Are private schools worth it?

2011-01-17 12:46

THE push and pull factors when it comes to private schooling have never been so brutal.

On the one hand, reports about a breakdown in the state schooling system (some 80% of public schools may be “dysfunctional”), large class sizes and last year’s teacher strike are creating a greater demand for private education.
But on the other, household finances are taking enormous strain, with more than 11 million South Africans now behind on paying their debts.

Few can afford to pay higher school fees.
From one perspective, having a private school education can also work to your child’s disadvantage when trying to get into the tertiary institution and course of her choice.
While some private schools (particularly in the Western Cape) still do the National Senior Certificate (NSC) exam, most use the Independent Examinations Board (IEB) matric exam. The IEB, like the NSC, has to be certified by Umalusi, the national qualification authority.

Eddie Conradie, marketing manager at Curro Private Schools, says some of their schools are switching over to the IEB due to concerns about grade inflation and “block adjustments” in the NSC exams.
Marc Falconer, the headmaster of the King David High School, Linksfield, contended in an article last year that the IEB is a different kind of assessment.

“In the state system it is perfectly possible to achieve a good matric by drill and practice, while this is not true for an IEB candidate.”
According to one headmaster of a private school it is “cognitively more demanding” than the NSC and prepares students better for tertiary education.

Most see the IEB as the tougher exam, making it more difficult to achieve distinctions and university admission.

But tertiary institutions are not allowed to distinguish between IEB and NSC results. This means that an IEB candidate, who may have achieved better marks with the NSC, will be at a disadvantage when competing with state school matriculants.
But once you do get your university place, IEB students fare well. According to one study at the University of Cape Town, IEB candidates made up a quarter of all UCT graduates in December 2007. The drop-out rate of IEB matrics was only 2% - compared to between an estimated 35% to 50% at SA universities on the whole.

While private schools only represent 5% of the school system, they deliver a disproportionate number of graduates in scarce skills like maths and science, says Simon Lee, communications co-ordinator for the Independent Schools Association of Southern Africa (Isasa). In the sought-after health sciences courses, the UCT study showed that 25% of students were ex-IEB.
A private education, which presents an undeniably great “networking” opportunity among SA’s upper classes, could also assist your child’s career later in life.
According to one recruiter, “a Bishops matric plus a Damelin diploma” can still even out an education at an average state school with a post-graduate qualification at a good university. “The perception is that private schools encourage independent thought.”

An education at an established and well-known private school will work to your advantage in getting a job, agrees Debbie Goodman-Bhyat, managing director of Jack Hammer Executive Headhunters, which only focuses on senior management placements.
If you went to the same school as an interviewer, or a school that he or she is familiar with, there usually is a “comfort level” and some affinity, she says.
But while it will get you into the door, a private schooling won’t secure you the position, she says. There are also some very good state schools with great reputations in business, she adds. She singles out Westerford High School in Cape Town.

But there is no denying that private education is quickly gaining traction in South Africa.

Some of the most attractive features of private schools for parents are accountability and the ability to select their own staff, curriculum and method of assessment, says Lee. State schools can struggle to get rid of teachers who don’t deliver, and can only follow the state curriculum and write the state senior certificate.

He says there has been a surge in faith-based and “corporate” schools, which usually charge between R18 000 and R25 000 a year.

The fees of some state schools like Paul Roos in Stellenbosch and Westerford are also closing in on the R20 000 mark, while top-end established private schools like Michaelhouse charges more than R160 000 - boarding included.

Some of the prominent corporate players in education are Advtech [JSE:ADH], which owns the Crawford Schools and Trinity House, and Paladin Capital [JSE:PLD], a PSG Group [JSE:PSG] subsidiary, which owns 76% of Curro Holdings. Curro is opening nine new schools this year.

The emergence of corporate schools is not universally welcomed in private schools circles. Lee says there is a debate whether schools should ultimately be responsible to shareholders, or whether children’s interests should be the sole driver of all decisions.
According to one private school educator, who wanted to remain anonymous, some of the established not-for-profit private schools earn up to 50% of their income from “old boys” contributions and don’t have the same financial pressures as other private schools, which have to invest in new buildings and other infrastructure, while having to keep shareholders happy.
There has also been an explosion in low-fee private schools, which charge on average R682 per month. According to research from the Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE), there are hundreds of these schools in abandoned factories, shopping centres and high-rise buildings.

The CDE study showed that a quarter of the private schools were unregistered, and therefore technically illegal.  However, teacher absenteeism was non-existent in these private schools and test results are markedly higher than in the state sector.

