History and Background
Pinelands High School (PHS) is a public (government) school situated in Pinelands, Cape Town. Founded in 1952, it is a community school, drawing students from the suburbs of Pinelands, Langa, Epping, Maitland, Maitland Garden Village, Kensington, Ndabeni, and Thornton, as well as a number of areas on the Cape Flats. PHS provides secondary school education to 950 students, ranging from grade 8 to 12, and qualifies as a majority black school (more than 80 percent) in terms of the Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) criteria. Many of the students come from previously disadvantaged backgrounds. With the area’s socio-economic, racial and cultural diversity, the student base has grown to represent the broader demographics of Cape Town, giving PHS a richness that it treasures. The school believes that it represents one of the most successful examples of transformation in the South African schooling system.
Mission and Vision
PHS is not only committed to diversity, but has a firm commitment to excellence, the development of leadership, and innovation in education. The mission statement of the school is: “We strive to be a world-class school, rooted in Africa, that facilitates a quality all-round education in a caring and disciplined environment.”
Activities and Services
School is, first and foremost, a place where children come to learn, and the pursuit of academic excellence remains one of the strategic goals of PHS. The leadership of the school recognises that the life lessons learnt while at school are often learnt outside of the classroom. At PHS, pupils are offered a myriad of opportunities to become involved in sport, drama, music, and a variety of other cultural activities. The musical and dramatic productions staged by the school are of a remarkably high standard. Pupils are also given a range of opportunities for developing leadership skills and experience in the life of the school, including the chance to contribute to decisions made at a governance level. PHS passionately believes that it should educate the whole child, and give all the children at the school the opportunity to find their own niche, as well as to excel in their own particular way. PHS is a school where issues related to education and schooling are debated and thought about deeply.
The school has developed numerous original programmes relating to teaching pedagogy, leadership development, pastoral care, and broader teenage issues, which have given PHS a reputation for ground-breaking pioneering and innovation. Racial / gender tolerance and acceptance are actively practiced, and regular ‘Rainbow Camps’ provide a forum for confronting prejudice and bias. It is a school with teachers who are passionate about education, pupils who are encouraged to reach for their dreams, and an environment that celebrates innovation and exudes a palpable sense of energy and purpose.
In order to enable its students to reach their potential in mathematics, PHS has been awarded a grant, which permits the school to reduce the size of the maths classes, as well as to provide daily after hours maths tutoring and support. In addition, PHS has an excellent teacher learnership programme, which has been in operation for several years and allows the school to mentor trainee teachers, as well as to secure excellent staff for the future.
Challenges and Opportunities
Remaining a world-class school in today’s economic climate is extremely challenging. The government funds less than 50 percent of the teaching and support staff salaries, and less than one percent of the actual running costs of the school. The fees that parents pay, cover the remainder of the costs. Many of the students currently attending PHS come from underprivileged backgrounds, some relying on generous rebates in order to be able to attend the school. This unfortunately severely impairs the ability of PHS to provide new facilities, materials or assessments.
In order to pursue the school’s goal of excellence, it has become necessary to seek outside funding for certain facility upgrades. In recent years, PHS has been enabled to renovate two very out-dated physical science laboratories and to transform its very inadequate library into a vibrant Information and Resource Centre, which has become the hub of the school. PHS is currently pursuing funding for the upgrading of its primary Natural Science classroom / laboratory, seeking to adjust the space to complement the innovative approaches and teaching methods being employed by teachers in that department. In addition, due to the success of its music, drama and art departments, there is a need to extend those facilities to accommodate the growing popularity of these subjects. At the same time, in order to keep in touch with developments in school sport, it is important for PHS to secure funding in order to improve certain sporting facilities, as each year PHS loses a few of its top sports stars to schools with better sporting resources. PHS would very much like to regain its reputation as a top hockey school.
Impact / Contribution to Society
The impact of PHS can be seen in the development of young people and the role that the school plays in helping them grow to their full potential. Many of its students arriving at the school come from backgrounds of hardship and with poor academic foundations. However, the young men and women who leave PHS are confident, energetic and passionate individuals, ready to take their place in contemporary South African society and to make a meaningful and significant contribution in a wide range of disciplines and activities.
Siv Ngesi (comedy); Brett and Craig Matthews, and Thami Tsolekile (cricket); Austin Smith (SA hockey captain), Heath Nash, Lynette Bester, Nandipha Mntambo (Design / Sculpture / Art); and Jimmy Nevis (singer / songwriter), are just a few of the school’s celebrated alumni. The Matric pass rate at PHS has been at 99 to 100 percent for several years, and the Bachelor’s pass rate has been over 75 percent. Feedback from some of the city’s tertiary institutions is that students from PHS make the transition to higher education easily, and are among the top performers in a range of disciplines. This underlines the reality that the value-add of the school is enormous, and is one of the true measures of its contribution to society.
One Student’s Story
A couple of years ago a student burst into the School Counsellor’s office in tears. The counsellor, knowing the tumultuous past of this refugee girl, readied herself to deal with a report of a tragedy. Through her tears, the girl managed to stammer out the reason for her deep emotions. Having been academically disadvantaged through years spent in a strife-torn country, she had been struggling with maths at high school level. One of the teachers had voluntarily been giving up her break times to help the student get up to speed with the work, and had been patiently going through the syllabus with her. She was simply overwhelmed that someone would spend so much time just helping one student. This student was later able to obtain a Bachelor’s pass and to further her studies.