Class sizes in South Africa – public vs private schools

 ·12 Apr 2024

Class sizes in South Africa’s public schools show a major divergence between primary and secondary school levels.

Class size and teacher-to-student ratios are often highly spoken about topics in education.

The OECD states that smaller class sizes are often beneficial to students, as they allow teachers to spend more time on individual students while also reducing disruptions.

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga responded in a parliamentary Q&A by providing the Learner Educator Ratio (LER) for primary and secondary schools in South Africa.

The data, which Motshekga admitted is self-reported, shows that the LER across South Africa is broadly declining in primary schools, except for Limpopo and North West.

The national average LER in primary schools declined from 35 in 2018 to 31 in 2023.

The Eastern Cape, which had the joint-highest LER in 2018 (38), is now the best in the country at 29 students per educator.

However, the situation is getting worse in the nation’s high schools, with the LER increasing from 28 in 2018 to 30 in 2023.

Besides the Western Cape and Northern Cape, every province saw its secondary school LER get worse over the five-year period:

Province2018 LER PS2023 LER PS2018 LER SS2023 LER SS
Eastern Cape38293133
Free State37322630
North West 32322630
Northern Cape32302525
Western Cape38313329
National Average35322830

Private schools

South Africa’s private schools often use their smaller classrooms as a major selling point.

Schools in the JSE-listed AdvTech, such as Crawford International, are often limited to 25 students per class.

Curro, which is also listed, limits its class sizes to a maximum of 25 to 35, depending on the type of school.

These small classrooms are seen often a positive with parents, with AdvTech seeing over 93,000 enrolments for 2024.

Source: AdvTech

Curro, on the other hand, added 1,307 more learners in 2023 compared to the prior year.

These increased enrolments have also helped the group financially, with Curro seeing recurring headline earnings up 29% to R426 million in 2023.

AdvTech, on the other hand, said that its revenue grew 13% in 2023 to R7.8 billion, while headline earnings per share were up 19%.

These schools also saw far better matric results for the period.

Curro and AdvTech’s pass rates of 99.15% and 99.7%, respectively, were far higher than the 82.9% achieved by students in public schools.

In addition, when considering all of the students who started grade 1 in 2012, the ‘real’ pass rate for public schools is roughly 55%.

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