Secret to success

2009-11-11 00:00

GOOD old hard work, a safe and stable working environment, dedicated teachers and involved parents came up as the top criteria winning schools subscribe to and that have led to them making the Sunday Times list of the Top 100 Public Schools in the country.

The Top 100 Schools Survey released recently was based on data provided by the Department of Education on the 2008 matriculants.

Local schools like Pietermaritzburg Girls’ High School and Maritzburg College did not disappoint and were well placed in fifth and seventh positions, respectively, in the top 10 list in the province.

And while the study found that single-sex schools do better than co-ed schools, schools like Carter High School, Howick High School, Dundee High School and Ladysmith High School managed to pull through, with the latter taking a comfortable eighth position in the province.

The Witness spoke to some of these local schools to discover the secret of their success.

Dr Etienne Liversage, who has spent the past 23 years as the principal of Ladysmith High School, believes so much in his school that his four children all matriculated there.

Liversage said the school’s ethos is geared at putting the child and his or her interests first. This is done by ranking academics highly.

“The recipe is hard work and we require commitment from the parents, the pupil and the teachers. We are very serious about education and as far as I’m concerned, if you are a teacher but are never at work, you are not serious about the child’s progress.”

Not only is his school co-ed, it is also a parallel-medium school, which means both English and Afrikaans classes for each subject run parallel all the time. Liversage said this is far more challenging than just dealing with a co-ed school.

“That means my teachers have to be bilingual. They might teach one subject in Afrikaans for one grade and in English for another. The timetables have to be well synchronised to accommodate that.”

In addition, Liversage said this means everything such as policy documents, parent letters and even assembly is conducted in both languages.

But if you thought that the school only made it through the list as a result of the no grading system which was introduced by the new further education and training system, think again.

Last year, the school achieved 42 distinctions in mathematics. However, this is not far off the trend registered since 2000. The average from 2000 to 2007 has been 31distinctions in maths each year.

The school has maintained a 100% pass rate for the past 17 years with an average of 185 matriculants each year.

Liversage said what has worked for him over the 23 years is that he has conducted personal interviews with all his matriculants during which he helps them set personal goals after their March assessments. This requires follow-up sessions to ensure these goals are reached and passed.

Liversage is also a big believer in strict and fair but consistent discipline as a winning combination.

“You can’t laugh over something today and get ready to commit murder over it the next day. You have to be consistent and be able to create a safe environment. The core function of any school is teaching and learning.”

In addition to a stable body of teaching staff, Ron Jury, the headmaster at Martizburg College, said the school does well academically because of a supportive parent governing body.

“Our school governing body employs nearly 50% of our teachers, which assists us in keeping to a class size of fewer than 30 boys per teacher, which is conducive to good teaching and learning.”

Jury admitted that the school is fortunate to have the resources it has, but believes the way to academic success for schools less fortunate is through setting targets and focusing on achieving well in a chosen year.

While it might be considered impossible to step into the shoes of a giant like James Delport, the former principal at Carter High, Ashwin Ramgoolan has done exactly that. Ramgoolan said his approach to upholding the proud tradition of excellent standards that were already in place at the school was to be a good listener and always making time for his staff and pupils.

“I am very aware of the fact that comparisons will be made but I’m not hindered by that at all. In many ways Mr Delport and I are very similar in our approach. I believe in an open- door policy and encourage my staff to participate in decision making. I also consult my pupils. There is a wonderful spirit of collegiality that exists at Carter High School.”

According to Ramgoolan, the school strongly encourages staff to engage in strategic forward planning and setting goals and targets.

“There is a pastoral care support structure that assists pupils who are facing obstacles. We work in partnership with the parents to create an intervention programme that looks at the holistic development of the child.”

He said acknowledging outstanding performance by holding regular achievers’ assemblies on Fridays and utilising outside motivational speakers has gone a long way towards boosting pupil morale.

While there may be challenges within the education system, Ramgoolan said the Carter High staff have learnt to be proactive and create solutions.

The school does not rely on the Department of Education to schedule courses for the staff and they constantly attend professional development courses in order to acquire new skills. They also form partnerships with local businesses that ensure the school is never low on learning resources.

His advice to schools that find themselves fighting a losing battle is that forward planning is the key to success.

This must be accompanied by placing a premium on high achievement and acknowledging the central role that teachers play in delivering high- quality education by investing in their professional growth, as well as crafting solutions and maintaining high levels of positive discipline.

Survery: KZN’s top state schools

1. Westville Girls’ High

2. Westville Boys’ High

3. Durban Girls’ High

4. Danville Park Girls’ High

5. Pietermaritzburg Girls’ High

6. Northlands Girls’ High

7. Maritzburg College

8. Ladysmith High School

9. Durban High School

10. Glenwood High School.

) Based on the research done on the matric class of 2008, the Sunday Times Top 100 School Survey found that girls are smarter than boys.

) The research was done by Witwatersrand’s visiting researcher Helen Perry after a similar study conducted in 1999.

) Of the 100 schools that made the top public schools, 25 were all- girls’ schools, while 19 were all-boys’ schools.

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