Choosing a School

No aspect of an international or even local move is more important to relocating families than the education of school-age children and finding a suitable school may be one of the deciding factors in accepting an assignment, and a major factor in choosing where to live.


Most expatriate children attend either local private schools or international schools. Several important considerations are involved in making the choice between the two. The former may offer the advantages of socializing with local children and a richer appreciation of a different culture. Most often, however, the key consideration is the effect a year or more in a foreign education system may have on the child’s reintegration into schools back home or next location and / or qualifications required for university / college entrance in your home country.


These considerations become more important the older the child is – at junior school level subjects / curriculum are fairly similar. However, at intermediary and high school levels, the curriculum between for example: an American School and a South African private school are very different. Another important consideration is that the South African school year is ‘out of sinc’ with the Northern Hemisphere (the SA school year starts in January) which may result in the child having to repeat or accelerate into a lower or higher grade back home.

  • Your Corporate Relocations Consultant is an excellent resource for both schooling and housing and will assist you in narrowing the field – matching schooling and communities to your requirements and a reasonable proximity to work and amenities.

  • Conduct objective research, but remember that it is vital that you visit any prospective school. If school administrators are unwilling to meet with you, you should be concerned. Ask about teachers credentials, discuss the school’s educational philosophy and tour the facilities. Check to see if the school offers activities and the sports that are important to your children.

  • The type of school environment your child is currently in as compared with local options. For example, many South African Private schools are single sex schools (either boys or girls only) and typically there is more discipline and less active vocal participation in classes than US parents and students may be accustomed to.

  • How diverse and mobile the school population is. Particularly if your assignment will be for two years or less. It is easier for children to make friends and be accepted into schools that have some international students. Schools where there is little mobility, the children tend to have made firm lasting friendships which are difficult to break into, and may be less open or used to different cultures accents and languages

  • Sporting and extra-mural activities. South Africa is a sports mad culture and this is reflected in many of our schools where sport may be very competitive. Schools offer soccer (football), cricket, rugby, hockey, tennis, netball and swimming is pretty much a compulsory and competitive sport in the summer. Some schools are less competitive and stronger academically, in the arts, music and drama. It is therefore important to find the right fit for your child.

  • Ethos and educational philosophy. Many of South Africa’s private schools have a religious affiliation (Catholic; Anglican; Presbyterian; Jewish; Islamic) although children of other religions are mostly welcome, the religious affiliation does influence the schools ethos. Some schools are more nurturing, others more competitive

  • A school might seem impressive by numbers but may still not be right for your child. It could be so large that he or she gets lost or so small that it lacks programs or activities that are important to you

  • Consider these objective measures in evaluating schools   Class sizes

    •    Percentage graduating, percentage going to college / university
    •    Facilities – libraries, computer and science laboratories, sporting, music, art facilities
    •    Teachers credentials
    •    Accreditations and awards
  • Take note of the education level of adults in potential areas. There is a close correlation between parent’s educational achievements and the quality of local schools


The key is to research options as early as possible. We have provided an overview of International schooling and the South African education system below, together lists of schools and useful websites to assist you. In addition, your Corporate Relocations consultant will be on hand to research availability per your and your child/s requirements, provide guidance, set up and accompany you to selected school appointments. 


Important Note: Please bring copies of your children’s school transcripts / academic records with you.

The process is typically as follows:

  • Complete the school’s Application Form / Admission Information and pay the necessary registration fee (not refundable) – the amount various from school to school (R150 – R700)

  • ŸSchools will require a copy of the child’s birth certificate and records / transcripts from previous school, as well as their immunization certificates if you have already immunized them against childhood diseases.

  • Most schools require an assessment or admission test prior to final acceptance. Your child may be provisionally accepted subject to the assessment test. Arrangements will need to be made for the child to spend 2 hours or more at the school for that purpose. Most do not charge a fee for this, however others will not proceed with the assessment without payment, therefore it is worth checking with them first

  • On acceptance, all schools require a deposit – typically at least the equivalent to a terms tuition fees – in some instances, a portion or all of the deposit is non-refundable

  • Government / State Schools operate on a zoning system and will only accept children who live in the area zoned for that school. This is an additional complication that needs to be managed as it will mean selecting a residential neighbourhood in the appropriate zoning area. Your Consultant will provide additional advice on how to work around this.