How far should you go to afford private school?

Many people are scaling down on retirement investments to pay for private schooling, says Suzette van Niekerk, head of Exceed Asset Management and Private Client Services.

This could make some financial sense – giving your child an education which could assist in ensuring solid career opportunities will reduce the risk of his dependency on your pocket in later years.
“The main concern for parents is that their child won’t pass once they reach university. You need to ensure that the basic foundation is there for the child’s tertiary education.”

Cutting back on your savings in order to afford school fees is not a complete disaster, agrees Henry van Deventer, the head of financial planning coaching at the independent financial services group acsis.
“If you are going to consider doing this, remember that it will have some likely consequences. Being able to maintain your desired lifestyle at retirement may now require that you either retire later or save more once your kids’ education is paid for or (likely) need to find the best combination of these two considerations," he said.

A financial planner will be able to help you understand what needs to be done in this regard in the long term.

1. Cut back on your expenses.

“The affordability of school fees is heavily influenced by how much ‘fat’ we have in our budgets,” says Van Deventer

Continue to make sure that your fixed expenses are kept as low as possible. Ensure that you are not paying more than you should towards medical cover, life insurance (death and disability cover), short term insurance cover and other such expenses.
“Reviewing these costs with a qualified professional at least once a year is important in this regard. You may also find that the costs of life and disability cover are cheaper through your employer’s group benefits.”

2. Check – and peg - your lifestyle. Funding a new expense like education is often best done by cutting back on an existing one, Van Deventer says.
“Often adjusting our lifestyle habits – like the cars we drive, when we replace them, funding with debt and our holiday and relaxation habits – frees up more money than we might think. By deciding on a disciplined approach around this and redirecting what we save to education, much can be accomplished.”

3. Pay in advance.

You may get a discount if you pay your school fees in advance. Get into the habit of setting your annual bonus aside towards your school fees.
4. Make sure you get value for your money.

The education should be worth the financial sacrifice. Do extensive homework before deciding on a school. Don’t exclude state schools from your list, many are excellent. Scrutinise matric academic results. Also ask for the results of literacy and numeracy testing, which some schools do in lower grades.

Be very wary of the “hard sell”. A school must have a good word-of-mouth reputation – marketing bells and whistles should sound alarm.
5. Apply for bursaries.

“Bursaries are not always intended for the best and the brightest. Sometimes, they are focused on providing an opportunity for someone who is not able to afford to pay for it. Ask around and see what’s available – you may be pleasantly surprised,” says Van Deventer.

-  Fin24

  • Shorts - 2011-01-17 13:55

    Invest heavily in your children. Give them the best schooling that you can, a supportive & loving home environment conducive to learning, the opportunity to pursue the career of their choice and therefore provide the necessary financial support for them then to study for required degrees / diplomas etc. Investments of this nature will yield a fantastic return in that you will have facilitated and encouraged an adult of tomorrow to confidently face the future with the ability to succeed, on their own two feet, in the challenging environment in which we all live.

  • Theo - 2011-01-17 14:06

    Very nice article with good advice. I don't have any kids but when I do have children there's no way that any of my kids will go to a government school, not with all the shenanigans we saw involving teachers last year. I think a R25 000.00 investment in your child's education is a very good thing indeed.

  • John - 2011-01-17 15:12

    What did you expect to hear when you asked for comment from private schools - what really differentiates them? Go read the book Freakonomics that did research in the Chicago area on this exact topic. The school made NO difference, smart kids stayed smart despite poor school & underperformers kept underperforming despite top schools. Focus on the kids & quality of education - public vs private has nothing to do with it. PS: I have 2 teens, one just matriculated from a puclic school with a full house of distinctions, it was all his own work with the help of some quality tutors. School was just a vehicle.

  • Dave - 2011-01-17 15:16

    While pretending to be neutral this articles plays to pros of private schools - elitism. What they should advise is that you take advantage of the tax you are already paying and go to a good state school even if that means moving houses - and more importantly get involved in the school governing body - this way not only your kids but all kids in the school benefit from your interest. I was at a state school and I believe it still producing top students – I landed up at the same university as I my private school peers and now work in investment banking where I regularly come across colleagues who too were at public schools. The key – get involved!

  • Paul - 2011-01-17 15:31

    @Theo, just make sure that your children are not the ones causing the shenanigans at your private school of choice one day!

