TAKING advantage of a growing market created by parents' concerns about the poor quality of schooling provided by the state, private education company Curro is considering doubling the number of schools it owns.

Curro CEO Chris van der Merwe said the company could own 80 schools by 2020 because of rising demand from lower-middle to upper-income families.

Curro, which is transferring its listing from the junior AltX exchange to the JSE on July 2 after closing a rights issue to raise R476,7m to fund its expansion, is building new schools and acquiring others.

Its competitors in the private education sector include JSE-listed Advtech.

Dr van der Merwe said the company bought existing schools with limited facilities, but which had potential for expansion.

He said many parents in affluent suburbs were also concerned about overcrowding, as few government schools had been built in such areas for years.

A labour economist, Loane Sharp, predicted yesterday that the growth of private schools would over time outpace that of government schooling, in the same way that the private security industry now had more employees responding to calls for help than the police had officers.

Education expert Graeme Bloch said while the delay in textbook delivery in Limpopo caused parents to question the state's commitment to public education, it was a myth that private schooling could replace public schools.

More than 90% of schoolgoing children in SA are enrolled in government schools.

Dr van der Merwe said in an interview last week headmasters of government schools were "begging" Curro to bring schools to their areas to relieve the pressure on congested classrooms.

Curro was considering "an attractive" acquisition and would add five schools next year to its 21 existing campuses, he said.

The company segmented its schools into three markets targeting affluent, middle-income and lower middle-income families.

Its fees ranged from R1500 to R5 000 a month.

kamhungas@bdfm.co.za