Useful tips:


  • Academic or sporting excellence may play some part in acceptance process

  • If you are particularly keen on a specific high school and your child is still in primary school, it may be a good idea to select a primary school that is a feeder school to the respective high school

  • Keep an open mind and think about creative options - schools recommended, for example by colleagues, may not necessarily suit your child

  • If you are relocating from one city in South Africa to another, the principal of your child’s current school will often personally know his or her counterpart at a school in Johannesburg, and be prepared to advocate a transfer on your behalf. In addition, being a parent or grand-parent of an old boy or old girl of the school may play some part in acceptance

Useful Websites:

If not attending an international school, children of expatriates usually attend local private schools and occasionally good state schools. It has become increasingly difficult to gain entry to both private schools and the good government schools, and waiting lists can be quite lengthy.


  • Most private and government schools are based on the British system of education, and have a challenging curriculum. Students are placed in appropriate grades based on age and an assessment conducted by the school.

  • The entry age to primary schooling is 6 years old.

  • Depending on the school, the language of instruction can be in English, Afrikaans or a combination of both (so called dual-medium schools). English medium schools, for obvious reasons are more suitable for expatriate children.

  • There is more discipline than US parents and students, in particular may be accustomed to. South African children are required to study Afrikaans or an indigenous language as a second language. However, children of temporary residents (expatriates on work assignments) are exempt from this requirement but are required to take a second language in its place.

  • The academic year runs from January to December. Private Schools have a three term school year. State Schools have four terms. All have a long six week summer break in December and January.

  • The duration of primary and secondary education is 12 years and students must pass the Senior Certificate or “Matric” exam at the end of the 12th year to successfully complete their secondary education and qualify for university. Some private schools offer British ‘A’ level courses in the thirteenth or “post-Matric” year for entry into overseas colleges and universities.

  • Many private schools are single sex, most government schools are co-educational.

  • Most schools require the wearing of school uniforms.

  • Some schools offer a bus service, but in most cases, parents organise “lift clubs” to share car-pooling responsibilities for transportation.

Please note:  In nearly all cases, an assessment will be required prior to final acceptance.

As indicated above, some state schools are excellent, others less so. However, with the odd exception, facilities are not as good as the private schools, as the fees are substantially lower and government resources are stretched. There is also a government requirement that state schools are obliged to accept children who live within their respective residential zones or ‘feeder’ areas. Therefore to gain admission into a state school of your choice; you may have to prove residence in the appropriate residential area. It is important to remember that the primary objective of state schools is the education of South African children. They are usually therefore reluctant to admit foreign learners unless they have plenty of space.


All of the above factors result in class sizes that are larger than private or international schools and consequently, the good state schools are more difficult to gain entrance into. Expatriate children are typically charged a foreign student levy, which varies widely from school to school, depending on what “top-up” contribution has been determined by the school’s governing body.


Typically schools hours are 7.45am – 2.30pm, and rather longer for older students. Most sporting activities take place after school hours and competitive sports matches on Saturday mornings. Typical sports in South African schools are cricket; swimming; tennis; football (soccer); hockey; rugby; athletics; netball; rowing; water polo; and squash.


There are many options for pre-school education of children under the age of 6 and it is typical for children to attend pre-school for at least two years prior to starting their formal education:


  • Kindergarten classes at the international schools – admission from 4 years old.

  • Grade 00 (for 4 year olds) and Grade 0 (for 5 year olds) at most private schools.

  • Government registered pre-schools which provide structured learning.

  • Neighbourhood kindergarten or pre-schools, both structured and informal.

Moving Services:   Office Hours - +27 (0) 11 256 3000
After Hours - (+27) 71 453-0214