Charter Schools: An Option for Gauteng?

South Africa has one of the most unequal education systems in the world. Even in the public-school system, the gap in the quality of education between those at fee-paying schools and those at no-fee schools is vast with the latter largely serving the lowest 25% of income earners. 

Stellenbosch University researcher, Nic Spaull estimates that in maths and science the average grade nine pupil at a fee-paying public school has two to three more years’ worth of knowledge and learning than a grade nine pupil at a no-fee public school[1]. Subsequently, a key challenge facing the state is to ensure that lower-income communities have access to the same quality of teaching and learning as those from the more affluent communities. 

While South Africa has pockets of outstanding public schools, they typically receive four times the number of applicants than they can accommodate which means most applicants are unable to get into these schools. The lack of quality public schools means competition for a place in a good public school is often more intense than it is for most private schools.

In response, the market has responded to this situation in South Africa by creating a range of private school options catering for families who cannot get their children into good public schools, but who can afford to pay fees. The question is whether using Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs), by way of charter schools is the correct way to address this challenge. 

The paper therefore seeks to address the following research questions:

  • What are: charter, academies, collaboration and donor schools? 
  • How does the Western Cape model work?
  • The advantages and disadvantages of charter schools.
  • Lessons from the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States of America (USA); and
  • Whether this model could potentially work in Gauteng?


School reforms featuring the introduction of new types of schools have occurred in the education systems of several countries, most notably: charter schools in the United States, free schools in Sweden and academy schools in England. At the heart of these reforms are attempts to improve learner performance by delivering a superior quality of education particularly where educational inequalities and the issues of problem schools, often in disadvantaged areas, have featured prominently. 

Conceptualisation of terms

What are charter schools?

The ‘charter’ in charter schools is a contract, agreed upon between those who run the school and the entity that authorises the school’s existence which ranges from school districts to boards of education in collaboration with private donors and non-profit education providers. Charter schools come in the form of public schools that are tuition-free are and open to all on a first-come, first-serve basis, or by way of a  lottery. The charter grants autonomy to those running the school to develop their own curricula, employ personnel and draw up budgets free of the regulations that district schools are subject. 

One example of how charter schools operate differently from district schools is that many charters have longer school days and school years than their peers. In exchange for this flexibility, charters are held accountable by their authorisers such as state education agencies or organisations like colleges, special boards and school districts. These authorisers can revoke a school’s charters if it does not meet set standards. 

What are collaboration schools?

Collaboration schools (which are also referred to as donor schools) are defined by Unwin (2017) as schools that draw most of their funding from public or state allocations. They are managed and operated by a private entity with autonomy, which is not absolute, from government regulations and policies. Collaboration schools are also not classified as private or independent schools according to national or provincial policy.

The focus of our research will be on the Western Cape Collaboration Schools pilot programme which envisions addressing the challenge of ensuring that lower income communities have access to the same quality of teaching and learning as those from more affluent backgrounds. The Western Cape Education Department (WCED) draws on lessons from the Academy School model in the UK and Charter Schools in the USA. 

What are school academies?

Academies were introduced in the English schooling system a decade after charter schools in the United States were first introduced. These academies were the result of acknowledging that schools in England were not producing a high enough standard of education, particularly schools serving children in disadvantage urban areas. As with charter schools, academies are independent, non-selective, state funded schools that fall outside the control of local authorities. Nonetheless, it should be noted that while charter schools are largely brand new or start up schools, academies are almost exclusively existing schools which have adopted a collaboration school model which is referred to as a takeover.

Furthermore, a distinction is made between two main groups of academies. That is sponsored academies and converter academies. Sponsored academies have sponsors such as businesses, faith communities, universities, other schools or voluntary groups who have majority control of the academy trust. Most of these used to be under-performing schools that became academies to improve their performance. Converter academies on the other hand are schools which are deemed successful enough to convert to academies in order to benefit from increased autonomy. They were introduced in July 2010 as part of the Academies Act. Today, the programme has broadened to include primary and secondary schools, special schools, free schools, university technical colleges (UTCs) and studio schools[2].

