Online publication SA Diaries recently published a list of the top 10 private schools in Johannesburg and ranked the newcomer to the South African private education scene, SPARK Schools, in the top three.
What makes the achievement even more impressive is that SPARK has only been in existence for five years and ranks just behind two iconic educational institutions, St John’s College and St. Stithian’s College.
SPARK Schools is an independent school network founded by Stacey Brewer and Ryan Harrison in 2012. The schools use a blended learning model with adaptive software and individualized learning to accelerate learning and increase student achievement. SPARK Schools uses a hybrid funding model, has attracted funding from both non-profit foundations focused on high impact philanthropy and from for-profit impact investors.
In addition to its growing network of schools in Gauteng and the Western Cape – 15 and counting – and its excellent academic results, SPARK Schools is also making more and more parents sit up and take note due to its high-quality private education at a fraction of conventional costs.
Says SPARK Schools co-founder, Stacey Brewer: “I was fed up with hearing everyone complain about the cost of private education in South Africa, and if I wanted my own children to grow up here, I knew it was up to me to change that. Why should quality education come at such a steep price?”
So what are the costs to enroll a child at one of Gauteng’s 14 SPARK Schools? An R400 application fee is required to accompany the first month’s tuition fee for enrolment and thereafter parents can either pay a monthly tuition charge of R2 100 a month for 10 months (R21 000 total*) or they can pay an R19 400** one-off upfront fee. For an additional R500 payment, all stationery is provided and textbooks are included in the costs.
This is compared with fees at traditional private schools which can reach upwards of R150 000 a year, exclusive of registration and stationery costs.
Importantly, for working parents, the schools’ aftercare costs are also affordable and children can be cared for at the school until 5.30pm daily for only R500 a month.
So how does SPARK Schools keep their costs so low?
Brewer explains: “The differentiating factor is our use of a blended learning model that combines direct instruction with technology. After children are taught in class, they move to a learning lab, where computers with adaptive software track and improve their grasp of concepts. The data collected is then used to tailor-make a learning path for each child by providing micro-objectives on how they’re performing. This allows for high-quality education at an affordable cost.”
This innovative concept of professionalizing education has already resulted in the opening of 14 schools in Gauteng and one in the Western Cape in just five years. Brewer hopes to roll out 64 schools in the next 10 years including plans for a high school in 2019.
The schools currently go from Grade R to Grade 3, 4, 5 and 6 dependent on when they opened, with Ferndale – the first campus launched in 2013 – going up top Grade 7.
Brewer is a Rhodes University BSc graduate, who majored in human kinetics and ergonomics and then decided to study towards her MBA at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) in 2011. She spent time researching and studying education business models of successful, affordable schools abroad, and decided to create one for the South African education system. Brewer and her business partner Ryan Harrison, who was a year ahead of her in the GIBS MBA program, started SPARK Schools in January 2012.
Driven by purpose, Brewer believes that success is not purely about financial reward, but rather about making a real, sustainable impact. As such, she strives to improve the state and esteem of education in South Africa in an effort to shape society.
* 2018 fees only
** If paid prior to December 31, 2017