While the fee-hike freeze at universities has offered a reprieve to some parents, others with children at some of the country’s top government schools have had to dig deeper to finance their children’s education.
A snap survey this week by City Press revealed that some of the country’s most sought-after state schools – such as Durban’s Westville Boys High, Joburg’s King Edward VII and Nelson Mandela Bay’s Grey High School – now charge more than many universities charge their first-year students.
Parents sending their children to Westville Boys will pay R41 000 next year, while Grey High will charge R40 700 and Parktown Boys’ High School in Joburg will charge R39 900. These fees exclude deposits.
Some of these schools’ fee hikes, which City Press has been tracking since 2012, reveal that they have risen as much as 44% in four years. In contrast, consumer price inflation has risen 19% between the beginning of 2012 and this month.
In 2012, Grey charged R28 320 a year. Next year’s fees of R40 700 translate into an increase of 44%. In contrast, Grey’s sister school, Collegiate Girls’ High School, will be charging R30 256 in 2016 – more than R10 000 less.
By the time the fee increases are implemented in January, Westville Boys would have hiked their fees by 45% in four years, Durban High School for Boys by 40%, and Joburg’s Parktown High School for Boys by 38%.
While the national department of basic education said there was little it could do about the increases, Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi called for the regulation of fees both in public and private schools.
“You can’t regulate electricity and not school fees. It is time we establish a structure or agency where schools will present their budgets,” he said.
“It will be an independent structure that will look into the state of the economy before approving budgets. Education must not be a profit-making machine. It is a public good. Don’t exclude the poor because they can’t afford it.”
Federation of Governing Bodies of SA Schools CEO Paul Colditz said annual fees at schools throughout the country cost on average R9 000 for high schools and R6 000 for primary schools, and those charged by Westville, Grey and Parktown Boys were “exceptional”.
“These are top schools with a variety of curriculums, sports and cultural activities. They have interschool competitions. For example, Grey High in Bloemfontein will travel to Pretoria twice a year with about 700 boys at a time. That excursion alone costs more than R1 million,”
Maintenance costs and inflation-exceeding hikes in electricity and other municipal services meant the schools have to pass these costs on to the parents, Colditz said.
“The 18% annual increase in municipal services [over three years]is three times the inflation rate. These schools must pay. That has a huge impact on their budget. And the state’s contribution to their operations budget is between 3% and 7% of the school’s expenditure budget. That doesn’t even cover the municipal levy. The average municipal levy is 12% of the school’s budget. That is a lot of money, it is millions of rands,” he said.
Colditz insisted that at expensive schools, children received access to “impeccable networking channels” with the cream of society, “which cannot be bought with money”, easier access to universities and jobs, a sound value system and a “holistic approach” to citizenship.
But Lesufi said it was an illusion that expensive schools automatically meant quality education.
“There are a lot of public schools with few resources that punch far beyond their weight. They obtain 100% [matric pass rates]year in and year out. You can imagine what they would do if they had the budgets that some of these expensive schools have,” he said.
Colditz said: “I do think that some schools are too expensive and can be creative about how they spend their money.” But he added that government regulation was not an option.
“The government does not have the powers to regulate fees. It is parents who approve the budget. If school fees are excessive, parents should attend budget meetings and voice concerns there. It is the parents themselves who decide the budget,” he said.
Basic education department spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said: “Decisions on fees are determined by parents after deliberations on the needs of the schools. The SA Schools Act empowers parents to make the decisions. Parents must get involved in the affairs of the school, and play an active role.”
City Press’ snap survey also revealed that boys-only schools cost thousands of rands more a year than their girls-only counterparts.
At Westville Girls, Westville Boys’ sister school – which offers 15 sports ranging from netball and tennis to horse-riding and rock climbing – fees for this year were set at R23 100. Next year’s fees will be finalised at a parents’ meeting next week.
However, both Colditz and Westville Boys’ governing body chairperson, Chris Bruorton, put the costly nature of boys’ schools down to the fact that they offer more sporting options than the girls’ schools do.
“It is primarily because of many extracurricular activities like rugby, soccer, swimming, tennis and squash. The variety is much wider with boys, while girls mostly focus on academics,” said Colditz.