Get ready to pay R250k for your child's 2017 school year - if you can

Cape Town - To pay or not to pay, that seems to be the big question when it comes to considering the high cost of attending South Africa's top (and most expensive) private boarding schools.

Those parents who decide it is worth it (and who can afford it of course) would have to be prepared to cough up more than R200 000 per child in 2017. Do keep in mind that the fee also includes the full boarding cost of learners.

If you are looking for the most expensive private schools in the country, look no further than KwaZulu Natal with Hilton College weighing in at R253 660 (tuition and boarding) for 2017, followed by Michaelhouse at R240 000 (tuition and boarding).

Johannesburg has its fair share of most expensive schools, including Roedean School for Girls (R236 795); St Stithians (R229 010); St John's College (R226 965); St Andrew’s School for Girls (R219 450); St Martins (R217 330) and St Mary’s (R215 200).

Among the top 10 most expensive boarding schools in the country there is only one from the Eastern Cape, namely St Andrew's College (R235 335) in Grahamstown, while Bishops (Diocesan College) in Cape Town (R219 510) is the only Western Cape school in the top 10.

So, what to make of all this?

Murray Witherspoon, director of marketing Michaelhouse, told Fin24 it all boils down to free choice when deciding where to educate your child.

He explained that Michaelhouse offers excellently resourced facilities where staff – like learners – live on the school grounds.

"Our learners are encouraged to be open-minded and to use the facilities available to discover new opportunities," said Witherspoon.

He emphasised that one must take into account that the 2017 fee of R240 000 includes boarding. One should, therefore, take into account what transport, food - even daily showers - would have cost if the child lived at home.

On top of that the teacher to pupil ratio at the school is 1 to 10 only. In his view, it is, therefore, rather more like having a mentor than a teacher.

"Therefore, there lies tremendous value in independent schools' price tag. I have, for example, before exams seen a teacher and learners in a classroom at 23:00 at night busy preparing. You cannot put a price tag on that," said Witherspoon.

A unique character

Alan Thompson, headmaster of St Andrew's College in Grahamstown, told Fin24 the independent (private) education sector fills an important niche by providing schools with specific character. These could include religion, small classes and a specialist curriculum.

He pointed out that there is a range of offerings and fee options across the private school sector.

"St Andrew’s provides a fully residential boarding experience with multiple curricular offerings - IEB and Cambridge A Levels - a very wide range of subject offerings, small class numbers, excellent facilities and a very wide range of sporting and cultural options. All of these take place on a very large, 162 year old campus. It is thus a very costly operation," explained Thompson.

"We receive no funding at all from the state. We are working tirelessly to address fee inflation, are committed to remaining true to our Eastern Cape heritage and being a school that is accessible across a wide economic range. We have a very active Foundation office, which sources and manages bursary funding and we are thus able to provide financial assistance where affordability is an issue."

Thompson admitted that the school's fees are relatively high by local standards, but emphasised that its offering is on a par with the very best in the world.

"When viewed in that light, our fees compare very well with our international peers," he concluded.

Fin24 took a peek on the websites of some of the most expensive private boarding schools:

- Hilton College (KZN): for R253 660 your child gets tuition, food and board, games, minor medical attention, the use of the sanatorium, library and laundry. It includes core curriculum based activities inclusive of certain sports;

- Michaelhouse (KZN): R240 000 - founded in 1896 by an Anglican priest;

- Roedean School for Girls (Gauteng): Tuition only ranges from R69 725 for grade 0 to R133 619 (grades 10 to 12); boarding is an additional R103 176;

- St Andrews College (Eastern Cape): R235 335;  It was founded in 1855 by the first Bishop of Grahamstown;

- St Stithians (Gauteng): Tuition only ranges from 85 620 (grade R) to R127 460 (grades 8 to 12), while boarding is R90 970;

- St Johns College (Gauteng): Tuition ranges from R46 577 (grade 0) to R124 618 (grade 8 to 12), while boarding fees range from R69 945 (weekly boarders) to R85 734 (full time boarders);

- Bishops (Western Cape): Tuition is R125 350 (grades 8 to 12) and boarding R94 160;

- St Andrew’s School for Girls (Gauteng): R118 410 (grades 8 to 12), while boarding is R101 040;

- St Martins school (Gauteng): Tuition: R131 200 (grades 8 to 12), while boarding is R86 130 (full time).

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