  • @Theo - 2011-01-17 16:23

    R25k? My two kids' combined fees (Grade 00 and Grade R) is R8,800 per month. So it is more like R110,000 per annum for a private school for my two small kids (excl board).

  • mark - 2011-01-17 17:05

    So basically what this article is saying is what we all already knew...that the state schools are up to rubbish and that private is maintaining a certain quality level. How long will it take for government to realise that it will take more than block adjustments to help education.

  • Solo - 2011-01-17 18:31

    There are still good government schools. I see to many young parents having sleepless nights over schooling and affordability. Get off your high horses and get involved at your local government schools and make them better. We saw many success stories earlier in the month with matric results out of poor poor areas.

  • Gareth B - 2011-01-17 19:46

    All government schooling should be abolished. Education should be provided completely privately and be at the whim of the demands of the real consumers of education- employers.

  • Serena - 2011-01-17 23:05

    I tend to agree with John although I also definitely believe that the beeter the school you can afford to send your child to the more likely he/she is to make better connections for future life. This has proven true for two of my three children while the third was a free spirit - bright but didn't see the point of exams etc since he knew where the info was when he needed it. He went to less well known schools and only achieved Grade 9 by the time he turned 18. Thereafter he chose to see what he could do with what he had in abundance - selfesteem. He has succeeded beyond our wildest dreams because we never allowed him to believe that exams were the entry to life and that he had the smarts to succeed. He has just enrolled at Open University to do a course which will ultimately lead to a degree. He is 34. My youngest son has seized every opportunity and had a meteoric career in his second choice of career despite losing his father on his 15th birthday. He attributes it to being an all-rounder in sport, socially, culturally and academically. He did not graduate cum laude but landed the best position of the graduates in his year. It is important though to shift the emphasis away from the importance of tertiary and give more credit to those who simply not born academic but are hard workers and the backbone of societies doing manual labour. A person who can work with their hands will never be without work, We need to raise the perception that hairdressing or mechanics are lower forms of society. The truth is that hospitals can not function without the cleaning crews. Each worker is equally vital to society. It is also not just about the school but also about how involved the parent is in the school's reputation and meeting their standards.

  • stevehofmeyer - 2011-01-18 00:41

    If you kid is smart they'll rise to the top. Our kid's doctor says he agonized with taking his children to a public or private school, in the end choosing public. TRhe reason, he said,was that it's up to us to keep our kids in schools in our neighbourhoods to ensure that they remain good schools, instead of the head mentality of panicking and going somewhere else. The same applies to inner city decay. When people with money see poor people they start runnig away, instead of toughing it out to ensure normality. Look at JHB now and how it has needlessly expanded, north south east and west. How far do this people think they can run away? It's the same with schools.

  • Freddy - 2011-01-18 05:34

    Are private schools realy worth it? It depends always on affordbility. If children want to earn for example degrees,they themselves will have to find the financing as their parents cannot afford it at all.

  • Harry - 2011-01-18 07:01

    As with most things - you get what you pay for! Whilst there may be some exceptions, private schools can pay teachers more, attract and keep them, have better facilities and hence overall give a child a better education.And beware, some are better than others -- ask around and do your research! (Simple test - look at total number of distictions per number of grade 12 kids for that schoold for last five years)

  • Dominique Moore - 2011-01-18 07:28

    Schooling whereby 20 kids are put in a classroom with a teacher standing in front teaching everyone the same thing is an outdated concept from the 60's. The world has evolved. Most private schools are run like a business with profitability more important than anything else. Home and specialised schooling is the way of the future.

  • Joe - 2011-01-18 07:36

    SA's private school education is world class. You just need to finish off with an international university education. For the full monty (SA private school + int university), be prepared to set aside R 1 mil present value per child.

  • Roses - 2011-01-18 07:55

    @Theo. I guess that you had better wake up and smell the roses and start saving everything now if you think that R25k per annum will buy your kids a private education. Major State boys high schools in the greater Durban area already all charge arond that figure and girls schools are also headed there. By the time that your kids go to high school these figures would have escalated to much more what with annual increases. These can be anything between 8% and 13% - currently much greater than average inflation. One major private boys' school in Durban currently charges R80k per annum with no boarding. As I say, start saving now.

  • Pieter - 2011-01-18 08:12

    But what am I paying tax for then!! It's like this with everything in this country, you need private security, private transport, private schools, toll gates, but you will still pay tax, what is the point then!! This government sucks, nothing works but you still have to pay for it, yes there are some things they do OK ish, but then they fail miserably at the really important things. And don't preach to me about "lets all make it better", if that was possible it would have been done by now don't you think.

