Public vs private schooling

My children have been attending a small private school in my area. It is no where near the level of a Crawford or St Stithians so while I got excellent education I wasn’t paying exorbitant fees.

We were all happy.

But then Kiara headed for Gr 1 and the jump in fees simply was not manageable for me. It would mean that I would be spending a huge portion of my salary on school fees leaving nothing left for anything else.

So I moved them to a public school, with the intention of then saving money, enabling us to start moving forward on our journey to financial independence. HA! Well it has not worked out like that at all.

Last year November I registered them at the said public school and had to pay R5000 to guarantee them a place (I paid R1600 for registration at the private school per child). Then I received the list of stationery and headed off to the shops! HA! What a mission. The lists state clearly that we must buy the names specified, which is great – if only you can find the names specified. So 6 shops later I decided to throw caution to the wind and I bought the products I could find. In total all the stationery and toiletries I had to buy cost me around R1800.

Then came the best part- the school uniforms of this public school. The girls wear dresses, very pretty little dresses that cost R235 a pop! I couldn’t only buy one and even two is stretching things. I work. I don’t have time to wash and dry uniforms every day. Her shoes were R179 (shoes which I think are already too small, two weeks into the term). The tracksuit was over R500. The golf shirt for her sports activities is R117 for one. she has a sport on 4 days of the week – so again, one is not enough. Her costume cost R170 plus she needed a navy blue towel (Are you adding this all up?)

Cameron fortunately still fitted into his gray shorts and shoes from last year, but I will need to buy new ones next term. But his plain blue school shirt was R75 (it’s PLAIN BLUE). He also needs a sport shirt – at R119 (prices increase as the sizes do) and soccer socks (for cricket also) at R45 for one pair (clearly it costs huge money to put a blue stripe on a sock). His tracksuit was also R500 but I ran out of money so he has the bottom (R300) and a jersey (R39.99 at Pep) – I will get the top for winter. His costume was R100 plus the blue towel.

Let’s not forget the school bags, the lunch boxes, juice bottles – totally R300.

In case all those numbers confused you let me tell you – since November last year I have spent R11 000 on school stuff for my children at a public school. And it is a happy day for me when they come home and don’t ask for something more – these days have been few and far between since school opened two weeks ago.

Now I don’t earn a huge salary but I earn a lot more than most people who are sending there kids to this school – HOW do they manage? How do they find R11 000? I used all my savings, asked their dad for money and borrowed from my mom to be able to afford it.

I am all for uniforms – really I am. But do we need R235 dresses? I don’t buy dresses that cost that much. Do we really need golf shirts for R117? Do the gray socks really need that blue line through them? I honestly don’t think so. The school has major issues with children wearing the correct uniform and I can now see why. Change the uniform and I guarantee everyone will be uniform tomorrow. To me its better having everyone in plain colours than having half the school wearing one thing and the other half another!

My kids have now had to get used to eating peanut butter sandwiches for lunch because I cant afford more than that right now – I am busy repaying my mom and trying to save for next year!

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Laura Kim

Laura Kim

Laura is a wife, business owner and homeschooling mom. Her oldest, Cameron, is 18, about to finish school, Kiara is 16, Jack is 9 and Emma is 6. She works from home while also homeschooling her 3 younger children. She writes for mpaq Education, a curriculum provider for home, tutor and school education.

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21 Responses

  1. Oh lawdy do I hear you Laura! I was also a single mom all through Damine’s school career, and I spent many MANY thousands on school fees, uniforms, stationery and preparation.
    You have ALL my sympathy!!!

  2. I agree…. however, I have spent pretty much the same amount for stationery, uniform and text books for Liam in private school as I have for Victoria and Kevin in public school… although in primary school at least you don’t have to buy the text books!

    I do not see why they can’t just make the uniforms simple. Plain grey. White shirts. Black shoes. Have a tie or something that is different to show the different schools if you must.

    I mean WHY a blue towel????


