Private vs public schools: is it worth the money?

There is a perception that private schools are better than their public counterparts because more money buys more resources which leads to better results.

A review of the 2014 matric performance of the top public schools in the country suggests that one does not need to break the bank to produce excellent academic results.

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.

According to the department of education, 515 public schools in SA attained a 100% pass rate in 2014. Of these, 111 schools have maintained the perfect pass rate over the past 5 years – stretching back to 2010.

To determine the “top performing” public schools, BusinessTech investigated these schools and ranked the top 10 according the number of students who sat the exams.

As all the schools listed in this comparison – private and public – achieved a 100% pass rate in 2014. The number of Bachelor entry passes (as a percentage) was selected as the measure of performance.

It must be stressed that drawing any conclusions based on performance versus cost in the schools listed below is limited, as private school costs encompass more than just tuition.

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.

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.

The expectation: Paying a premium on education should guarantee excellent performance, and students at these institutions should outperform their peers.

The reality: In most cases, students from top public schools perform just as well as their peers from prestigious private schools.

Top public school performance

School Matrics who wrote in 2014 Bachelors entry achieved Annual school fees
Hoërskool Garsfontein 367 74% R19 400
Durban Girls High School 252 97% R21 600
Westville Girls High School 231 99% R23 000
Pietermaritzburg Girls High School 224 95% R19 000
Afrikaans Hoër Meisieskool 184 96% R26 000
Eunice High School 177 97% R17 600
Randfontein High School 175 63% R7 800
Jeppe Girls 151 89% R23 800
Danville Girls High School 148 99% R29 500
Clarendon Girls High School 147 97% R24 600
Average 206 90% R21 230

Hoërskool Garsfontein saw the largest number of matriculants sit for the exams out of the schools measured (367 students), and with a bachelor entry pass rate of 74% had the most bachelors passes in real terms (271 students).

The institution’s head, Leon Bantjes, told BusinessTech that the school provides a wide variety of classes that cater not only for students looking to go to university, but also those that seek to enter other sectors of society.

“The purpose of Garsfontein, in the context of education, is to provide as wide a variety of subjects at the highest possible quality to accommodate as wide a variety of skills needs at the lowest possible cost.”

Private school performance

School Matrics who wrote in 2014 Bachelors entry achieved Annual school fees
St Stithians 251* 98%* R104 770
Bishops 149 99% R105 520
St Johns College 140 98% R115 067
Kearsney College 123 98% R134 800
Michaelhouse 115 95% R208 320**
Hilton College 112 94% R219 500**
St Alban’s College 104 95% R102 900
St Andrew’s School for Girls 77 99% R102 400
Roedean School for Girls 71 99% R107 670
St Martins College 50 82% R112 000
Average 119 96% R131 295

* Boys’ and Girls’ College combined
** Boarding only

More on education

Most expensive schools in South Africa in 2015

SA’s ‘real’ matric pass rate: 42%

Top SA universities: how much they cost

UCT rated best university in South Africa

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Private vs public schools: is it worth the money?