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KwaZulu-Natal - Independent schools are popping at the seams as mainly black parents, who have lost confidence in low-performing public classrooms, opt for the ivy league.
This week, Jane Hofmeyr, head of the Independent Schools’ Association (Isasa), said that 120 000 children had crossed from public to private education over the past three years.
Her comments were reinforced by the Institute of Race Relations’ 2012 South Africa Survey, which said that enrolment growth in public schools was starting to stagnate. This was because parents were opting for affordable private education offered by groups such as Curro, an education company listed on the JSE.
The report said the number of pupils attending independent schools was growing steadily and this was likely continue.
Hofmeyr said the fastest enrolment growth in private schools was from black families ranging from the elite to the working class.
There was increasing concern among parents “across all socio-economic groups” about the quality of state school education, and a growing confidence in the private school sector, which consistently displayed excellent results.
In last year’s provincial National Senior Certificate report, 236 of KZN’s 6 000 schools were private. Isasa statistics showed that of these schools 126 were member schools with 24 155 pupils.
Independent school growth since 2000 has escalated from 2 percent to 6 percent and represents 4 percent of all pupils. In 2000 we had 256 283 pupils, which doubled by 2012 to 504 395, of which 73 percent were black,” said Hofmeyr.
Countrywide 700 private schools were Isasa members, but in total 1 486 were registered with the department last year.
Some private schools were charging as much as R200 000 a year but others had fees as low as R3 000 a year and served disadvantaged communities. Five schools had applied for Isasa membership in KZN this year, she said.
Judy Tate, the principal at the R38 000-a-year Inanda Seminary, a boarding school outside Durban which accepts mainly black children, said the pressure for places was “huge”.
“Last year, we had 390 kids, this year we have 420 and we have waiting lists,” said Tate. “We just don’t have enough beds and, in some of our grades, we don’t have the classroom space.”
The R200 000-a-year Hilton College was full “without a space anywhere”, said spokesman Paul Guthrie.
“We have Grade 8s this year from 41 different schools,” he said. Of those, nine were state schools, which provided 12 percent of the intake.
Lynne Neilson from Durban Girls’ College said the school, which costs between R32 500 and R70 000 a year with an extra R53 800 for boarding, did not have space to spare.
“Forty percent of our 2013 enrolment was from state schools,” she said. “We also started additional Grade 4 and Grade 8 classes to accommodate demand.”
One Durban parent, who asked not to be named, said she sent her daughter to an independent school because she was worried about the quality of state education and because in an independent school parents had more of a say.
“Also, in our area there aren’t any decent girls’ high schools. They just don’t seem to be centres of excellence,” she added.
Curro chief executive Chris van der Merwe said enrolment had almost doubled across the country this year. “In January 2012 we enrolled 12 500 pupils countrywide; this year it was up to 21 000.”
Fees at all Curro schools range from R22 000 to R44 000 a year for day pupils and, according to Van der Merwe, the trend in black enrolment is “rapidly” increasing.
“Of our 21 000 pupils, more than 13 000 are black children. It is affordable and this sector is flocking to private education,” he said.
Tim Gordon, the chief executive of the Governing Body Foundation, said the trend was not a concern.
“Top state schools are accepting one out of every 10 applications. When someone is turned away from these schools, rather than go to a lower-grade public school, they go to a private school… This trend is a reflection of a new moneyed group who enjoy the status attached to sending their children to a private school,” he said. - The Mercury