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While Johannesburg and Cape Town are home to the majority of South Africa’s international business community, Pretoria claims the second biggest diplomatic community in the world, after New York, bolstered by many southern African regional roles being based here. Add in the well-travelled staff of non-governmental and inter-governmental offices (the United Nations and its many branches, such as UNICEF, UNESCO and UNHCR all have large, regional outposts here) and it becomes surprising that there are so few good international schools in the immediate area, especially for older children (age 13 to 18).

Education in Pretoria

Those moving here longer term may consider the public or private schools offering the South African ‘matriculation’ certificate instead. Some of these schools have a reasonable contingent of international families, or at least families with a global outlook, and perhaps a second passport. While in theory a second African language (most popularly Afrikaans, isiXhosa or isiZulu) is required, exemptions can be granted for overseas arrivals in certain circumstances, and often a European language taken instead. 

A bachelor’s pass in the well-regarded IEB (private Independent Examination Board matriculation) or the NCS (state matriculation certificate), enables students to join a South African university – popular choices are University of Pretoria (often known colloquially as ‘Tucs’), Jo’burg’s University of the Witwatersrand (‘Wits’), along with Stellenbosch University (‘Stellies’) and University of Cape Town (UCT) in the Western Cape. They can also enter most overseas universities, including in the USA and UK (though Oxford and Cambridge admission pages say the qualification is not accepted, we are told that it’s worth asking on a case-by-case basis). In 2022, the IEB launched a new International Secondary Certificate (ISC), which some South African schools are expected to adopt (so far, it’s only been taken in Eswatini, Mozambique and Namibia). It includes Further Studies papers, which are considered equal to A levels, and it should become globally recognised in time.  

The school year runs from January to December, with the long holiday over Christmas (the South African summer), and only two or three weeks off in June/July, when many international families want to head north to spend time with families and friends during the northern hemisphere summer break. It’s a bigger problem for international families with older kids moving from one system to the other, especially with the two-year IGCSE, A level and IB diploma courses with children having to either join half way through a school year or repeat a year. Lycée Jules Verne and American International School of Johannesburg (AISJ), both of which only have primary/middle school campuses in Pretoria, have adopted the northern hemisphere’s school calendar.

Choosing a school in Pretoria

Pretoria is not a huge city, and most diplomats and other international families live in the well-to-do areas in the east, around Waterkloof and Brooklyn, where many of the Embassies and High Commissions are found, or else further out of the city in Silver Lake, a ‘secure golf and wildlife estate’, where kids can play in the street and teenagers walk or cycle alone to their friends’ houses.

Not surprisingly, the favoured schools are concentrated in these areas too, but traffic is such that it can take 30-40 minutes to drive what looks like a short distance on the map. When meandering school bus routes and load shedding are factored in (planned power cuts for two hours at a time to protect the national grid, which knocks out the numerous traffic lights), this can mean children having to leave home in Waterkloof at 6.30 or 7am to get to class on time.    

Courtney House, in Brooklyn, was acquired in early 2023 by the large Curro Group of schools, and is popular with a wide range of families attracted by the prestigious Cambridge curriculum leading to IGCSE, AS and A levels. It’s a small school with limited facilities and opportunities for sport, but parents say teachers are dedicated and accessible, building up a great relationship with students as the progress up the grades. The main alternative for the Cambridge curriculum is The British Academy, just up the road, which is even smaller. Both senior schools are often described as ‘office schools’ locally, as their buildings resemble office blocks (though Courtney’s separate primary school has a small but well-designed playground wrapping around the whole of the building, complete with bike track, jungle gym and pirate ship for the little ones).

The Deutsche Internationale Schule Pretoria (confusingly, not connected to the Deutsche Internationale Schule Johannesburg) is an obvious choice for German-speaking families and is located on the way out of town towards Silver Lakes. There are German and English streams, but non-German speakers can only enter in grade 5, and the English stream is small. There’s the option of taking the International German Abitur combined with the South African NSC matriculation certificate, or the English-language NSC with a German language diploma.

The small but beautiful Pretoria campus of Lycée Jules Verne, authorised and subsidised by the French government, is an obvious choice for francophones and francophiles, but once children reach grade 5 (CM20) they have to move to the larger site in Johannesburg, where they take the French baccalaureate only.

The other popular international curriculum school is the Pretoria elementary and middle school campus of the American International School of Johannesburg, with children again having to commute to the huge Jo’burg campus when they hit high school age. While AISJ Pretoria has great facilities, it’s expensive compared to other international schools here (the principal says it’s benchmarked against other international American schools worldwide), and in the American system children start to read and write later than in the UK.

Increasingly, if these schools don’t fit the brief, or the budget, parents are turning to Crawford International Pretoria. One of nine Crawford schools, the group is part of ADvTECH, Africa’s ‘leading private schools provider’, it says. The only one of the group located in Pretoria, it offers the IB primary years program (PYP) up to age 12, followed by the IEB matriculation, plus great sporting facilities and other extra-curricular opportunities on a large green campus.

