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Elite Sporting and Cultural Academy joins ISASA

| March 23, 2020 | 0 Comments


The story of Elite Sporting and Cultural Academy (ESCA) began in 2017, when a small but dedicated group of people came together to build a school that would allow young athletes and artists to pursue their passions, while maintaining a high standard of academic excellence.

For ESCA’s director and principal, Margie la Grange, the school was the realisation of a long-standing dream – an alternative educational institution where the best possible space, resources, people and opportunities are created and curated to facilitate a truly unique learning environment.
Always an innovator, La Grange wanted a curriculum that would provide international recognition, ultimately choosing to make use of the British Cambridge Assessment International system1 and the American GED2 – two flexible, comprehensive and learner-driven models.
Before this new-age school could be established, it was necessary to find the ideal premises – somewhere secure with access to modern amenities. Fortune was favourable when Cricket South Africa3 relocated to new premises and so, in early 2018, ESCA made itself a home in the beautifully renovated building on the grounds of the prestigious Wanderers Sports Club in Illovo, Johannesburg. Subsequently, ESCA has expanded to include an additional suite of rooms in the Planet Fitness building on the same property, as well as a stunning junior classroom built into the Wanderers Clubhouse itself.
Furnished with electronic smartboards, an Apple computerequipped media centre and full connectivity with students’ tablets and smart devices, the school established itself at the outset as an institution of cutting-edge education. Moreover, ESCA has recently formed a partnership with Stem Dynamics4 to create a course in robotic education for the students, allowing for a truly unique range of further possibilities.
To ensure the best possible learning experience, it was necessary to bring in a diverse range of multicultural professionals. Made up of veterans with decades of experience in addition to bright young minds with the latest qualifications, ESCA ensures a good balance of old values and new ideas, implementing two different but related learning systems.

Making good use of international curricula

The first, the British Cambridge Assessment International system,5 is a prestigious, internationally recognised curriculum that demands a high level of competency whilst providing unparalleled flexibility and a superb standard of education, endorsed and supported by Cambridge University itself. The Cambridge system is becoming more and more widely adopted across the globe,6 as it represents the forefront of learning in the 21st century; a growing focus on skills-based and blended learning, emphasising the development of critical thinking skills. One of the many advantages of Cambridge is that instead of relying on outdated models of learning, the system is learnercentred, teaching students not to depend on rote learning but instead to develop knowledge and skills that can be directly utilised and applied in the real world. The flexibility of the system allows ESCA students to devote time to their sporting and cultural obligations every day, with timetables tailored to meet students’ individual needs. Small classes make this easier to implement and ensure that each child receives the attention they need to excel.
The second syllabus offering by ESCA is the US General Educational Development Test (GED) – a matric equivalency providing the basis for the US Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) standardised testing system. With the GED, students are provided access to an online portal through which they progress at their own individual pace, with the option to revise previous lessons at any time. This allows a prospective GED student to focus on different subjects at different levels of complexity as required, firmly putting the learning process in their hands. However, ESCA knows that nothing can replace the value that is the product of personal engagement and input; thus, it is imperative that students at the GED centre are provided with consistent daily support, which comes in the form of teachers and subject matter experts who are always on hand to guide and assist the students as needed. Students work at individual speeds according to their competency and specific talents, with the online nature of the lessons enabling them to fit their studies into their schedules, to work on the road, at international sporting events and commitments and, most importantly, to avoid falling behind. Supplementing the academic requirements of the GED, ESCA has also introduced a life skills programme, equipping these young men and women with real-life skills – from creating a curriculum vitae to changing a car tyre! A student can complete the entire GED qualification in a year or two: comprising only four subjects, it is an excellent alternative to a matric.

