Education and Schools in South Africa

► Buy the South Africa Guide for Kindle or PDF or the Expat Arrivals PDF guides to Johannesburg and Cape Town


Stellenbosch University in the Western CapeThe South African education system consists of three types of schools: independent schools, government schools and governing body-funded public schools.
Private education is far more expensive than public education but offers exceptional standards. These schools are attended mostly by children from middle- and high-income families.  

Former Model C schools are government schools that are administrated and largely funded by a governing body of parents and alumni. Some of the country’s best schools fall into this category, and fees are somewhere between private and regular government school fees.
Government schools are controlled by provincial education departments. Standards vary widely and they are mostly attended by children from the working class.
While there is no official language of instruction in South Africa, the most reputable schools teach in English. International schools, on the other hand, teach in the language associated with their respective countries.
There are also a number of reputable universities in South Africa. The best among these are the University of Cape Town, the University of the Witwatersrand and the University of Stellenbosch, all of which regularly feature in international rankings.

Public schools in South Africa

Public schools depend entirely on the government for funding and supplies. Each province is responsible for ensuring its schools are equipped and have enough money to run properly. As a result, standards vary immensely, depending on the efficiency and wealth of the province.

Overall, with a serious lack of financing and monitoring from the government, many children receive low standards of education through a lack of qualified teachers and sometimes an outright absence of equipment in classrooms. Due to these shortcomings, parents that can afford it prefer to send their children to private schools.

In the bigger cities, public school standards are generally better and in some cases may meet expat requirements. Public schools draw students and funds from their suburbs and, in general, wealthier areas have better schools.

Former Model C schools

The best government schools are partially administrated and funded by parents and a governing body. Known as “Model C” schools during Apartheid, the name has stuck and the best of them continue to offer exceptional facilities and high academic standards. Examples include Rondebosch Boys and SACS in Cape Town, or King Edward’s School in Johannesburg.

Private schools in South Africa

With the exception of some expats living in high-income urban areas, most seek private education for their children. Depending on their location, expats are spoilt for choice when it comes to private schools.

Private schools in South Africa have an excellent reputation and offer internationally recognised exams; children from these schools have excellent acceptance rates into tertiary education worldwide.

Many private schools have religious origins and aim to provide pupils with a spiritual foundation to complement their academic and physical accomplishments.

South Africa offers British-based education in well-established private schools. The American International School, as well as several European schools, also have branches in the big cities.

Similar to other countries, private schools generally have better facilities, smaller classes and a larger selection of extra-curricular activities. 

Alternative learning schools

Alternative and arts schools, such as Waldorf and Montessori, are becoming increasingly popular with the parents of younger children. These schools can be found in all major cities and are often easier to get into than traditional private schools or international schools.

Homeschooling in South Africa

Homeschooling is increasingly popular with expat parents wanting to educate their children in South Africa. To do this, they have to apply to the head of the relevant provincial Department of Education and register their child. The lessons they offer must follow Department guidelines and records of the child’s coursework must be maintained.

Safety in schools in South Africa

Expats are often concerned about safety in South Africa, including safety in schools. All cities have areas with a reputation for drugs and gangs, and within these suburbs there are public schools. South Africa is no exception. The safety of the children in these neighbourhoods is a priority, and schools take the relevant steps to ensure their wellbeing. That said, it's highly unlikely that expats would live in these suburbs and South African schools are generally safe.

Registration requirements for schools in South Africa

Once parents have decided on a school, they need to meet certain requirements to register their child.
This includes the child’s birth certificate and up-to-date immunisation card. Some schools charge registration fees or conduct placement interviews. Once the school has confirmed acceptance in writing, the confirmation must accompany the application for the child's study visa. An immigration practitioner can assist with this process.
To register in person at the school, parents will need to produce the child’s passport and study visa – without one the child may be turned away.

School year in South Africa

The South African school year begins in mid-January and ends in early December. The disadvantage of attending local schools is that foreign students often go back a half a grade, because most schools insist on pairing kids with their age group.
International schools generally follow the traditional August to June school year (with the exception of British International College) which helps if losing that half-year is a major concern. But this brings another challenge: international schools often follow their home country’s holidays, so parents’ calendars might clash with their children’s, making travel planning more difficult.

Login with your Facebook account (Recommended)
, after login or registration your account will be connected.