Public vs private schools in Pretoria

School benches

Once your first kid is on the way and you are done marvelling at the wonder that is life, the next thing you think about is costs. Naturally, your thoughts drift to education since this will arguably be your biggest expense (depending on how much your kid eats). If you are looking to find a definitive answer as to where you should send your kids, this is by no means it, but this will at least give you the information to make the right decision for you.

I don’t know if I’m just running in the wrong circles, but I can probably count on one hand my friends that went to private school. My wife went to an English private school in Kwazulu Natal and would like our kids to do the same (minus the moving to Natal part). I can appreciate that being schooled in English will be beneficial. I grew up very Afrikaans if you didn’t get that from my sometimes shady grammar, and went to public school.

We had a conversation around the proverbial water cooler at work and a colleague mentioned the costs of private schools. I naively thought that it cannot be much more than the cost of going to public school. Well, hang onto your hats. Firstly, let’s look at the extremely good arguments for sending your kids to private school.

Arguments for private schools in Pretoria

Firstly, there is a distinction to be made between no-fee public schools and model C schools. No-fee public schools are fully funded by the government, while model C schools are partly funded by the government and therefore have reduced school fees. I use the term public school interchangeably. So when I compare private schools to public schools, I also mean model C schools.

Curriculum

Public schools use the Curriculum Assessment Policy Statements (CAPS) curriculum while private schools make use of the Independent Examination Board (IEB) curriculum. IEB is generally considered to be more difficult than CAPS and aim to better prepare children for further studies. The content for the two curriculums does not differ much and most universities do not make a distinction between IEB and NSC marks when considering applications. Some tertiary institutions might require IEB students to write an entrance exam though.

Bachelors pass rate

According to Business Tech, the bachelor’s pass rate for public schools is 90% (3165 students) vs private schools at 98% (1843 students). This is based on the top-performing private and public schools in South Africa. Although this doesn’t really give a direct comparison between the two options, I could not find comparative data for university performance after school. So, this is the best we have.

Other advantages

Private schools have class sizes of about 25 compared to class sizes of about 35 at public schools. Private schools also tend to have more extracurricular activities. So it makes sense choosing a private school for this reason if your kid excels at something out of the ordinary like photography or pottery (and there is nowhere else to do it).

This brings us to the biggest problem with private schools, cost. Today I asked the abovementioned colleague (whose kids are in a private school) whether he feels that private is worth it and his response was: “I ask myself that monthly and it is too late to change now. Were we prepared to send them to an Afrikaans school, they would have gone to a public school”.

The costs are making the choice difficult and will only increase as they grow older. His only option is moving them after primary school (which he is in the process of doing), but good public English schools in Pretoria is limited. This is definitely something that we should improve on.

Cost of public and private schools in Pretoria

Based on the same Business Tech article, the average cost of the top public schools in South Africa was R29 500 in 2017 and the average cost for the best private schools in South Africa was R140 020. So, we are talking about spending about 4.7 times more on your kid’s education to send them to private school.

Public schools

Since we’re staying in Pretoria, I decided to take a look at the typical costs of public and private schools in Pretoria. This won’t be representative of the rest of South Africa but will give you an idea of our options. According to Skole, Pretoria has some of the highest public education costs in Gauteng, so the comparison should favour private schools. Let’s look at the cost of the public schools that are driving distance from our home.

SchoolCost (1 payment)Cost (10 payments)Bachelor’s pass rate
MenloparkR35 900R37 50089.3%
WaterkloofR29 165R30 08587.4%
Afrikaans Hoër29 58041 88093.2%
Average34 88236 48890%

This gives us a good idea of the public school costs in Pretoria. As predicted it is slightly higher than the cost for the rest of the country by about R7 000. Few people will have the finances to pay everything up front, so assuming the 10 payments option, it will be about R3 650 per month. The average bachelor’s pass rate for these schools is 90%. This is in line with the pass rates for the best 20 public schools in South Africa. Let’s have a look at private schools.

Private schools

SchoolCost (1 payment)Cost (10 payments)Bachelor’s pass rate
MaragonR65 900R69 40094.7%
Cornwall HillR80 688R84 05096.3%
Crawford CollegeR120 790R132 300 96.3%
AverageR89 126R95 25095.8%

The average cost for private schools in Pretoria is about R95 000. This is 2.6 times the cost of public schools in the area, well below the national average. This is largely because Maragon is uncharacteristically cheap for a private school. I wanted to include Curro in these calculations as well, but the costs of the Curro near us is not available online. So in Pretoria, we will need to shell out about R75 000 extra per year to send our kids to a private school. Granted, I only looked at matric costs. You knew this was coming, so let’s look at what the lifetime cost will be.

Lifetime cost comparison

For comparison, I looked at the cost of sending our kid to Cornwall Hill College vs sending your kid to Tygerpoort Primary and then to Waterkloof High School. I used the 2019 figures as I did not know how inflation would affect these costs. I then calculated what the money would be worth had you invested the difference.

Cornwall Hill varied between about R60 000 and R84 000 while the public schools varied between R20 000 and R40 000 per year. Had you invested the difference at 12%, you would have saved just over R1 million. More than enough to pay for university education as well.

Coming from a public school I can’t really make any comments as to the quality of private schools. All I know is that I really enjoyed public school and did not feel like I missed out on any opportunities. Did I excel at swimming, for example, I might have felt differently. But my arms are way too short for that. Can I justify spending 3 to 5 times more for a private school? Unlikely. Are private schools better (in my opinion)? Yes. Am I willing to sacrifice R1 million for a 5.8% better chance that my kid will be able to go to university? Fuck no.

Be safe out there,

Hendrik

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Endnote

Thank you for reading to the end. Apparently, the average person spends 8 seconds on a page, so you are special. If you have any suggestions, feel free to drop me a mail on the contact page. If I missed anything or you have questions, don’t hesitate to comment below. I might even notice it and respond. If you enjoyed this article and really want to throw me a bone, please share it.

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Comments

  1. Steveark

    I’m curious. What’s wrong with the “no fee” public schools? My kids went to free schools in the US where they were the minority students. I thought it was good for them to have friends of different races and socioeconomic backgrounds. They are engineers, doctors and university educators now, and never felt handicapped by the low rated public schools they attended.

    1. Post
      Author
      Hendrik Brand

      Hey Steveark,

      The wording made it sound like I wanted to imply something about no-fee schools, which was not the intention. I changed this slightly. There are good schools in every category, no-fee schools included. I am glad to hear your kids are successful and congratulations on the early retirement.

      Thanks for reading.

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