Rapid growth

Such promising educational possibilities are nothing without students, however, and the school has been fortunate enough to have been blessed with enthusiastic pupils from the very beginning. Over the last two years, we have grown from a small student body of 25 to over 100, with a long waiting list of prospective students who wish to study here. In keeping with the goal of breaking with more conventional learning models, the vision of ESCA has always been geared towards students who are primarily focused on sports or cultural activities but who feel out of place in more conservative schooling environments, which may not nurture their talents.
To this end, all major sports are offered here, and for those of the cultural persuasion, we offer everything from debating and music to drama and even a culinary arts programme.
The name of our school, ESCA, stands for Elite Sporting and Cultural Academy. We have collaboratively established a set of core values, allowing ESCA to go beyond a mere academy that offers both sport and culture. Each letter in the acronym ESCA has been assigned a core value, aimed to help guide and inspire our students and staff:


Whenever one is part of a large group, it becomes easy to get left behind or to feel as if one matters less than others. This is why, at ESCA, we have made our first and most important value to always be aware of each and every student’s individual needs. Regardless of whether you are a staff member or a student, this considerate approach teaches one not only to be aware of other people’s feelings and perspectives, but also to learn how to act in any given situation. This goes beyond mere compassion and extends to the ability to act on this understanding and work towards finding solutions. This has informed the way we look at education – our goal has always been to provide a learning environment that caters to the specific needs of each child, resulting in a dynamic and flexible system which allows students to focus on their sporting or cultural endeavours without compromising their education. At ESCA, no-one is just a number, and this extends to our second value…


Strongly connected to empathy, this value is about working with others and promoting a sense of unity among the student body and faculty. If empathy teaches one the ability to value and understand individuality, then solidarity teaches one to cooperate with others to achieve a unified goal. On the sports field, this means working with your teammates as a cohesive unit, as well as showing support from the stands. The camaraderie that our students display at our sporting events belies the small size of the school, and our cheers can often be heard all the way to the far side of the property. Whenever our basketball team plays a home game, you will find a massive turnout of fellow students, staff and devoted parents, all committed to demonstrating their enthusiastic support.
However, solidarity is as important in the classroom as it is on the field, and we do our best to show students that life is not just about working with others, but that it is also more than okay to seek support and ask for help.
Any great endeavour begins with someone taking a risk, and this desire to pursue growth – even when something seems frightening at first – brings us to the next of our core values.


This is a school that was founded on a dream, and it was only through the courage of a small but dedicated group of people that this dream was able to become a reality.
With only 25 learners and nine teachers, we took the raw essence of this dream and sculpted it into something beautiful, achieving an enormous amount of growth in just two years. Although the school has grown by more than 300% and the waiting lists for students wanting to register for 2021 is growing, we will never forget our humble beginnings, nor will we leave behind the bravery that made it possible. This tenet is something that we try to instil in our learners every day – the courage to try new things, to overcome personal fears and anxieties, to push beyond perceived limitations. Whether it be taking on an opposing sports team or standing up to read for the rest of the class, we encourage our students to have the courage to face their fears and doubts and give it their best shot.
As we call to our students to stand up and be counted, we know that they can only ever master their learning journey and growth when they foster our final ESCA value…


At ESCA, we teach more than grammar and trigonometry: we teach our students how to be responsible for their own actions, and to have an awareness of the consequences and impact of their choices. We practise accountability in action. Perhaps more than any other generation, the youth of today face an enormous responsibility, not only in their own lives, but also when it comes to caring for our ailing planet. As the awareness and effects of climate change become more prevalent, we have committed ourselves to equipping our students to deal with those challenges. From a young age, students are taught to keep the environment tidy, be mindful of not wasting resources and to recycle where possible. The school has made several moves towards becoming paper free, one of which is to incorporate technology into the learning process. This results in tech-savvy students who are conscientious about the impact they leave on the world and mindful of the decisions they make.


Some of the programmes our ESCA students experience as part of their daily school life include project-based learning periods that focus on, among other things, collaboration on the Sustainable Development Goals established by the United Nations,7 our newly implemented Growth Mindset Development programme and our Harmony Class in conjunction with Sanford (not Stanford!) National University, headquartered in La Jolla, California in the US.8 ESCA is about exploration, about moving beyond the confines of traditional South African education and about realising the dreams and aspirations of every student who walks through our doors. Margie la Grange is principal at ESCA.


  1. See:
  2. The General Educational Development (GED) tests are a group of four subject tests that, when passed, provide certification that the test-taker has United States or Canadian high school-level academic skills. It is an alternative to the US high school diploma, the High School Equivalency Test (HiSET) and Test Assessing Secondary Completion (TASC) test. See:
  3. See:
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  8. The private, non-profit National University was launched in 1971. See:

Category: Autumn 2020

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