United States of America Case study

Charter Schools in the USA, the first of which were created in Minnesota in 1993, are illustrative of a charter track record that can at best be described as uneven. Literature is peppered with both successes and failures depending on a variety of factors that ultimately result in differing outcomes in very similar schools. 

Initially established as non-profit independent schools serving pupils from low-income families, the model has morphed into a system with thousands of schools, of which 15% are operated on a for-profit model. In addition, around 7,000 charter schools now serve more than 5% of students in the United States while steadily growing over the past 10 years, adding about 300 or 400 schools each year[3].

The broadest assessment of charter school effects comes from the Centre for Research on Educational Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University. An initial report in 2009 examined charter schools in 16 states. The initial findings indicated that charter schools overall had essentially no impact on student learning in mathematics and reading. Overall findings masked some variability: 46% of charters performed no differently than traditional public schools, 17% outperformed traditional schools, and 37% underperformed.

Sarah Cohodes (2018) in her article titled “Charter Schools and the Achievement Gap” states that the best estimates find that attending a charter school has no impact compared to attending a traditional public school. However, much of the same research also finds that a subset of charter schools has significant positive impacts on student outcomes. These are typically urban charter schools serving minority and low-income students that use a no excuses curriculum. When estimates for these highly effective schools are not separated from the broader group of charter schools, mostly those in suburbs and rural areas, differences between charter and traditional public schools average out to zero.

Who benefits from charter schools?

A study by Stanford University’s Centre for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) titled 2019 City Study: Indianapolis, evaluates school performance in public schools located within the boundaries of Innovation Network Schools over four years, analysing annual growth between the 2013-2014 school year and the 2016-2017 school year.

On average, Indianapolis charter schools and Indianapolis Public Schools’(IPS) Innovation Network Schoolsare providing students with significant learning gains relative to traditional public schools within IPS.

Some of CREDO’s most notable findings for 2016-2017 include:

  • Indianapolis charter school students achieved growth equivalent to 77 days of additional learning in English Language Arts (ELA) and 100 days of additional learning in math relative to students in IPS traditional public school (TPS).
  • Students in IPS Innovation Network Schools achieved growth equivalent to 53 days of additional learning in ELA and 89 days of additional learning in math relative to students in IPS TPS.
  • Students in charter schools and Innovation Network Schools achieved similar gains in both ELA and math relative to the state average, while students in IPS TPS achieved significantly less growth relative to the state.

The study also found that in 2016-2017, charter schools provided superior learning gains for black students and low-income students and especially strong learning gains for Hispanic students and English language learners.

  • Black students in Indianapolis charter schools achieved growth equivalent to 65 days of additional learning in ELA and 83 days of additional learning in math relative to Black students in IPS TPS.
  • Low-income students in Indianapolis charter schools achieved growth equivalent to 71 days of additional learning in ELA and 94 days of additional learning in math relative to low-income students in IPS TPS.
  • Hispanic students in Indianapolis charter schools achieved growth equivalent to 100 days of additional learning in ELA and 94 days of additional learning in math IPS TPS.
  • English language learners in Indianapolis charter schools achieved growth equivalent to 130 days of additional learning in ELA and 106 days of additional learning in math relative to English language learners in IPS TPS.

While this report is the first academic study on the performance of Innovation Network Schools, CREDO has previously released four studies on charter school performance in Indianapolis. Each study has found positive impacts for students who attend Indianapolis’ charter schools relative to their traditional public-school peers.

It is worth noting that these results are repeated in other studies. Using randomised study results from charter school lotteries in Massachusetts, Angrist, Pathak and Walter’s similarly found that non-urban charters do not outperform public schools and may even do worse, but urban charter schools benefit black students and poor students[4].