  3. I hear you! I have 3 girls, one has just finished 2 years at college and the other 2 are at Private School.

    When I read your letter I again remind myself that our website WILL become the way to buy and sell school items. The school’s arent that keen as many of them get kick backs from suppliers but parents can make a difference by encouraging recycling of school supplies not only uniforms, sports equipment, muscial equipment and the like.
    Text books were our biggest hit at the end of last year!
    I must warn you, you are only at the beginning of a long cycle.

  4. My daughter has just started Grade 1. She is at a private Montessori school in Fourways (the same school where she attended creche) and I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the cost. Obviously, school fees are higher than a public school, but nowhere near what the “elite” private schools charge. There is no school uniform, which is a god-send, and her stationery and books for the year cost just under R1500.

    She is in a small class, of around fifteen children, and I’m really impressed with the standard of teaching and care.

    What REALLY pisses me off about the schooling system, both private and public, is this stupid “registration fee” which they demand, and which parents pay out of fear that their children won’t get into the school. I refuse to buy into that.

  5. i can identify, my little prince came home today wearing a rather substantial hole (clearly cut with small scissors) in his hat! When i inquired, i was told, ‘don’t worry mom, the boy who did it did his time on the naughty cushion!’… hmmmm. And, as my son is fairly new, he doesn’t yet know the names of all the kids in his class, therefore, said ‘Edward Scissorhands’ escapes free for now.

    You may want to caution your kids’ teachers about your emotional attachment to their uniforms before any further arts and crafts take place. Have a good week.

  6. I hear you Laura!! I am glad my girls are far enough apart I dont have to lay this cash out x 2 right now! I agree with standardisd uniforms, Lem’s jersey is a Royal Blue. EXACTLY th same style as at Pep, but Pep only have navy. And Pep is a third of the price! Ditto on the stationery too! Lucky for Grade 2 they weren’t ALL that predantic about the brands!

  7. We do spend a lot of money in our children’s education. From fees, to activities,
    uniforms, books, etc

    Don’t know about anyone else, but I do often wonder if we pay too much for our children really need? Of course that’s a monster debate. But reading your post gets me wondering all over again : )

  8. My son goes to an excellent public school. Not only is his learning experience a good one, I am also delighted by the school’s really relaxed attitude regarding uniforms. The boys wear a grey pants (Ackermans – R30 to R40), a white shirt (also a cheapie at Ackermans) and any brown sandals. The badge to be sewn onto the shirt is bought at school for R9 a badge. Very doable and very sensible. Parents should make their case know at with their PTAs and SGBs. These decisions are made at the school level and we can change them.

  9. SA should relook the quality of education and what really is important – does it matter what brand glue you use or what HB pencil you write with – instead we should be teaching our kids about the more meaningful things in life – instilling morals and values, sharing and caring -BASICS

  10. Hi Laura-Kim
    I totally connect with you. i am a single mom and my 2 kids are in a public primary school as well. the school uniforms and PT clothing is exhorbitant! i thought going to a public school would cut cost as well, but every week it seems a hidden cost creeps up. keeping up financially is becoming an impossible task – thank goodness both my kids are doing incredibly well academically and enjoying their school career so far……………

  11. Hi Laura,

    We are fortunate enough at our school with the help of mums to run a swop shop. Parents usually donate all the school uniform and text books that they don’t need and we in turn sell these at a fraction of a price. I have two boys (aged 10 & 9) who are a year apart and they seem to be growing faster as the days go by. I could never afford a blazer given the current prices especially having to buy two at a time. I shop at the swop shop and yes its value for money as most of the uniform is as good as new. You could ask the school to into something like that as it also generates a small income for the school. As for stationery, our school negotiates prices with waltons who then create stationery packs for each child, this year for grade 3 I only paid R500 for the whole years supply and for grade 4 I paid R320. The school can do something to try and ease of this financial burden, all it takes at times is a little suggestion from parents and also assistance offered to the school when the time is needed.

