Our top tips when searching for a school in South Africa

In our previous blog we focused on helping you decide between local or international schools. Here we give you some practical tips and points to consider to help your selection.

1.    Space  – this should always be the starting point to avoid disappointment. Many top South African schools have huge waiting lists due to parents enrolling their children there shortly after they were born. Do not set your heart on one school that has a good reputation but no space for expatriate children that have just arrived in the country. Keep a positive attitude and an open mind and rest assured that with sufficient research you will find a great school for your kids.

2.    Location – location is so important that we advise you to choose the school before looking for a home. The closer your home is to the school the better, even walking distance when safe and possible. This will save you hours of frustration and sitting in trafic while driving the kids to school and afternoon activities. Also remember that kids of different ages often finish school at different times and if you have more than one child you should factor in multiple trips to the school. Long comutes also add to the kids’ stress levels and take away from their play time.

3.    Single sex or co-ed schools – there are many arguments for and against single sex or co-ed schools. The important fact to note is that in South Africa we are fortunate to have fantastic schools in both categories and you will find the best fit for your kids.

4.    Secular or religious education – similar to the point above, this is a personal choice and the good news is that South Africa has many schools in both categories that provide education in the spirit of embracing diversity, cultures and religions. Speak to the school’s principle about their school’s ethos, principles and religious education.

5.    Sports – South African schools place great emphasis on sport. Different schools have strengths and focus on sports such as swimming, soccer, rugby and more. Some schools even have teams in “out of the ordinary” sports such as equestrian, mountain biking and golf. Ask what is offered as part of the curriculum and as extra mural to get the full picture especially if your kids excel at a particular sport.

6.    Arts – most schools offer a variety of art programmes but do not put too much emphasis on them outside the normal curriculum. If your kids are particularly arty, look for one of the few schools that focus on developing the arts further or sign your kid up for extra mural art activities or private lessons.

7.    Extramurals – all schools offer an impressive list of extra mural activities but they all come at an additional cost and take a lot of time in the kids’ already busy day. Don’t fall into the trap of signing up for everything the kids ask for the first day of school, only to discover that the school already provides most of the activities as part of the school curriculum. Try and get a good idea of the school’s programme and activities before signing up for more.

8.    Support for kids that do not fit the standard box – we are fortunate to live in a progressive society that recognises that kids do not all come out of the same cookie cutter but are all unique individuals with unique needs and abilities. Sadly many schools still subscibe to the outdated style of education expecting kids to fit into a set standard. Discuss your child’s personality and needs in detail with the school principal before making a decision on the school. Be upfront about any expectations you may have from the school and teachers. This will help you understand the school’s policy and culture on dealing with “out of the box”  children which is not always transparent from reading the school’s marketing materials.

9.    Discipline and/or freedom   – South African schools traditionally uphold structure and discipline. Kids are expected to wear school uniforms, greet their elders, and generally show respect for authority. This sometimes comes across as too strict for expatriates coming from cultures where students have a lot of freedom to choose what to wear and how to behave in the school environment. Today there are a number of younger schools and non-traditional schools that embrace a more relaxed environment that may appeal to the more democratic family or to kids that need less structured education.