Best practice: High expectations, high support charter schools

Boston Charter schools in Boston are some of the most studied. Research has consistently found that attending a charter school in Boston has large positive effects on math and reading test scores. The most recent estimates, which include about 95% of the city’s charter school enrolment, found test score gains of about one-third of a standard deviation per year of attendance in maths and 20% of a standard deviation for reading at the middle school level. Estimates for Boston charter high schools are even larger. A report that includes the entire state of Massachusetts mirrors national studies; charters in urban areas have the most beneficial impacts, and charters in suburban or rural areas have no or in some cases negative impacts on test scores.

While many charter schools fail to live up to their promises, one type has repeatedly shown impressive results. These charter schools are referred to as “high expectations, high support” schools. These schools devote more of their resources to classroom teaching (even keeping students in class for more hours) and less to almost everything else. It is reported that these schools set high standards for students and try to instil confidence in them while focusing on giving teachers feedback about their craft and helping them get better.

The latest research on this approach was conducted by Professors Michigan and Berkeley at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). These scholars tracked thousands of charter school applicants all through high school and after high school, in Boston, where most charters fit the “high expectations, high support” model. Their study[5] found that learners who go to Boston’s charter schools learn reading and math better and faster than students elsewhere. They are more likely to take Advanced Placement tests and to do well on them. Furthermore, their Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores are higher than for similar students elsewhere (an average of 51 points higher on the Math SAT). Many more students attend a four-year college, suggesting that the benefits do not simply disappear over time.

The successes are large enough that some of Boston’s charters, despite enrolling mostly lower-income students, have test scores that resemble those of upper-middle-class public schools. The seventh graders at the Brooke Charter schools in East Boston and Roslindale did as well on a state maths test as students at the prestigious Boston Latin school which is the country’s oldest public school and a school with an admissions exam.

One of the criticisms highlighted above that charter schools skim off the best students is not the case in Boston. Many groups that struggle academically such as boys, African Americans, Latinos, special-education students are among the biggest beneficiaries. Boston’s charters eliminate between one-third and one-half of the white-black test-score gap in a single year.

Advantages and disadvantages of charter schools


In terms of charter schools, there are three main arguments in support of the model being deployed in fee-free schools.

In the first instance, advocates of these schools posit that schools are given more flexibility to govern and administrate according to pupils’ specific needs. Secondly, it is stated that this model offers greater accountability by schools to government and parents, based primarily on something they term “Outcomes Based Assessment”. And finally, proponents of these schools argue that schools which may not legally charge fees and struggle to raise alternative funds, benefit from much needed extra resources supplied by the collaboration or philanthropic partner.

Based on these arguments, charter schools are therefore alleged to offer improved teaching and learning more efficiently than is the case currently. According to evidence from the reviewed literature, some studies have shown that demand is growing for places at these schools where many of them are former under-performers. To illustrate, a 2015 census of private schools showed that enrolment for UK pupils is down to pre-2008 levels. This is attributed to the fact that there is much more quality education available in the state school system than there used to be with many parents and their children now preferring places at these improving state schools. 

According to a report from the Centre of Development and Enterprise (2012), advocates typically see the promise of charter schools as promoting: 

  • Experimentation and innovation 
  • Diverse public-school options for at-risk students 
  • Competitive pressure on the broader public school system 
  • Focused, mission-driven organisations  
  • Enhanced accountability


Critics of charter schools, on the other hand are not convinced that charter schools are able to drive competition and improve outcomes. Amongst the issues raised is the following: 

  • Creaming the most privileged students 
  • Segregation by race or affinity 
  • Undermining the power of teachers’ unions
  • Lack of accountability

A large-scale study[6] compared state district, non-profit charter and for-profit charter schools across multiple states in the US and essentially contradicted claims made by proponents of charter schools. The study showed that learning outcomes vary broadly, with no conclusive evidence of charters performing better than their public counterparts. In addition, trends identified in the same study showed that collaboration arrangements in school management resulted on average in firstly, more money per pupil being paid for administrative and management costs and secondly, less money per pupil being paid on instructional costs, in other words, teaching and learning material. 

