Difference between International and Local Schools in South Africa

As part of our schooling in South Africa series, we have interviewed a number of expats about why they have made the choices they have. Kate shares her experience with both a local South African Private School, and International French School. 

Should I send my child to International or Local School




As an expat, I can say that the question of schools has been by far the greatest question, concern and challenge of this amazing adventure. 

I am American, my husband is French with children born in and “home” made in London. How do we know which system is best. Unintentionally, we’ve tried them all!!!

The best advice I have received is to decide on your final goal - where would you dream for your children to attend university - and step backwards from there.
Best schools in Johannesburg

Now this is a major life choice and sure to be a hot topic, so please don’t shoot the messenger! These are my personal opinions on what worked best for us, not necessarily for everyone.

We started in the British private system in the UK. This was before we started moving around as “expats”. I loved the British system. It was traditional, academic whilst also being nurturing and supportive. Any extra help that a child needed was given and the parents were very involved in the school.

When we moved to Johannesburg our children were 1 and 4 years.

The British school here was too far for us and I had heard wonderful things about the South African private system - we looked at Roedean and St Mary’s and chose St Mary’s (though both are phenomenal schools, along with a number of others). They share the traditional ethos that we valued in the British systems. St Mary’s was incredibly aware of what our specific needs were, the school heads often attend global education conferences (most recently at Harvard - I was sold!).

This was not a South African school raising South Africans.

This was a South African school raising global children.

Our life experiences fit in with many other families at the school whist at the same time, we were welcomed into an incredible local community that expats rarely benefit from or see. This experience has shaped our time here and friendships (both for children and parents) will be amongst our most treasured memories when we go. We always said, if we were staying in SA long term, St Mary’s would have been a wonderful academic choice for us - also the fees are much less but the school has wonderful facilities, sports are paramount whilst arts are very much supported. They have it all.

St Marys School, Johannesburg 

St Marys School, Johannesburg 

That said, our reality as expats came crashing in and we had to admit that we could not stay here long term, tempting as it may be! 

our reality as expats came crashing in and we had to admit that we could not stay here long term, tempting as it may be! 

We needed to confront that as expats, we would move to different countries and we needed to choose a system that would remain current and balanced anywhere in the world. We were back thinking of the American Intl System and the French Lycee Intl System.

We chose the French and have been welcoming into a whole new world.

The French Lycee is a very academic system and fortunately our children are grasping this well and thriving. They are both now fully bilingual, a huge point for this American who spent decades studying the language (literally decades!). The fact that their approach is bilingual is hugely appealing to be and brings me back to our end goal - where we want them to attend university and what will make them unique and special in the application process. 

French Lycee - Johannesburg

French Lycee - Johannesburg

My concerns about the French system were these: it is highly academic, it’s focus is heavily on academics and less so on sports and arts, it’s facilities are not a match. That said, I overcame what I thought to be big concerns with ease. My daughter is still as sporty as always and does different sorts teams and evens after school daily. She is still very much into art and drama. So we created that well-rounded balance for ourselves and haven’t looked back. 

When we likely move next year, we will find them welcomed into a new Lycee that has the identical curriculum to this. All lycée’s are governed by the academic body based in France which oversees the curriculum in each school, guaranteeing that children to not fall behind when they move to a new country and guaranteeing the content and quality of the education.

Ironically, being American and very much a supporter of the American education system, we haven’t tried it. But having grown up in the USA myself, I know it to be very warm, welcoming and strong. For us personally, as an American mother and religiously spending summers in America, I wanted our children to have an additional dimension and the French school has worked beautifully to bridge both our families cultures and hopefully shape our children into the global citizens that we dream them to be.... someday!