of the school is R14million, to which government contributes only R420 000.

        • bengine

          Are you saying that 27 salaries amount to R 420K or you get R 420K in addition to the 27 salaries? I am guessing the latter in which case government is contributing closer to 7M

          • Fermanaxus Neovortamin

            it all depends on how much the school is paying their staff.

          • bengine

            Of course – but let’s say the average salary is R 10K / month – then R 120K * 27 = 3,2M – I am guessing it is a bit more than that.

        • Those figures can’t be construed as being racist could they?

      • bengine

        Some of them are – others are 100% self funded – those that refuse to allow department inspectors on site or influence from the department – i.e private and totally independent – they don’t get a cent from tax money.

  • BallsToTheWall

    So which of these private schools are cheaper than some government schools?

    • Hennie

      Only Spark is cheaper. There are also other private schools but much smaller who only run one or two schools but which is more expensive then most government schools.

    • Serious Much

      Exactly my point.. Test of the featured businesses are mentioned How much profit they made of will make..

  • ChrisB

    No mention of Reddam, one of the bigger private groups. Huh? Not cheap, for sure, but surely in the same price class as Crawford. And about half that of the traditional exclusive expensive schools like Michaelhouse, St Stiths, Bishops et al.

  • Fanandala

    If “Spark” can really provide quality education for around R. 20 000 a year, I want to be the first to congratulate them. Many model C schools cost more, and they are mostly in buildings they own historically.

  • Juan Olivier

    Ek gaan my kinders ook eendag na sulke skole stuur. CVO skole lyk vir my na die beste opsie.

  • Serious Much

    Except Spark , rest of featured businesses have no reference of Fees compared to State schools, All article is about how much their investment companies made or will make ..
    So The Headline is misleading…
    How it is cheaper ..

    One parent I talked to refereed to the Private Schools as a Shops for “certificates” not really learning institutions..

    After 7 years my older son, and 3 my younger at Private “shop”, I am moving them to Previously C schools next year. Yes I will miss the “Pampered” facilities.. but wont miss non academics.
    For years I’ve been struggle to understand why they don’t have Text Books but using Photocopied (bad greyscale) pages glued to the Notebooks.(I have boxes of files prooving that)
    When I ask year after year, the teachers Why is that the Government schools have NS,MATS English Text Book where I can follow how far the kid is it in the book is as per today. and examine him. Why they don’t have,
    The vague answer was : “There are quite a several text books on the subject on the market , BUT no one is completely good- so is up to the teacher to make program and teach in their school….. And after asking this “inconvenient ” questions , they did not like it..
    Even now they e-mailed a Timeline of the Upcoming Tests, I have to sit on the computer and compile papers from Internet to make him learn something, because from the scattered glued pages I don’t see how he can achieve what MY CRITERIA for good academics is..
    For sure, The focus on sports and all kind of “extra” activities is huge .(MOST PAID EXTRA).. Most of the teachers are involved in those EXTRA activities that are paid extra.. Your kid will be chosen for the Cricket, Soccer,Rugby team if he pays for extra training over the weekend done by the coach..
    I don’t want to start about Bulling to go for Speech and Occupational therapy,This is norm,because also is convenient Extra income for job that I already pay in the fees..

    And Yes I know the other side.. My stepson goes to Previously C school, The diference level of academics is huge. No much sports, but I can sent my kids to extra sports if that’s the problem.. End of the day There is One Hansie, One Ronaldo .. Not every kid will become professional sportsman and then what if his academics lack..

    • BallsToTheWall

      For me ex-model C schools are looking like the best option. I have my kid in a private school but I can’t say I see any value in the ridiculous cost…I still pay an arm and a leg for extra-curricular maths, science & sport (on top of the huge school fees)…

      • Serious Much

        That’s exactly My observation, And especially if they know you are good payer, Then comes all other schemes to extract extra cash.
        And by the way all staff,(academics and supporting) Their kids are in the school with lean fees, that we cover the difference..
        Over the years I see quite a few teachers are leaving the moment their last kid graduate, So for them wasn’t the Passion to teach but to push their kid trough the system..
        I already applied at few other places so there is no way back. Long overdue , But the main reason is the lack of proper teaching,
        Not what I accept as good schooling..

        I see my kids lack knowledge, What I learned back in time, at that age and what their knowledge is like 1/3..

        There were other examples, Schoolmate of my son came from Europe, His father had a 3 years contract in SA, After the entry exam to determine his level , he was placed a YEAR AHEAD with the older mates..
        Now Back in Europe, We are still in contact with his family, They told us that he struggles to adopt back to their system. This, always “no homework” or more correctly no way to control and do check ups.. spoiled them..
        His father even when was still here could not understand that little teaching.
        He told me few times that he struggle.. that when he asks his son to do that and that – because he thinks is age appropriate to know, His son argues, “But Pa, Why only me “, No one need to know that much in our class..

  • ironking

    NO way anything like this will happen in Cape Town… we’re looking into preschool and grade R schools that would offer a safe and nurturing environment for our daughter. It’s looking like R5K / month is the average… R5K.

    Even taking inflation into account and adding a generous % increase that’s R2K more per month than it cost my folks per month.

    • Martin Davids

      There’s a Spark in Stellenbosh

  • Kaybee

    Curro and Crawford is cheap? This article is misleading almost all of these schools cost more than 5k per month in high school. My siblings monthly school fees at Curro is almost 6k. 72k per annum. This article is made to elicit money from investors “BusinessTech”. The schools are being listed to make money for investors and not provide affordable quality education. These corporations are strangling the middle-class for big returns.

  • Cnut Stunning

    Meanwhile in normal first world quality schooling is free with small donation

  • Andre Mouton

    There is so much know how and experience in people who are reaching the retirement age that I think private schools should have a look at soucing those into the education of the future.

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