It was further found that as a general trend, both for- and non-profit charters kept teacher salaries low by relying on younger, less experienced staff. They also experienced high staff turnover which correlates negatively and significantly with lower learning outcomes. According to Muller[7], a Researcher in Teacher Development and Sociology of Education at the University of Cape Town, such findings directly contradict the premise of efficiency that is often used to justify public-private partnerships in education as being superior to purely public schools since if instructional costs go down and management costs concomitantly go up, this could have the negative effect of private managers infiltrating struggling public schools and inadvertently redirecting teaching salary funds towards themselves. 

This was the case with the Wakefield City Academies Trust were in 2015 its interim chief executive Mike Ramsay, had paid himself £82,000 over a three-month period. Subsequently, the trust was in a vulnerable position as a result of inadequate governance, leadership and overall financial management. Later that year, it was reported that the trust had paid almost £440,000 to IT and admin companies owned by Ramsay and his daughter. Due to its failures, the trusts were forced to give up all their schools.

As evidenced from above, PPP schooling arrangements are controversial and give rise to significant concerns. Chief amongst these concerns is the perceived undermining of the power of teacher unions. Teachers and their union representatives typically hold a deep belief that the rise of charter schooling will be the end of teacher unions, decent pay and workplace protections. In most states in the USA, and at the local school district level, teacher unions are some of the most powerful lobbyists in government, fighting for (and often winning) pay increases, rights to tenure, strong benefits packages, and small class sizes. Teacher unions are typically allowed to collect mandatory fees from all public-school teachers to pay for their operations and lobbying efforts.  

Most charter school laws provide a blanket exemption from state and local collective bargaining provisions, directly threatening unions’ power bases and leaving charter school teachers without representation. For these reasons, teacher unions and district-level leaders frequently oppose charter schools. They are often joined in this opposition by other state and local unions as an act of solidarity, creating a very powerful alignment of interests. 

When the National Education Association (NEA), the largest labour union and professional interest group in the United States representing public school teachers and other support personnel, updated its policy on charter schools in 2017, the organisation was aggressively against the growth of charter schools stating that “…the new NEA Policy Statement on Charter Schools will boost NEA’s forceful support of state and local efforts to limit charter growth and increase charter accountability, and slow the diversion of resources from neighbourhood public schools to charters.”[8].

The Western Cape collaboration schools pilot programme


The Western Cape collaboration schools pilot programme is an attempt by the Western Cape government to try new ways of improving the education system, and particularly to address the inequalities that still persist as a legacy of apartheid. The belief was that this model could make a positive difference in providing quality education in poor communities and improving performance in underperforming schools. 

The Western Cape Government has the ambition of Collaboration Schools eventually making up 10-15% of the public education system. Subsequently, the Collaboration Schools pilot programme therefore seeks to, amongst others:

  • Improve the quality of education at public schools;
  • Demonstrate effective models of partnerships in education;
  • Strengthen public school governance and accountability;
  • Develop educators; and
  • Implement interventions aimed at the improvement of the quality of public education for learners from low income communities.

Through the Collaboration Schools pilot, the WCED aims to test a new model of schooling that will bring additional education management skills and innovation into the public school system, through non-profit partnerships that improve the quality of teaching and learning in no-fee public schools. 

Implementation of the WCED collaboration schools pilot programme

The Collaboration Schools Pilot began in five schools in January 2016. Three of the schools were existing public schools that were deemed to be failing by the education department while the other two were newly opened as part of the pilot project (start-up schools). The schools were all no fee schools that receive appropriate provincial funding allocations in low-income communities. The schools are operated and managed by an independent, non-profit organisation referred to as the School Operating Partner (SOP) which is accountable to both the funder group and the Western cape Department of Education.

