The players
Low-fee private schools are steadily gaining popularity. An example are the Spark Schools, which are under the banner of the eAdvance Group. Co-founded by Stacey Brewer and Ryan Harrison while they were pursuing their MBAs at the Gordon Institute of Business Science, the primary schools offer affordable private education through a blended learning model. Rental costs are kept down by eAdvance’s property management branch. The first Spark School opened in 2013 and soon attained phenomenal academic results. With the third and fourth Spark Schools opening in Maboneng and Bramley, Johannesburg in January 2015, it seems the model is working.

Spark Schools’ co-founder and eAdvance CEO Stacey Brewer explains. “Our blended learning model allows for high-quality education at an affordable cost. By using online learning together with conventional classroom teaching, we capture data on all our children, and based on how they’re achieving, we’re able to address every child’s individual needs so we can differentiate our instruction accordingly.”

Our blended learning model allows for high-quality education at an affordable cost
Building on the success of the Johannesburg Spark Schools, eAdvance’s long-term plans include opening these schools throughout South Africa.

Also offering affordable private education by combining technology with traditional learning (what it terms “21st-Century learning”) is the JSE-listed Curro Holdings, an independently owned Christian private education group. Offering nursery, primary and high schools, the company is rapidly growing, with over 33 schools across SA with a goal of having 80 schools by 2020. Classes have a maximum of 25 students and matrics write IEB (Independent Examinations Board) exams in Grade 12.

Low-cost private schools with innovative education models are gaining traction with the entry of new private school network, Pioneer Academies. Founded by Chinezi Chijioke who previously headed up McKinsey & Company’s African Education Practice, the group, backed by private investors, aims to provide affordable holistic education focused on academic and emotional development. It has a similar property structure to eAdvance, and the first school in the network opens in Ormonde next year.

For eAdvance’s Brewer, low-cost private schools like Spark are undoubtedly the future of South African education. “We’re providing an education model that’s affordable to the country,” she says. “One of the greatest proportions of our national budget goes to education, yet we can provide education at the same costs that government is spending, but our quality outcomes are internationally competitive.”

Comparing costs
At Spark, parents can either pay a monthly tuition fee of R1 575 a month or they receive an 8% discount by paying an up-front annual fee of R14 550. For a R33o fee, all stationery is provided and textbooks are included in the costs. Curro fees differ from school to school and from grade to grade as the education models vary in each of the four networks of schools offered (Curro private schools, Meridian private schools, Curro Castle nursery schools and Select private schools). For example Curro Aurora has annual fees ranging from R34 416 to R64 344. Pioneer academies aim to keep annual fees between R20 000 and R40 000. Fees at traditional private schools can vary greatly. In general though, fees can start at around R25 000 but depending on the school and grade, they can reach upwards of R100 000 a year.

Ensuring schools are above board
Some private schools seem to offer  attractive packages but be aware of fly-by-nighters. Brewer offers the following tips for parents to ensure a private school is reputable:

  • Make sure the school has a registration number from the department education.
  • Question the quality offered in the different grades.
  • Go to the schools and actually look in the classrooms and see the facilities or even ask to observe lessons.

According to Curro, private schools also need to be registered with Umalusi, the Council for Quality Assurance in General and Further Education and Training, so make sure this is the case.
For more information on low-cost private schools and more, go to the Good Schools Report on page 157 of the August 2014 issue of DESTINY.