There is a wide selection of schools in Cape Town of varying quality. The city has a range of public schools (government run), private schools (independent) and international schools, each with their own reputation. Education standards vary tremendously at government schools, while private and international schools offer consistently high levels of schooling – with prices to match.
The city is also home to the University of Cape Town, located at the foot of Devil's Peak and consistently ranked as the best university in Africa. There are several other well-known institutions that can be reached from the city, including the University of Stellenbosch.
The school year in South Africa runs from mid-January to early December, across three or four equal terms, depending on the school. Holidays generally take place in April, June/July, September and December.
Public schools in Cape Town
The quality of public schools in Cape Town can vary widely depending on their source of funding. The best schools are generally those that are partially funded and controlled by a private governing body in addition to funding from the government.
Many consider the best public schools to be those situated in Cape Town's wealthier suburbs. More often than not, schools in these areas come with a long and prestigious history. The fees for such schools are often on the high end of the spectrum by public school standards, but they are still generally cheaper than private and international schools.
Private schools in Cape Town
There are many excellent private schools in Cape Town with good academic track records and international university acceptance rates. Given the range of good private schools in and around the city, they are often the first choice of informed expat parents moving to the city.
Provided they meet the standards prescribed by the Education Department, private schools can manage their own learning, teaching and assessment of students. They can also choose whether to follow the South African national curriculum, the curriculum of the national Independent Examinations Board (IEB) or any other officially recognised curriculum.
International schools in Cape Town
International schools in South Africa follow curricula determined by international bodies, such as the International Baccalaureate, the British A-Levels or the American SATs. There are also a number of international schools that teach the curricula of foreign-language countries – for example, French and German schools. These schools teach in the predominant language of their country of origin, though some have bilingual programmes as well.
They offer a high standard of education and internationally recognised qualifications; however, international schools are also the most expensive schools in Cape Town. If expats have the financial means to pay for these schools, they are generally the best option for globally mobile families or those who don't plan on staying for the long term, mainly because the curricula of international schools are easily transferable around the world. Learning a familiar curriculum in one's home language can also make the adjustment to life in South Africa a little smoother.
While these schools are a great option, there is a lot of competition for places and waiting lists are often long, so it's best to apply as far in advance of arrival as possible.
Special educational needs in Cape Town
Parents of children with special educational needs can choose between mainstream schools with extra support, and dedicated special-needs schools in Cape Town. Some parents of children with special needs prefer to place their children in mainstream schools where they are exposed to a larger and more diverse peer group. Some mainstream schools have more developed special educational needs programmes than others, though, so parents will likely need to consider a few schools before deciding on the best fit. Government schools rarely offer adequate support, so private schools are recommended.
Tutors in Cape Town
In South Africa, tutors are frequently hired to assist with 'problem subjects' such as maths or science, or in the run-up to major testing such as the pre-graduation matriculation exams. Expats may wish to make use of tutors in similar circumstances or utilise tutors in other ways, such as improving English, maintaining proficiency in the family's mother tongue, or catching up to a new curriculum.
Some tutor companies, such as the highly recommended Master Maths programme, specialise in a particular subject. Others, such as Teach Me 2, have a varied roster of tutors, each of whom has their own specialised subjects.
►See International schools in Cape Town for a list of schools offering international curricula in the city
"The government schools in the Western Cape are very good. Coming from the UK where school is free, it is an adjustment to pay school fees. Also it was a surprise that school finishes so early in the day (around 1pm). So, you have to arrange for after care at additional cost." Keiley shares her experiences as a British expat in Cape Town
"The schools are excellent. You have the option of fee-paying or schools where you make a nominal contribution to fees. There are plenty of international schools, e.g. British, German, French and American." from Annabelle, a British expat's interview about living in Cape Town
Are you an expat living in Cape Town?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Cape Town. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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