The model is based on a partnership between the education department, schools, donor organisations and non-profits specialising in the practice of quality education. The support organisations, called operating partners will ensure intensive school-level support to teachers and principals through training, additional resources, monitoring and regular feedback while the WCED continues to play its critical role in overseeing school performance and holding the schools and operating partners to account as part of the public education system. Support from the WCED will be integrated with that provided by the operating partner, with collaboration schools continuing to receive funding, infrastructure and services such as transport and nutrition from the WCED according to prevailing policy. Former Western Cape Premier, Helen Zille stated that the approach centred on choosing the correct people for each post and introducing accountability measures for outcomes, particularly the learning outcomes of students. Philanthropic donors provide additional funding over and above the Western Cape Department of Education’s investment in these schools.

Some of the collaboration school features are: 

  • Operating partners, in the form of specialist non-profits, provide expert support and resources at school level. 
  • Operating partners are also allowed a significant number of representatives on the School Governing Body (SGB).
  • Principals retain pivotal responsibility to run the school, and 
  • The department retains its responsibility to oversee and support each school.
Pilot performance

Initial schools included in the pilot project were Oranjekloof Primary School and Silikamva High School (both serving learners from Imizamo Yethu in Hout Bay), and Langa High School while newly established schools were Forest Leadership Academy (a primary school in Eersterivier) and Happy Valley Primary in Blue Downs. To draw the most useful evidence from the pilot, the department selected a mix of primary and secondary, new and long-established schools. 

By June 2017, the Western Cape had seven public schools operating as collaboration schools, four primary and three high schools, across four of the Western Cape’s districts. From the pilot’s inception to 2017, funders had committed over R75 million to the project. Of this amount, R31.8m went to the schools directly while an additional R37.8 million was provided to the non-profit partners who brought additional capacity to the schools in the form of governance, training, support and social capital. In addition, the operating partners have been working with schools to develop specific school improvement plans and implemented these plans.

During the Western Cape Government Education Budget Vote for the 2019/2020 financial year, it was reported that the department continued to make progress in the Collaboration Schools project.  According to the department, indications are that it is bringing improved education to poor communities, so much so that there are now 11 schools in the project. 

The report further noted that the results of the systemic tests as well as the NSC results at these schools have increased significantly since the inception of the new model. For example, for the last few years, matric results for Langa High School have been unacceptably low; in 2015 it had a 41.9% pass rate and in 2016, it dropped further to 34.3%. The department decided to approach the school about becoming one of the new collaboration schools in 2017.  In the 2017 NSC, Langa High School achieved 49.7% and in 2018 they achieved a 78% pass rate making it a school of choice in the community. 

Through the pilot project, the Western Cape government is already seeing results in that where all partners are committed, positive outcomes occur; from increased teaching performance, to growing community support, manifesting in high demand for 2017 enrolments. These schools are becoming the standard bearers for an approach with enormous transformative potential for under-performing schools, of which there are a great deal fewer than there were in 2009. 

To unlock this potential, however, all partners in a school community need to be fully committed to doing what is in the best interest of the learners. To yield positive results, these schools require sound management and administrative systems that ensure accountability and a solid partnership between all role players in striving for a decent education. 

Western Cape Provincial School Education Amendment Bill

The Western Cape Provincial School Education Amendment Bill resulted in a number of adaptations to the original Bill, particularly in terms of collaboration schools. 

Section 12(1) of the Western Cape Provincial School Education Amendment Bill provided for the establishment of both collaboration and donor funded schools as additional types of public schools. The section further provides for the declaration of existing schools as either collaboration or donor schools by the Provincial Minister. Provision is made for matters pertaining to governance of these schools and for the appointment of staff by the governing body and the donor where relevant.

The Bill additionally provides for an operating partner, meaning a non-profit organisation that has the authority to empower the governing body, management team and educators of a collaboration school with capacity, skills and resources thereby enabling the development of structures, systems, cultures and capacities necessary to deliver quality education. It is worth noting that an operating partner only falls in the category of collaboration schools, not donor-funded schools.

