Choosing the right high school can make the difference between a happy and successful academic future for your child and years of declining marks followed by poor career prospects. There are two main things to consider when choosing a high school:
1. Is this school a good fit for my child’s personality, interests, abilities? (Happiness factor)
2. Is this school the best that I can afford in my area? (Academic success factor)
Teenage years are a very powerful identity forming time. Teens look to their peers for identity and values and they weigh these up against what they have absorbed from their parents. A bad fit high school can leave a young person feeling very vulnerable. What makes a “good fit” is very individual but it includes personality and interests as well as race and family culture. You can also add geographical location and transport to school as “good fit” factors . For example, one of my own boys chose to go our nearest local high school because he likes to ride his bike and have his friends close by and we live in the neighborhood. It also fits for him because they have a great music department and he plays the trumpet. My other boy chose a school that was a train ride away. It fits for him because he was looking for some independence and space from our family. His school encourages the learners to be responsible for their own lives. (Parents never write sick notes or late notes). He likes this. He is also a lover of beautiful spaces and he likes their gardens. Happiness factor.
The other question parents need to ask is – where is the best school that I can afford in my area? This blog focuses on helping parents get that answer. All data is for government schools in the Western Cape collated from public websites.
Most schools are pretty quick to mention their matric pass rates and slower to offer the details that make up this pass. This is understandable as it tends to be a media focus, but far more important than the pass rate is the bachelors pass rate. In the past the bachelor pass was called a matric exemption. A Bachelor pass allows the learner to apply for tertiary studies. Research shows us that the further a young person gets with their education, the more likely they are to find employment and the higher their salary will be.
As a parent considering high school enrollment, you should definitely be investigating the bachelor pass rate. The graph below helps you do this. If you click on the graph it will open in an interactive program called Tableau. Tableau allows you to edit the data to show only schools in a particular fee band or to select a particular school from the “high performers” drop down menu. Only schools with Bachelor pass over 60% are named on the graph.
From SAILI’s perspective, you don’t need to pay extraordinary amounts of money to get a good public school education. But you do need to shop carefully. Many schools attract students via reputation and cosmetic things like fancy uniforms. You can see from this graph that there are a lot of schools sitting below the 60% line and some of these are charging substantial fees and offering sport and music and other nice looking things but not producing academically.
Apart from Bachelor performance, it is important to consider drop out rate. Research shows that the very worst thing that can happen to a young person’s education and career prospects, in South Africa, is dropping out of school. The second worst thing is not getting a Bachelor pass. A quick way of checking drop out rate is to look at the school’s profile on the Western Cape Education Department’s WECD FIND A SCHOOL Site.
Take Livingstone High School below for example: we can see from the data that the school has roughly the same number of grade 12 students as grade 8. This more or less tells us that drop-out here is non-existent. Also this website shows fees, contact details, the subjects options that the school is offering and the number of students currently enrolled in each subject.
High maths enrollment is a good sign that the school is pursuing academic excellence. You can also ask the school directly for how many code 7s or As they achieved in their matric for a particular subject. SAILI looks for 10% of kids writing to be in the top performance band.
The renowned scientist and politician Benjamin Franklin said “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest”. Your child’s education is probably the biggest financial investment you will make in their future. Like anything else important you buy, you will want to get the best fit product at the best price. Take the same mindset with you when you go school shopping and set your child’s feet firmly on the path of learning.