Curro, Reddam House and more - the rise of private schools in South Africa

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A teacher and learners in a classroom.
A teacher and learners in a classroom.
Photo: Getty Images

Locally and internationally, state education systems have been struggling to cope with the growing demand for a good education.

Private education companies have stepped up to fill the gap and are playing a major role in meeting this demand by offering a range of schooling models and fee structures to choose from.

The South African Schools Act of 1996 established a national schooling system and currently, there are two recognised categories of schools: public and independent.

Public schools are state-controlled and independent schools are privately governed. All private schools are included in the independent school category.

There is a widely differing range of public-school fees – from no-fee schools to mid-fee pricing, and at the top end are the former Model C schools, which charge premium fees as they have more facilities.

Private or independent schools also offer low-, mid- and premium-priced models. According to statistics published in 2019 on the website South African Market Insights, less than2000 independent schools in the country cater to just over 400 000 students. However, this figure has since increased.

On the other hand, there are around 23 796 public schools for almost 12,5 million students.

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The numbers look even bleaker when broken down into learners per educator. Public schools make do with 31,3 learners per educator and, on average, 524 learners per public school. Private schools, on the other hand, have 11,8 learners per educator and, on average, have 204,5 learners per school.

So, even though far more students attend public school, there are almost three times as many learners for each public-school educator to work with than those at independent schools.

Given this shocking number, it isn’t surprising that most parents opt for private schooling and that there is a growing market for private schools that provide quality education compared to public schools.

The big players

One of the largest independent school groups is run by Curro Holdings. It offers classes starting from the early childhood development phase right up to Grade 12. The group was established in 1998 with the vision of making independent school education accessible to more learners throughout Southern Africa. Curro does this by developing, acquiring and managing independent schools in South Africa and other targeted markets in Africa.

Currently, there are 178 schools across 76 campuses with 66 153 learners and 6 245 employees, of which 3 651 are teachers. Globally, Curro is among the 10 largest for-profit school groups based on student numbers.

The group has made great strides with its low-fee models, as more than 61 percent of Curro’s learners pay, on average, less than R5000 per month for schooling, with 25 percent paying less than R3 000 per month. Even the global pandemic couldn’t curb Curro’s growth.

According to the group’s 2020 Annual Integrated Report, learner numbers grew by 10 percent – from 60 187 in December 2020 to 66 153 in February 2021. Curro offers nine school models with varying fees.

The premium Curro schools are capped at 25 learners in a classroom.

Curro Castle Nursery Schools: They cater for children aged three to five, and costR4 700 per month.

Curro Schools: They cater for children from age three to Grade 12, and cost R5 200 per month. The learners write the Independent Examinations Board (IEB) exams.

Curro Select Schools: They cater for babies aged three months and go up to Grade 12. The fees range from R3 200 toR6 700. Learners write IEB or Cambridge exams.

Curro Assisted Learning Schools: These schools have much smaller classes. They start with children aged three and go right up to Grade 12. The fees are R5 900 a month. National Senior Certificate exams are written. Therapists and other professionals are on site to help learners.

Curro Online School: An online learning programme for learners from Grades 4 to 10. Higher grades are being phased in annually. The programme costs R3975 a month.

The lower-priced Curro schools are capped at 35 learners per class and have a differing fee structure:

Curro Academy Schools: They offer classes from Grade RR to Grade 12 with fees ranging from R2 600 toR3 800a month. The NSC exams are written.

Curro DigiEd Schools: Only available in Cape Town and Johannesburg, the schools start from Grade 8 and go up to Grade 10. Higher grades are being phased in. Teaching is through e-learning tools and videos, with teachers and tutors providing one-on-one assistance as needed. Fees range from R1 750 to R2 400 and NSC examinations are written.

Curro Meridian Schools: These schools start from Grade RR to Grade 12 and fees range from R2 300 to R3 000. The NSC examinations are written.

Curro Private Colleges: The number of learners is class dependent. The colleges offer extended opportunities for learners from Grade 10, who will go on to write the National Certificate Vocational (NCV) examination at the end of Grade 12. Instead of being in Grade 10, 11 and 12, learners complete NCV Level 2, Level3and Level 4. Fees range from R4 300 toR4 500.