  12. although im not a single mother (living with partner) i also feel the pinch. my daughter has just started gr000 at a private school. we also got a list of stationery supplies that were needed (and were told to get it from waltons)then also the school uniforms that needed to be brought as well. Then the school also does “charity work” where we must send veggies to school once a week and donate a silver coin every friday for their charity. (not going to the school but an old age home that they sponsor)wouldnt b so bad except you get those wealthy parents that will send bags of vegies (while u send the bits you can afford to be without)and then there is also the extra murials that is “offered” by the school (at additional costs to their fees) and to let your child know that they wont b joining in with the ballet or tennis breaks their hearts as well. luckily for this year the burden of the school fees wont b as bad (we had to pay deposit and 1 terms school fees last year when the child was accepted the balance to be paid off over 10 months this year R1640 monthly

    1. Hi Deborah

      I also feel the pinch, although my child is in a public school and I am not a single parent.

      The school fees has gone up by R880 and the uniform is ridiculously priced. She loves ballet so much, and I am scared to tell her that I cant afford to pay for ballet, it will really break her heart.

      Each and every week there are hidden costs that we have to pay, already I need to pay the school R50 for KNET, R5 for report folder, R30 for the books, R15 for Cinderella, all these fees needs to be paid before the end of January.

      By the end of a year the additional costs will be + – R2000.

      I am even scared to have another child.

  13. The worst thing for me is that after you have paid the R5000 deposit, bought the expensive uniform and stationery (including the plastic covers that they INSIST you must buy from the school even though Checkers sells them a whole lot cheaper) and you have paid the insanely high school fees, or at least the first instalment…there are still bits and pieces that you must pay for every week.

    I promise you, not a week goes by that my daughter, who is in Grade 7 this year, does not come home and says: “Mom, I need R20/R50/R100 for this or that”. All of this in the middle of the month, nogal.

    Home schooling, anyone?

  14. We have just moved our boys from a Private School in Cape Town with fees totalling R10 000 a month to a government school that costs us R1400.00 per month for both boys! Obviuosly we had now lost our R32 000 deposit but thankfully the government school did not reuire one. In all fairness, the goverment school we have moved to is not on Private School level as far as luxuries and mod-cons but it is the best thing I could have ever done for my boys. They have settled beautifully. As for the “start-up” costs – we only had to shell out R1500 on uniforms (school bags included) and R900 on stationery, a mere R250 on second hand text books and the rest were provided by the school. My pocket is most definitely feeling a lot heavier near the end of the month!

  15. I read all the posts and the sad part is that NO MATTER by how much the fees ‘go up’ by next year …we (parents) have no choice and will have to cough up. We can complain about it on pages like this BUT ultimately we will just have to pay up.
    I registered my 5 year old to start grade 0 at a private school. between last year August when I registered and January this year when she started, the fees increased 27%. I have spent over R11 000.00 for deposit, school fees, books, stationery, technology fees etc etc…. and the bill is still going up. Now we must pay for compulsory hearing and eye tests and valentines Civvie days etc etc
    I cleared my overdraft with my December paycheck only to be in the RED again in January….
    I run a small playschool in Joburg. Thankfully I have a very close relationship with all my moms and when I increased my fees for 2010, the moms that were feeling the pinch the most, approached me and we nogotiated a better fee increase that was more reasonable for this year, considering the recession and everything.
    Can we do this with big private schools or even government schools?
    So what do we do…??? Do we just complain a little and PAY??? or is there actually something we can do??? someone that can be held accountable??

  16. i am FLABBERGASTED, this system teaches our kids to be materialistic. its totally sickning. i am a single mother to a two year old boy; because of all these scary storis about fees in primary school, i have found myself saving more for primary education than university. second hand shops should be the future and maybe parents should raise these issues at PTA meetings and hope the governing body has some sense.

    i sympathise with you

  17. I believe that private school would be a great option if A you don’t’ live in the greatest environment, or B The school has great qualities that the public school doesn’t offer your child. My daughter was enrolled in a private school because she had some serious substance abuse problems, I had to found a school called West Ridge Academy. I think it all depends on the needs of you and your child.

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