Johannesburg - Private education companies are set to benefit from the shortcomings facing public education, which were highlighted this week as government schools battled to place thousands of pupils in Gauteng and the Western Cape.

The plight of 40 000 pupils not placed in schools in Gauteng as the academic year got under way on Wednesday, partly explains the boom of low-fee private schools.

In recent years, South Africa saw growth in schools belonging to Curro Holdings, SPARK Schools and Pioneer Academies, among others.

JSE-listed Curro declined to respond to Business Report questions yesterday.

The group, which listed on the JSE in June 2011, has seen its annual revenue grow from R170 million in 2011 to almost R1.4 billion in the year ended December 2015. Not surprisingly, rising revenue correlates the growth in the number of schools and pupil enrolments. Curro has previously said that its objective was to have 200 schools on 80 campuses by 2020.

Curro’s shares closed unchanged yesterday at R47.02.

Pioneer Academies chief executive Chinezi Chijioke said on Thursday that Pioneer was established to serve the need in and outside the country for excellent education that was financially accessible. In the past three years, it had grown from a single school in Johannesburg serving 200 students to five schools across South Africa and Kenya, serving more than 1 200 students, said Chijioke, a former head of McKinsey & Company’s African education practice.

Read also: Curro to build more schools

“We see ourselves as partners to public education. We all have the same mission to educate young South Africans to be the pioneers of tomorrow. The same is true of our relationship with other independent schools. What sets a Pio- neer education apart, however, is our school culture and our instructional methods.

“We are focused on developing our students as leaders and innovators through an education that emphasises problem-solving, leadership and character development. In 2016 our South African primary school students’ growth in reading and mathematics significantly exceeded international averages. In fact in reading, we doubled the international growth rate. That is akin to gaining two years of reading development in a single year,” said Chijioke.

SPARK, which opened its first school in 2013, has had a significant rise in enrolments, according to its spokeswoman Mary Busschau. “We have [almost] doubled the network every year since we have started. This year we will operate 11 schools serving over 4000 children,” said Busschau.

In choosing a location for a new school, SPARK considered a number of factors, she said. These included the size of the property and the facilities available.

“We also need to ensure that the property is appropriately located that is situated in what we call a ‘Goldi- locks zone’, a location that is in close proximity to different demographics and in transitional zones between lower and higher income areas. We also need to take into consideration whether there is a strong demand for a school like SPARK Schools,” she said.

BUSINESS REPORT