During the hearing process for the proposed amendments to the Bill, various concerns were raised by major stakeholders such as South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) and Equal Education (EE). Equal Education argued that the Bill was essentially a duplication of already existing functions. There was displeasure about the supposed plan of the WCED to give undue authority to private organisations in the educational system of the province bearing in mind that some of the private operators may lack the requisite knowledge to run the educational system. There were also no provisions to protect schools and poor communities against abuses by the private organisations. There were no guarantees in the proposed amendments that collaboration schools and donor-funded schools would not be targeted for profit over the long term. While government needed the support of donors and international philanthropists due to the rocketing national debt and other economic challenges, the government needed to put measures in place that protected national, parental and learner interests against potential abuse by donors.

While EE welcomed testing innovative education models, the organisation opined that experimentation in education is a very sensitive undertaking as it involves the lives and futures of pupils. In its submission on the Bill, Equal Education argued that many of the proposed amendments were “unlawful, redundant, contrary to the spirit of democracy and redress in education, unlikely to improve educational outcomes and potentially directly harmful”. Furthermore, EE was concerned that in donor-funded schools, representatives of a donor, merely by virtue of their funding contribution may be entitled to half or even the majority of the voting seats on a school governing body.

The South African Communist Party (SACP) and SADTU argued that “the schools collaboration project finds its expression in the context of privatising what belongs to the public and will ultimately commodify what the public is supposed to get free”. They posed that the sourcing of donors for the improvement of public schools should not be done to restructure the democratic structure of governance currently outlined in the South African Schools Act which they believe the Bill does. 

The project was therefore seen as a ploy by the provincial education department to implement ‘neoliberal policy’ that would ignore and censor the say of the community, parents, teachers and workers’ in the governance of the school. This uproar played itself out in the media and resulted in the temporary withdrawal of Mellon Educate, an international volunteer-based charity which agreed to partner with the schools on the project. Spokeswoman for the Western Cape Education Department Jessica Shelver confirmed that “there has been some instability within the community regarding the schools’ participation in the collaboration schools pilot project”

In the US, despite charter schools enjoying national bipartisan support, state-level politics have often been acrimonious and sometimes highly partisan. In most states, teacher unions came out strongly against charter laws, viewing the largely non-unionised charters as a threat to membership and union power. The unions were often joined by local school governing boards that felt threatened that charter schools could be authorised by state or university sponsors. 

Potential for application in Gauteng  

There are several lessons to take from both the US and the UK. To begin with, charters lose 24% of their teachers each year which is double the rate of traditional public schools. This is attributed to longer hours and less pay. The average Success Academy (a charter school operator in New York City) teacher, for example, leaves after four years. The high turnover tends to negatively affect student achievement.

Furthermore, researchers add that after 25 years and thousands of schools later, charter schools still on average produce results which are roughly equal to those of the public schools to which they set out to be better alternatives. This is a significant point in that research on similar school models in other parts of the world illustrate that the effect of such models is, at best, mixed in that some charter schools do appear to do very well, but on average charters do no better and no worse than public schools

Critics of this expansion of charter schools have raised serious questions about its consequences, both direct and indirect. For instance, local school boards complain that charters unfairly drain needed resources from traditional public schools and that the uncertainties surrounding them make strategic planning difficult, especially since charters are not held to the same transparency and accountability standards as traditional public schools. Of further importance is that some accuse charters of maintaining selective admissions and retention practices, promoting racial and socio-economic segregation and creating what amounts to a dual education system contrary to the traditional values and intent of universal free public education.

The push to have large numbers of charters operating side by side with traditional public schools raises not only issues about a dual education system but also significant policy issues:

  • How do you manage a system in which two sets of schools operate under different rules? 
  • How do you assure accountability for academic results and the expenditure of public funds when there is no overarching entity in charge of both sets? 
  • How do you promote democratic values and assure that local community voices will be heard when the authority of democratically elected school boards is weakened?  
  • How do you assure places for hard-to-educate students and otherwise protect the broad public interests that justify free compulsory schooling in the first place? 

