Choosing schools: primary school

There are two recognised categories of schools in South Africa: public (also known as government or state) and independent (also known as private). Choosing one will depend on your circumstances, including your ethos as a family, your child's particular needs and your finances.

Public schools
Most of these schools are state-aided to some extent – the government provides the school with some money and parents contribute to basics and extras in the form of school fees and fund-raising.

Poorer schools are usually given larger state subsidies and so have lower school fees, while wealthier schools are given smaller subsidies and thus have higher fees. In certain areas, where poverty is a big problem, parents may be exempt from paying school fees.

You can register your child at any public school if there are vacancies, but most schools have a "feeder zone" – the area the school is obliged to favour when admitting students.

The school will usually first consider children whose parents live in the school's feeder zone (this includes parents who live at their place of work such as domestic workers).

What to bear in mind
  • There is often some correlation between class size and fees. The average teacher to pupil ratio in public schools is 1:33.
  • At public schools where parents pay for extra teachers by way of school fees, the maximum number of pupils is usually about 30. At poorer schools this is often as high as 50 children in a classroom.
  • Do your research well ahead of time as waiting lists fill up very fast. Many primary schools start allocating places as early as the first six months of the previous year.

Private/independent schools
Most of us think of "private" schools as being very expensive and elite but that's not necessarily the case. The sector incorporates a wide range of different religions, philosophies and educational approaches across the full socio-economic spectrum.

There are many independent schools with religious affiliations that are "not-for-profit" and cater for Christian, Hindu, Muslim and Jewish faiths. According to the Independent Schools Association of South Africa (ISASA), most independent schools charge fees below R6 000 per annum.

Only 14% of schools charge fees of more than R20 000 per annum. Independent schools do not have a feeder zone system and pupils may need to pass an entrance exam or interview for acceptance into the schools.

What to bear in mind
Independent schools usually operate on a three-term system. Public schools have four terms.
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