Top private and public schools in South Africa: cost vs performance

With the persistent perception that the quality of South Africa’s education is in perpetual decline, many parents feel that the only way to secure a future for their children is to turn to private education.

But such a move comes at a price. When looking at the performances of private schools in South Africa (matric results), it’s clear that parents see the results they want for the price they pay.

Many private institutions write the Independent Examination Board (IEB) exams instead of the government’s National Senior Certificate (NSC) exams.

In 2017, 11,464 full-time and 666 part-time candidates from 212 examination centres across SA sat the IEB exams, delivering a 98.76% pass rate (up from 98.67% the year before). Of these, 88.5% passed with bachelor’s entry.

By comparison, 629,155 full-time candidates and 173,276 part-time candidates penned the NSC examinations, delivering a 75.1% pass rate – though only 28.7% passed with bachelor’s entry.

Not a simple numbers game

According to Ruksana Osman, professor and dean of humanities at University of the Witwatersrand, comparing private and public schools isn’t a simple numbers game, however.

“In fact, there is a negligible difference between well-resourced public schools in middle and upper middle class areas and their counterparts in the private sector,” she said.

These high-performing public schools are the exception, not the rule, she said, with the data showing that the vast majority of publicly-funded schools are under-performing.

But that does not mean that quality education in the public sector can’t be found.

According to the school performance report for the 2017 matric exams, there are 115 exceptional public schools which have maintained a 100% pass rate for the past five years – and among these top-performers are some schools that push through a high number of learners that qualify for entry into bachelor’s degrees.

This is achieved at a fraction of the cost of South Africa’s most expensive private schools, that have similar track records and performances.

BusinessTech has compiled data looking at the tuition costs, number of students and number of Bachelor entry passes attained from some of the most expensive private schools and top-performing public schools in South Africa.


How we got the data

Because all the the schools listed below had a pass rate of 100%, we looked at different criteria to determine the best performance – bachelor pass rates. Many of the schools listed have the same bachelor pass rates, so they were ranked by the actual number of students that achieved the passes.

Thus a school where 100 students wrote and 80% attained bachelor’s pass rates (80 learners) will rank higher than a school where 50 students wrote and 90% attained bachelor’s pass rates (45 learners).

For top-performing public schools

For most expensive private schools

  • The schools with the highest annual fees are considered;
  • Only tuition fees are taken into account (ie, no boarding);
  • Schools are ranked by the number of students that got a bachelor’s pass.

The purpose of the tables is not to compare the quality of a private or public education, but rather to show how the top performing public schools delivered bachelor passes compared to the most expensive private schools.

It should be noted that for many private schools, the costs account for facilities, location and other benefits (such as fewer students per class), as well as the history and prestige associated with the schools (ie, status). The analysis does not take this into account, nor does it seek to compare differences between IEB and NSC qualifications, the quality of teachers, or any other factors that may affect the pricing of an institution.

Top-performing public schools in 2017

Public schools have a much higher number of matrics going through their doors, so its understandable that many more students qualify for bachelor passes than their private counterparts.

On average, the rate of bachelor passes at the top performing public schools are far lower than at private schools – but the cost of sending learners to school there is also significantly lower.

School # Matrics 2017 Bachelor Pass # of BD Pass Annual Tuition
Hoërskool Waterkloof 339 88% 298 R26 880
Hoërskool Garsfontein 321 85% 273 Not available*
Durban Girls High 236 98% 231 Not Available*
Hoërskool Noordheuwel 285 80% 228 R24 970
Westville Girls High 220 98% 216 R30 330
Belville High School 221 84% 186 R22 220
Afrikaans Hoër Meisieskool 187 98% 183 Not Available*
Westerford High School 178 99% 176 R37 420
Rustenburg Girls High School 171 99% 169 R41 730
Hoërskool Nelspruit 231 70% 162 R19 650
Rondebosch Boys High School 161 98% 158 R49 000
Eunice Secondary School 165 95% 157 R24 000
Bloemhof High School 147 99% 146 R28 300
Clarendon Girls High School 141 98% 138 R19 960
Hoërskool Jim Fouche 169 78% 132 Not Available*
Average 211 90% 190 R29 500

* Not all school fee schedules were available at the time of writing, and the schools could not be reached to confirm the current rates.

How the most expensive private schools performed in 2017

The data below is not a comprehensive list of private school performance, taking from the pool of most expensive schools in the country.

School # Matrics 2017 Bachelor Pass # of BD Pass Annual Tuition
St Stithians 155 97% 150 R135 750
Bishops (NSC) 150 99% 149 R137 260
St John’s College 151 98% 148 R145 488
Kearsney College 128 98% 125 R166 650
Hilton College** 112 95% 106 R276 560
MichaelHouse** 107 98% 105 R265 680
St Mary’s Waverly 101 100% 100 R129 780
Somerset College 102 99% 101 R110 950
St Andrew’s College 103 97% 100 R113 085
Herschel Girls School 94 100% 94 R100 900
St Alban’s College 97 92% 89 R130 470
St Mary’s DSG 86 100% 86 R120 540
Roedean School for Girls 84 100% 84 R142 973
St Andrew’s School for Girls 76 97% 74 R126 110
The Wykeham Collegiate 74 99% 73 R105 920
Diocesan School for Girls 68 100% 68 R109 940
St Cyprian’s 62 100% 62 R110 000
Treverton College 59 86% 51 R93 280
St Martin’s 40 93% 37 R139 100
Average 97 98% 95 R140 020

** Boarding only | Kingswood College has annual tuition fees of R115,860, but did not publish enough data on its 2017 matric results to determine a place on the list above.


Read: How much it will cost to send your kids to school and university over the next 18 years in South Africa

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Top private and public schools in South Africa: cost vs performance