These are some of the pertinent questions that in forging ahead, policy makers should deeply consider. Should Gauteng embark on a charter school initiative, several takeaways are evident, especially with regards to the need to:  

  • Focus intensively from the start on clear academic and other outcomes for students;  
  • Provide equitable funding and access to facilities;  
  • Ensure that government agencies are capable of and accountable for responsible oversight; and 
  • Invest in ways to incubate and support school capacity and replication.  

There exists various example of PPPs in education which have been illustrated by the examples referred to above which have all displayed varying degrees of success in improving educational outcomes. 

It is worth considering that introducing of new school models in Gauteng, whether these are charter schools or collaboration schools, it will ultimately require amendments to legislation. As experience from the Western Cape, and other countries has shown, stakeholders such as SADTU will pose a major challenge to a move towards charter schools. Certain measures such as early consultation should be taken from the onset in dealing with stakeholders who may hold a negative view to the introduction of new school models in Gauteng. 

While there is a growing consensus that South Africa’s poorest performing schools are still under-funded and it seems pragmatic to source extra resources from donors in the form of NGOs, philanthropists and private operators, caution should be exercised while the challenges highlighted above, together with their intended or unintended consequences are carefully considered. 


From the above, it is evident that charter schools cannot be generalised. How these schools are run, funded, and overseen varies dramatically from country to country, region to region and school to school based on a variety of factors. A successful collaboration school in the Western Cape will not automatically equate to an equally successful school in Gauteng or Limpopo based on the mere fact that they are all charter schools. The respective departments of education, teachers, parents, learners, donors and all other stakeholders will determine the success or failure of such a school. Be that as it may, the successes of these schools are worth studying to find the solution for the challenges  that public schools face.

Gauteng should carefully heed the lessons learnt from charter arrangements in other countries because while the project’s individual proponents may be well-intentioned, there exists a real risk of such models laying the country’s public education coffers vulnerable to capture by private interests. Whether for profit or not, collaboration schools are likely to introduce other well-known aspects of privatisation and perceived undermining of democratic school governance while introducing market principles into education. One of the core aspects of the model is how it restructures SGBs. 

Lastly, to improve our schools, we need to improve our teacher workforce. That would mean better screening to select the best candidates, higher salaries, better support and mentoring systems and better working conditions. Charter schools require innovation, creativity and a commitment to improved learner outcomes. Without this, this model is bound to fail. This is clearly evidenced in the case of Uganda where courts ordered the shutdown of Bridge schools because of poor infrastructure and under-qualified teachers.

The establishment of charter schools can be an important tool for serving previously underserved students and injecting new talent and ideas into the school system. At their best, charter schools can be a research and development opportunity for public education systems by offering proof points on what is possible when government agencies responsibly unleash innovative ideas, entrepreneurial leadership and mission-driven staff to create better outcomes for students. They offer a mechanism to start new schools quickly and an organisational structure that is designed to solve learning problems rapidly and creatively.  

It needs to be stressed that these policies cannot run on autopilot. Agencies hoping to build high-quality public-school choices need to design the programs to target the students with the greatest need while building accountability systems that allow for diverse schooling options. 

[1] N, Spaull. 2019. Priorities for Education Reform (Background Note for Minister of Finance 19/01/2019).

[2] A studio school is a type of secondary school in England that is designed to give students practical skills in workplace environments as well as traditional academic and vocational courses of study.

[3] Unwin, S. 2016. The Collaboration School Model: A viable solution to the public schooling crisis in South Africa. Graduate School of Business; University of Cape Town.

[4] Angrist, Joshua D., Parag A. Pathak, and Christopher R. Walters. 2013. “Explaining Charter School Effectiveness.” American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 5 (4): 1-27

[5] Leonhardt, D. 2016. Schools That Work.

[6] Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO). 2013. National charter school study. Palo Alto, CA: CREDO, Stanford University: Stanford. 

[7] Muller, S. 2017. SA’s public-private school plans require healthy scepticism. Mail and Guardian.  17 May 2017

[8] Crockett, K. 2019. Teachers’ Unions Oppose Charters Schools; Use the Power to Strike to Stop Competition from Charter Schools. Centre of the American Experiment.