  • elkido - 2011-01-18 09:32

    Education/Learning - Well am a Public Scholar and am now in a Premium Graduate Programme with a Top Bank. I got more of life skiils from my public schooling than academic fineness, in contrast to my private school peers here @ work i make things happen whichever way, i dont whine, i'm not buddies with BOSS. Now as we Public Scholars are heading for leadership in these top Coporations i suppose affinity is gonna shift - when am executive am probably gonna relate more to a public scholar. its in secular mode there's no definitive point... I recognise my shortcomings as a result i embarked on self-education (google, wikipedia). SO i would concur with John if 1 is Dumb (excuse ma French emotion) they remain so unfortunately.

  • sanele - 2011-01-18 09:38

    insightful comment Dave! Thank you!, good article also.

  • Chris Morris - 2011-01-18 11:14

    SA has an acute shortage of engineers and scientists and yet universities will not accept IEB students who are a point short on the minimum entry level but readily accept NSC students who sail through matric. IEB exams are a lot tougher than NSC. But it's interesting to note that some universities have to add an extra year to their science degrees to bring their students up to the same level! Meanwhile my son studies commerce, another lost opportunity for science and technology.

  • Al - 2011-01-18 11:32

    There is nothing wrong with the schooling and experience provided by urban public schools. In fact, if you consider that for a few hundred rands per month which includes textbooks and sports kit for the year (a real example in Pretoria!) then of the thousands paid i.r.o. private schooling the bulk goes into the coffers as profit. Teachers at urban public schools are extremely dedicated and professional. It does not matter which matric exam your child writes, the education that precedes the exam is what he/she takes further, and what they get at many of the public schools cannot be beaten. What is done to the marks by stupid adminstrators is unfortunate but does not affect the schooling that occurred. Children attending school in rural areas suffer because teachers don't pitch for work etc etc. This is where private schools are really needed, but cannot be afforded.

  • Milo - 2011-01-18 15:26

    This article is clearly written by a Cape Town based (or biased) reporter. The old school tie ethos is very big in CT and is almost always asked about in interviews. Having gone to the 'right' school is almost more important than your tertiary education. Up in Gauteng, however, degrees and diplomas after school as well as experience are far more important and are hardly address during the interview process unless there is some significant connection. Regardless, of this fact, Im from Gauteng, boarded at a pvt school in Pretoria and studied all over SA. I will e sending both of my kids to good public primary schools and private secondary schools. Internationally the IEB is well respected and will more likely get you into a learning institution than a regular government supplied matric.

  • Blah - 2011-01-18 15:48

    @elkido. Judging on your spelling, I now have confirmation that putting my kids in private school was the right thing.

  • Ahmed - 2011-01-19 07:33

    Private schools should be preferred; given the degradation of morality in public schools. I wouldn't trust the teachers at public schools; given the stories we've heard in the last few years.. Students value their education at private schools so much more.

  • I told you so - 2011-01-19 07:54

    Pieter, We will pay and pay, but maybe we should, there are South African realities and inequalities which are skewed and remain skewed due to the past. If we do not admit that then we are fooling ourselves. The older white gerenations (in general) befeitted from apartheid whether we like to think about it or not, children of these parents, although having had nothing to do with apartheid have also benefitted and enjoy a head start in most areas in life. The majority can not afford to pay tax and 30% are unemployed yet must still be taken care of by the state. If we do not take care of them we may as well leave now as they will revolt - probably violently. My issue is not with tax it is with corruption, plundering of state resources, waste and theft, these impact on service delivery, the "mood" of the masses and ultimately will probably mean that we will end up paying more tax but not because the poor do not or cannot pay tax.

  • Andriette - 2011-01-19 08:38

    I am going to have one child and send him/her to private school and save to ensure that he/she can go to ubiversity and have a degree.

  • Parent - 2011-01-19 13:27

    It is not what you HAVE (materialistic wise), it is who you ARE.

  • Joy - 2011-01-19 16:12

    It's not about the school if your kids can put their minds on it they can do it. it's being responsable

  • GG - 2011-01-20 08:44

    Parents should get a tax break if sending their kids to private schools As it is clear that our TAXES are not been spent properly. Bottom Line

  • Vig - 2011-01-20 10:54

    Isnt it abit distorted to assume that the reason varsity students perform better is because they went to a private. couldnt it be because the people that went to private schools have more access to resources the those that didn't... Hence they perform better. they mistaking correlation with causation.

