Private school warning for South Africa: report

 ·13 Nov 2022

Economists warn that private schools in South Africa could see more learners dropping out and returning to former model C schools in 2023 as parents’ salaries struggle to match high levels of inflation and a higher cost of living in the country.

Speaking to the Sunday Times, Econometrix chief economist Azar Jammine and Efficient Group chief economist Dawie Roodt both warned that this was the case.

They said that salaries in South Africa, particularly for small business owners, have not been keeping up with inflation and that compromises needed to be made in many households.

For education, this would be taking kids out of expensive private schools and placing them in ‘lower class’ schools where the fees are cheaper, and the standard of education is still acceptable.

Governing bodies at South African schools are estimating fee hikes between 4% and 6% for 2023, the Sunday Times said, but in some cases, the paper saw hike projections as high as 10%. Headline inflation in the country is at 7.5% in the latest report from Stats SA.

School fee increases in the last two years have been well below inflation, leaving many schools struggling to draw in sufficient revenue. Meanwhile, schools’ costs keep rising, and about a quarter of budgets go towards funding fee exemptions and debt.

Most expensive schools compared

BusinessTech looked at the pricing of 10 of the most expensive private and public schools in the country in 2022 and found that the latter remain vastly more affordable than the upper range of private schools, with the most expensive public school listed costing less than half of the annual school fee of the most expensive private school.

At the beginning of 2022, private schools across the country saw a hike in fees, with many attempting to recover from losses resulting from a ‘fee-freeze’ in 2021 to assist parents in coping with the financial strain of Covid-19.

The country’s most expensive school, Hilton College, based in the KwaZulu-Natal midlands, saw a 3.5% increase from 2021 – keeping its title as the most expensive school in South Africa with an annual fee (which only allows for boarding ) at R343,155.

When BusinessTech first began to track the most expensive schools in 2014, Hilton College was the only school priced over R200,000 for boarding and tuition. In 2022, all schools in the top 10 have breached that figure, and six are past R300,000.

Public schools, meanwhile, hit around R150,000 at the most expensive in 2022.

Fees are now expected to climb even further in 2023.

Note: The majority of listed private schools only offer to board, and to ensure the comparison was fair, annual termly boarding prices were included for public schools. There are no official lists ranking public schools according to price; therefore lists below are reflective of independent research. All fees were based on the pricing for a matric year for 2022.

Rank Private Annual cost Public Annual cost
1 Hilton R343 155 Parktown Boys R151 900
2 Michaelhouse R328 000 Pretoria Boys’ High School R138 350
3 St Andrew’s College R320 064 Grey High School R131 160
4 Rodean School for Girls R310 064 King Edward VII School R129 800
5 St John’s College R304 995 Jeppe High School for Boys  R124 050
6 Kearsney College R303 710 Rondebosch Boys’ High School R117 500
7 St Mary’s R293 050 Rustenburg Girls’ R115 939
8 Bishops College R289 700 Wynberg Boys R115 000
9 St Albans College R287 850 South African College High School R112 800
10 St Andrews School for Girls R282 075 Paul Roos R102 200

According to the department of basic education, in South Africa, public schools rely on government funding but can supplement the funding by charging school fees and through donations or fundraising money.

In a public school, even if school fees are not paid, if a learner is enrolled in a curriculum, the learner must remain in school despite non-payment by the parent. Furthermore, a school can not retain a learner’s report because the parent cannot afford to pay school fees.

The exemption from paying school fees is a mechanism government has put in place to assist parents in accessing quality education for their children, irrespective of their background or financial constraints, said the department.

Read: Clash over new laws for schools in South Africa – including language changes and the sale of alcohol

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