Top schools bleed pupils as economy contracts

SA's leading private school chains lose 3,881 students in year

22 April 2018 - 00:00 By PREGA GOVENDER

Nico Roos* had to pull his two children out of a private school because he was battling to pay the hefty fees.
"We couldn't afford it anymore. It was a difficult decision. You always fear for your children's welfare," said Roos, who is one of a growing number of parents resorting to state schools due to the economic crunch.
The school charges about R100,000 for a matric pupil.
Roos's eldest daughter is now being home-schooled while his other daughter attends an Afrikaans school in Randburg.The pinch is being felt at two of South Africa's biggest private school chains, Curro and AdvTech, which between them lost 3,881 pupils last year, mainly because their parents could not afford to pay fees.
Curro Holdings, which owns 148 schools, and the AdvTech Group, which owns 94 schools including the Crawford schools, catered for more than 72,600 pupils in 2017.
Some 683 of the 1,588 pupils who left AdvTech schools last year left because their parents were battling to pay fees. It said private schools across the country where "fees are a significant component" were also experiencing difficulties.
The Sunday Times has established that St John's College handed out notices for payment of outstanding debt to about 15 parents recently. They collectively owe about R700,000 in fees for the last school term.
"If they fail to honour the arrangement, there's a possibility that their children could be removed in the third term," a parent said.
The parent said besides the 15 parents who had received notices, a further 300 were more than 60 days in arrears with last term's fees.Jon Patricios, chairman of the St John's College council, said they could not comment as contractual issues were confidential.
"However, we can confirm that within the current economic climate, while the vast majority of parents pay their fees on time, a few families do find themselves under pressure to meet their school fee commitments," he said.
Pridwin Preparatory principal Selwyn Marx said the school had not filled its Grade 1 classes this year. The "preferred enrolment" in Grade 1 is 60, but it has 53 pupils. "The recent state of the economy has certainly impacted some of our families," he said.
Tim Nuttall, rector of St Stithians College, which has 2,595 pupils, confirmed that 7% of its pupils left last year but said "less than 1% were for explicit financial reasons".
Curro Holdings chief financial officer Bernardt van der Linde said outstanding fees had stood at R56.1-million but had been reduced to R25.2-million in January after most of the parents paid last year's outstanding fees.
"Of the R25.2-million, R7.5-million are in arrears by more than 60 days. Most of these parents have made payment arrangements."
He said the main reason pupils were leaving private schools was affordability.
Asked whether pupils leaving Curro were going to state schools, he said: "We are collecting that data, but we assume a large portion will leave to the state schools."AdvTech CEO Roy Douglas said: "Parents will cut back on a variety of disposable income items before they cut back on their children's education.
"The fact that we are seeing a spike in people withdrawing or being excluded because of financial hardship is the cumulative effect of the number of years of poor economic performance that is biting into the consumer."
Lebogang Montjane, executive director of the Independent Schools Association of Southern Africa, said: "There's no question that last year our schools mentioned the serious economic pressures that many families were feeling. Families and schools were feeling that there is a financial contraction so some parents may have had to take their children out of independent schools."
Pupil enrolment at the 769 Isasa member schools in South Africa increased by 2.7% this year compared to 4.9% last year.
A total of 173,269 pupils were enrolled at Isasa member schools.
A parent from Soweto said she had lost weight and was going for counselling following fears that a prestigious private school in Johannesburg might remove her child because of non-payment of fees.
"I can't sleep at night because if my son finds out that he could be removed from the school he will be so devastated," she said.
* Not his real name..

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