  • Shane - 2011-01-20 15:48

    After reading some comment,part of the notion is that private schools produce winners so to speak. Not entirely true. Public schools have produced very good heart surgeons and lawyers etc. The only difference is that pvt schools offer focused attention in comparison and off course the hole in the pocket. However that depends on the teachers and schools management tactics etc. Many parents who have their kids in pvt schools tend to believe there kids are smarter and more obedient. Its a mindset wrought by good marketing of that pvt schools. Then again their are those parents who have the same high regard for public schools who produce good results. Truth is in less fortunate areas there are issues and a lack of interest by many (not all) regarding passion to do ones job of which perpetuates negation. Therefore its all about circumstance. My personal view regarding these competitive institutions requires prudential cogitation prior to enrolling our kids. What are we, as conscious individuals, supporting? It is bold to assume that learners from pvt schools are better than (according to some comments). Another pertinent issue is that some public schools are becoming way to expensive. I wonder why and what is their aim? Clearly there are social classes hoping to maintain status and see their way through governing bodies. Well if so, then institutions should not be the tools to entertain it. Education remains humanity's obligation to all youth regardless of class or status. There have been many parents, single parents and less fortunate who find great barriers when hoping to enroll kids in specific schools, albeit living in the area. When seeking exemption from fees they are faced with inconsideration. Yet some do qualify for it but still initially given a hard time. Why? Should schools of this kind be allowed to act in this manner? Sad but true

  • @ Elkido - 2011-01-21 06:52

    It shows- Your grammer as pathetic! I feel sorry for the bank that took a chance!

  • Mark - 2011-01-21 13:18

    I seems that the next logical step is to build private universities where only IEB students will be admitted.

  • @commentaries - 2011-01-21 18:03

    should you really feel the need to criticise, at least do it properly! its "grammar", you muppet (@the last person to comment @elkido), not grammer, and you judge "BY someones spelling" not "ON someones spelling" @blah. perhaps you are the banker/s. why do some people always criticise that which is not core to the point, and worse, badly at that. i went to public school in the eighties "when one still could". this is somewhat of a generalisation because there are still some good, public schools out there. i believe there are advantages and disadvantages to both, private and public schools, but that the advantages of a private school education presently and, depending on your location, outweigh the disadvanteges. therefore my 3 kids are in a private school for which i sacrifice dearly, but gladly. oh, and i am a fairly successful, european individual, and english is my second language. this particular article i think was well written and provoked thought and discussion. that is what its supposed to do, not so ?

  • Blah - 2011-01-24 11:36

    @commentaries. Sentences start with caps. "I" is spelt with caps. "...outweigh the disadvanteges". Good going there you moron !

  • Paul G - 2011-01-24 15:52

    One has to be careful not to generalise. There are excellant State schools in South Africa that are well managed by their governing bodies, have dedicated teachers and school management. The education your child will get here is quite acceptable and at competitive school fees compared to the private schools. You must shop around. The coastal state schools are very good and still provide excellant standards.I am sure they also provide many graduates from the best universities.The standards portrayed by the media really relate to the old township and rural schools , have a good look at the old Model C schools before spending huge sums of money on private education. At the end of the day your child needs a good Matric to get into university and it will not matter where he/she has gone to high school. If the child has the right approach to learning, is studious and dedicated they will succeed at university.

  • Vic - 2011-01-25 15:17

    My twins matriculated in 2010 - IEB system - Maths, Maths, Maths, Maths & Maths is the major thing varsities looks at. My "ten cents worth" - Never let any school convince you that your child should do Maths Lit and NEVER take your child to a school "shrink". They can do way better than you or the school thinks regardless of how desperate thinks may seem in the lower grades. Good luck either system can work for you

  • Noni - 2011-02-16 15:25

    I went to Crawford college and I'm still a UCT drop out!!!So this private school think is nonsense !!

      100000454717327 - 2011-12-13 13:16

      @ Noni - this might be your attitude

  • Phinda - 2011-02-24 10:29

    I think a loving, supporting home with involved parents is priceless and worth more than any private school education.

      jj - 2011-12-20 11:56

      Phinda is right in emhasing parental support and involvement. As a parent who put 3 kids through private schools I must add that most(not all) of the parents who make the financial sacrifice required to provide their children with a private school education are also supportive and involved. Our personal experience was that our kids developed study habits and work ethics that stood them in excellent stead at varsity. Between them they obtained 18 distinctions in matric and so far four degrees, three with distinction. However the real foundation was set by a mother who acted as primary educator and homemaker!

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