The ADvTECH Group is another big player as it boasts 109 schools in total – with 96 schools in South Africa and 13 in the rest of Africa. The brand has 40 pre-primary schools, 35 primary schools and 34 high schools with a total of 27 334 scholars in South Africa and 5 977 in the rest of Africa.

Some of the brands under ADvTECH include Crawford International, Trinity House, Abbots College, Maravest, Junior College and the mid-fee Pinnacle College group of schools. While the teacher-to-student ratios differ from brand to brand, all classes are capped at 25.

ADvTECH chief executive Roy Douglas says that there are no plans to launch a low-cost fee model and they are showing growth in the mid-fee schools.

Douglas says: “The Pinnacle brand was launched in 2019 and enrolments continue to grow. ADvTECH continues to investigate all growth opportunities in both mid-and premium-fee sectors – in response to the market demand.”

Covid-19 didn’t impact their numbers, adds Douglas: “ADvTECH achieved consistent growth in enrolments despite the pandemic as parents continue to search for the highest-quality academic offering for their children. Although there were limited withdrawals due toCovid-19, there were also significant enrolments during the pandemic and lockdowns as a result of our superior online offering. ADvTECH achieved a net enrolment growth of 5% during the year.”

The group launched the Evolve Online School in August 2020, and classes began in January 2021. By the end of February 2021, there were 447 enrolments. This online offering starts at Grade 0, which costs R20 500. Fees gradually rise until Grade 9, which costs R29 900. There are plans to phase in higher grades.

Academic results: ADvTECH Schools had exceptional results in the 2019 matric examinations. The group’s IEB students achieved a 100% pass rate across all of its schools, and all ADvTECH schools averaged a 95,3% Bachelor Degree pass – with Crawford Sandton topping the list with a 100% Bachelor Degree pass.

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SPARK Schools

The SPARK Schools network was founded by Stacey Brewer and Ryan Harrison in 2012 as they were concerned about the state of education in South Africa. While the network has a large presence in Gauteng and a limited one in the Western Cape, it has shown remarkable growth in less than a decade.

The group started with SPARK Ferndale, which opened in 2013. It now has a network of 18 schools – 16 primary schools, as well as one high school in Gauteng and the other in the Western Cape.

All the schools serve over 13 500 learners. SPARK Riversands opened its doors in January in 2022. All classes are capped at 32 learners. The group’s long-term goal is to open new schools throughout South Africa. However, its 2022 expansions plans are focused on the provinces in which it currently operates.

Brewer, who is the CEO as well as the co-founder of SPARK Schools, says: “There are approximately 25 000 schools in South Africa, with only 5% of the schools being independent schools. However, the independent school market continues to grow year-on-year. There are not enough affordable options for families, and so the market will continue to grow for years to come.

“The affordability of our model comes as a result of our blended learning model, which is where our innovation lies. We can optimally utilise our space and the teacher’s time to drive cost efficiencies in the system.”

The fees for these primary schools are R25 500, while the high schools cost R33 000. Aftercare costsR8 640 for both primary and high school.

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Additional private schools

Future nation schools

This small network of schools was founded in 2017 by Sizwe Nxasana and Dr Judy Dlamini. There are only two schools in the group and both are based in Johannesburg. FNS Lyndhurst and FNS Fleurhof both cater to pre-school, primary school and high-school learners. They offer an enhanced National CAPS curriculum, a project-based learning model and IEB examination in Grade 12.

Reddford House

This premium school brand is only based in Gauteng and has three schools in its network: Reddford House Blue Hills in Midrand, Reddford House Northcliff in Johannesburg and Reddford House The Hills in Pretoria East. It is part of Inspired, a leading global premium schools group that consists of 70 schools across 20 countries. All schools cater for children aged one to 18. The senior learners write the IEB exams.

Reddam House

Reddam House, now also a part of Inspired, is a co-educational and non-denominational independent school group. The Reddam House group has nine schools in South Africa and the United Kingdom, and three Early Learning Schools in Australia. The group currently operates schools in Gauteng, as well as in Cape Town and Durban.

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