Some families, especially those planning on living here longer term, or South African families moving back to the country, consider Waterkloof House Preparatory School (referred to as WHiPS), which now welcomes girls in pre-school, but runs a waiting list for its boys-only prep (age 6 to 13). For high school, it’s St Alban’s College (boys only) or its sister school St Mary’s Diocesan School for Girls (St Mary’s DSG) from age 3 to 18. This well-respected, self-declared ‘family of schools’ offers a high standard for reasonable fees.

Some excellent state schools locally, especially Pretoria Boys High and Pretoria High School for Girls, but even these levy a fee to generate extra income. Known for academic and sporting standards, they are firmly South African, leading to the NSC matriculation certificate.

Special education needs in Pretoria

Most of these schools say that they cater for children with special educational needs on a case-by-case basis and will admit a child as long as they think they can provide the necessary support to allow him or her to thrive in their school. Most schools will allow and organise a one-on-one facilitator if required, paid for by the parents.

AISJ currently accepts children with ‘mild to moderate learning needs’ but plans on extending its services to be able to cater for children who need more help. It has a dedicated SEN unit with specialist OT and speech therapists, as well as a small climbing wall to develop gross motor skills.

Pre-schools, kindergarten and nurseries in Pretoria

Schooling in South Africa is not compulsory until the year a child is turning seven (grade one), though the optional reception year (grade 0) is strongly recommended by the government and is part of the national CAPS curriculum. Most families will want to start their child much younger than this, and many schools have pre-schools attached, particularly the international ones.

Another option is to choose from the plethora of private pre-schools dotted around the city, often run out of residential homes and catering for a handful of children, just ask for recommendations locally and check it’s properly registered with the authority.

Hedgerows in Waterkloof is a large pre-school popular with the diplomatic community and great for working parents, looking after little ones from 7am to 5pm all year round apart from the December school holidays. Although reading is not generally taught until grade 1 (turning seven) in local state schools, Hedgerows teaches phonics (in grade 000) and starts with reading for those ready (from grade 00), helping them to enter the international schools in grade 0 (turning six) or grade 1 on a par with classmates who have come from the UK system.  

Best schools in Pretoria

American International School of Johannesburg (Pretoria) 

Common Core (US); ages 4-14; co-ed; day; independent; 250 students

AISJ (Pretoria) is the satellite elementary and middle school campus in Pretoria of the main American International School of Johannesburg school. Popular for its diverse environment and great facilities.

Click here to read our full review of the American International School of Johannesburg (Pretoria)

Courtney House International School 

Cambridge international primary programme/ Cambridge international secondary programme/ IGCSE/ AS levels/ A levels; ages 5-19; co-ed; day; independent: privately owned; 260 students

Academic but nurturing school from 4 through to 19 on three small neighbouring campuses. Popular with diplomats, Courtney House International offers IGCSE and AS/A levels to a global community.

Click here to read our full review of the Courtney House International School  

These schools have been brought to our attention, but until we have more reports from parents, we are unable to consider reviewing them.

British Academy (The)

Cambridge international secondary 1 programme/ IGCSE/ AS levels/ A level; ages 11-19; co-ed; day and boarding; Independent: privately owned; 200 students

Small Cambridge-curriculum school from age 11, The British Academy offers IGCSE, AS and A levels. Popular in the diplomatic and NGO community. Limited on-site facilities. Boarding from age 13. 

Crawford International Pretoria

IB primary years/ IEB South African national curriculum; ages 3-18; co-ed; day; Independent: privately owned; 1,000 students

IB PYP in prep school followed by IEB matric leaving certificate in senior school. Crawford International Pretoria is one of several for-profit Crawford schools in Gauteng province.

Deutsche Internationale Schule Pretoria

German International Abitur/ IEB South African national curriculum; ages 4 months-18; co-ed; day; Independent: private non-profit; 750 students

Deutsche International Schule Pretoria from pre-Kindergarten to grade 12 offers bilingual education in native German or English-speaking stream leading to NSC or joint International Abitur/NSC matric qualification.

Lycée Jules Verne (Pretoria)

French National Curriculum/ French Bac; ages 5-12; co-ed; day; Independent: private non-profit; 130 students

Small bilingual campus of Johannesburg Lycée Jules Verne nursery (age 3) to grade 5. French curriculum taught in French and English to 55 nationalities (half are French). September start.

St Mary’s Diocesan School for Girls

IEB South African National Curriculum; ages 5-18; girls only; day; Independent: private non-profit; 800 girls

Anglican IEB school with boarding from grade 5. Founded in 1879, St Mary’s DSG is sister school of boys’ Waterkloof House Preparatory School. Excellent reputation for academics and sport.

For more information on the schools above, please go to each school’s individual entry on The Good Schools Guide international search.

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