The heat was on at the official premises of the premier, Alan Winde on Thursday 16 January when the Western Cape’s top achievers in the 2019 National Senior Certificate Examinations were announced.While the top three candidates in the Western Cape at this point were no secret, the suspense surrounding which high schools would come in tops could have been responsible for at least some of the drops of perspiration forming on attending principals’ foreheads. Or perhaps it was just because of the sun beating down on Leeuwenhof’s grounds. While the names of Madelein Dippenaar (Hoërskool Gimnasium), Gary Allen (Rondebosch Boys’ High School, and Anuoluwa Makinde (Milnerton High School) – who also happened to be the top three national candidates – had been released on 7 January, the list of top 20 schools in the province was still a mystery.A few speeches and many a head dab later, Westerford High School (Rondebosch), Rustenburg Girls’ High School (Rosebank) and Star College Bridgetown (Athlone) – in that order – were announced as the top three schools in the Western Cape.Mark Smith, principal of Westerford High School, said it came as a surprise. “We are listed ninth nationally so we suspected we would be somewhere in the top 10 in the Western Cape, but not first place.”Originally from Pretoria, Smith is quick to point out that he only joined the school in the last term of 2019. “All the credit goes to the school’s teaching body and learners.” According to the School Performance Report on the DBE’s website, Westerford has had a 100% pass rate from 2015 to 2019. Smith says the education that learners receive at Westerford covers much more than the standard syllabus. He says that although he is proud of the learners’ exam achievements, that is not the school’s focus; rather its teaching methods are aimed at developing learners’ lateral thinking.On a provincial level, the Western Cape – with an overall pass rate of 82.3% for 2019 – moved from third to fourth place in the national table.“No team is happy to see their ranking drop down the league table. But we must keep our eyes on the real prize: ensuring that we get better every single year as regards quality and giving our youth the best possible opportunities to make a meaningful difference in their lives and our country,” the minister of education, Debbie Schäfer said at the event. The province’s bachelor pass rate for the 2019 NSC stands at 46.3% – the highest yet.The Metro North Education District achieved the highest district percentage pass rate in the province (86.3%). Overberg came in a close second (86%). Altogether 69 schools (15.4%) achieved a 100% pass rate and nearly two-thirds of Western Cape schools have a pass rate of over 80%. The pass rate of Quintile 1, 2 and 3 schools together has increased by 17% since 2009. Another encouraging statistic is that the Western Cape has the highest retention rate from Grade 10 to 12 in South Africa. Free State “lost” 34 447 learners (57.9%). Gauteng “lost” 99 371 learners (50.4%). North West “lost” 36 855 learners (57.9%) and the Western Cape, 27 898 (35.6%).“No loss is something that we are proud of. But 35% against 50% and above is quite some difference,” Schäfer said.She ended her speech acknowledging the hard work that goes into helping young people every day and congratulating the achievers. Jakob Holm (Diocesan College) and Justine Verwey (Rustenburg Girls’ High School) are the fourth and fifth top candidates in the province, respectively. The remaining top schools, from fourth to 20th, are Herschel Girls School, Springfield Convent of the Holy Rosary, Rondebosch Boys’ High School, Hoër Meisieskool Bloemhof, Diocesan College, Rhenish Girls’ High School, Claremont High School, Paul Roos Gimnasium, Herzlia High School, Hoër Meisieskool Paarl, SA College High School, Hoër Meisieskool La Rochelle, Wynberg Girls’ High School, Hoërskool DF Malan, Parklands College, Parel Vallei High School and St George’s Grammar School.