Insider tips to get into some of SA’s top schools

We know that the school admissions process can be quite the headache. But, as told by educators themselves, here are a few tips that might get them into some of SA's top schools.
We know that the school admissions process can be quite the headache. But, as told by educators themselves, here are a few tips that might get them into some of SA's top schools.

*Updated 7 September 2018 to include Rhenish.

Choosing a school for your child is a huge decision, one that could shape them for the rest of their lives. And then once you’ve researched and discussed and finally decided where to send them, you have to run the gambit of the admission’s process, and then wait (sometimes for years) to hear if your child has been accepted.

To help you to have the best chance at being accepted at the school of your choice, we have spoken to principals and teachers at some of South Africa’s top schools, to get some ‘insider’ advice. 

Here’s what they had to share:

It's about the parent, not the child

Gavin Keller, principal of Sun Valley Primary School and CEO of Sun Valley Group of Schools, says he believes in taking the first 128 students who apply. “I don't believe in school readiness testing or interview testing,” he says. 

“The brain does not suddenly get ready at 6 to go to school. Our brains develop at their own pace and unless there was oxygen starvation at birth or a serious medical problem or syndrome at birth – all children are born with the same brain. And we all have challenges, so I don’t believe in putting little people through the trauma of testing.”

Keller does, however, believe in parent testing. “What parents do with their child between conception and Grade R will determine the future of the child,” he told us. “So arrogant, pressurising, over-anxious, obnoxious, demanding, helicopter and snow-plough parents are not welcome at our school. The child remains the client.”   

With 36 years of experience, 25 as a principal, Keller believes that all kids can do well. Stress is contagious, he explains, and parents are often the cause of stress. “Stress shuts down learning!” he says.

Good all-rounders, Old Boys and early applications

The admissions secretary at Bishops Diocesan College in Cape Town told us that the school favours applicants who have good all-round talents to contribute to the school, i.e. those who perform well academically, and have a solid sporting and cultural CV. Parents are also encouraged to showcase their son’s leadership experience and any community work, as well as interest in societies and clubs, in the application process.

Sons of Old Boys and siblings of current pupils are given priority, although admission is not guaranteed. Transformation and diversity are also determining factors for admission.

All applicants to Grade 8 are required to write an entrance exam early in their Grade 7 year. The exam is grounded in the Grade 6 and Grade 7 South African curriculum, and consists of two subjects: English and Maths. There is an English comprehension and essay paper, and a Maths multiple choice and long question paper.  

Unlike state schools, parents may apply for their sons to Bishops at any time after their birth, and early application is advised particularly for admission to the Pre-Prep. Date of application is not as important for the College, but where there is a choice between evenly matched applicants, this may be used as a deciding factor. 

Bishops is an Anglican school established by the Diocese of Cape Town, and welcomes applicants of all faiths. Parents and pupils need to be aware of this and be prepared to embrace the school’s ethos and values.

Keen interest in the school and its education principals

Anne-Marié Winkelman, a kindergarten teacher at Michael Oak Waldorf School in Cape Town, shared her advice to parents with us. Waldorf schools do not have a principal, and decisions about who will be accepted to the school are made by the teachers themselves, so as a kindergarten teacher, Winkelman will often be the final decider.  

She told us that prospective parents should put their child's name down on the waiting list as soon as possible, as date of application is definitely considered.  

In their covering letter, parents must also explain why they want a Waldorf education for their child, and demonstrate their interest and knowledge of the Steiner method by showing what they have learnt from reading up and attending an introductory talk at the school. 

“Knowledge of the Waldorf education and Steiner principles is of real value,” she says. “And then follow up regularly asking how the waiting list is progressing, as continued interest in the school is important.”

Most Waldorf schools hold an annual fair, which offers prospective parents and students a chance to see the school in action and to mingle with parents and current students. It’s also a great opportunity to engage with teachers and make a good impression.

Close involvement and commitment to the school's ethos

Marc Loon, principal of Kairos School of Inquiry in Johannesburg, says that being a parent of the school implies parent involvement. “We are a school of only around 70 children, so close involvement with the teacher and the school is inevitable,” he explained to us. 

“As part of our admissions process, we need parents to understand that we are quite a different sort of school, and this implies different expectations with regard to the curriculum, extra-murals, and the family’s experience of being part of the school.”

He says it helps if parents understand these distinctions from the conventional school model. “Being a part of the Kairos family involves participating in a shared education project for the benefit and learning of the children in our care. This includes supporting certain agreements with the school which are somewhat unusual, such as a policy that limits the use of digital devices in the home.”

He says that ultimately, a Kairos student emerges from their learning journey ending in Grade 7 with an unusually high social and emotional literacy alongside a sincere attitude to learning which seeks genuine understanding, because getting the “right" answer in a test has always been a question for inquiry.

Get your paperwork in order

Debra Le Riche, admissions secretary at Rhenish Girl’s High School in Stellenbosch, told us that acceptances are based on criteria from academic, sport, culture, leadership and community service involvement. 

“Parents should ensure that the application is complete and with an unabridged birth certificate,” she said, "and make sure they read and comply with all instructions, as incomplete and unsigned applications won’t be considered. If they do not have an unabridged birth certificate they should apply at Home Affairs for one and provide us with proof of application,” she adds. 

“The earlier they hand in their applications, the better, especially hostel applications,” Le Riche says. Late applications are rarely considered and only with a valid reason.

It’s not necessary to include copies of awards or certificates, she says, if the school requires these they will ask the parents for them. “Bring your application in complete, paper-clipped together and on time,” she says, for the best chance to be accepted to the school.

Did you have trouble getting your child into the school of your choice? Do you have any tips on getting your child into one of SA's top schools? Tell us by emailing and we may publish your comments.

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