Mail & Guardian Advert and Editorial
In a government education environment facing many challenges, Durban High School is an urban school that stands firm as an example of what can be achieved by honouring tradition and exploring the possibilities of the future.
Having celebrated 150 years of boys’ education in 2016, Durban’s oldest school has grown from just seven boys in its first class to just under 1 000 boys taught by 65 teachers today. This included until last year Tony Human, who had taught at the school for 53 years!
Led by the school’s recently-appointed 15th headmaster, AD Pinheiro, Durban High School attributes its rejuvenated success in recent years to the active and generous support from its old boys’ community, a focus on excellence from pupils and staff, and embracing diversity within the context of its history and traditions.
With three of South Africa’s wealthiest businessmen among its alumni, along with many other successful old boys, the school amalgamated the various trusts that had been given to the school into a foundation six years ago.
This focus on managing funds effectively and calling on old boys to support their alma mater has seen Durban High School able to invest in multiple capital projects without having to draw funds from the department of education or take out loans from a bank.
The DHS Foundation has provided funds for upgrading the Blackmore boarding establishment, revamping the school’s information technology structure, and assisted in securing the funds to build the impressive Victor Daitz Mathematics and Science Centre.
The foundation has also allocated a further R8-million towards upgrading classrooms, in a project to commence in July this year.
There are several alumni who have singlehandedly sponsored the development of key facilities at the school, resulting in facilities such as the Chris Seabrooke Music Centre, and the Seabrooke Theatre, both of which are well-equipped venues that provide an incubator for talented school musicians and actors as well as hosting external artists and productions.
These facilities mean that the school can add to its already broad matric subject mix by offering visual arts, dramatic arts and music to matric level.
A smart balancing act
Durban High School insists on excellence in every area, and many of its top sportsmen are also top academic achievers. The school believes in developing well-balanced young men, so the boys are actively encouraged to participate in cultural activities and community service. This emerges from a belief that excellence in all these areas requires the same kind of commitment and determination, and that balancing the various demands is a skill that will serve them well once they progress into the working world.
The boys are supported by a group of teachers who create an environment, both inside and outside the classroom, that allows the boys to reach their full potential and guides them through difficult periods.
Committed teachers continue to form the backbone of the school’s sports coaching cohort. Durban High School offers a dedicated Sports Academy that specialises in rugby, cricket, football, hockey, waterpolo and basketball, with teams competing nationally and abroad, and training provided for provincial and national teams. The school has a particularly proud history in rugby and cricket, but has also won South African Schools titles in surfing and canoeing, as well as fielding some of the country’s best school basketball and badminton teams.
The school focuses on creating a positive environment for its staff, offering regular professional development programmes for its own team and for teachers from surrounding schools. This serves the broader community well, and it builds relationships with professionals who may become teachers at the school in the future.
The school’s leadership accepts that it is no longer the norm for teachers to stay at a school for decades, or even their whole careers, and works to build loyalty among staff, even if they only work for short terms. The philosophy behind this approach is that strong relationships continue beyond employment, and loyal teachers who have been empowered by a positive environment will become ambassadors for the school, and are likely to return later in their careers when they’ve gathered more skills and experience elsewhere.
The school’s governing body supplements teachers’ government salaries, and is well underway with plans to build staff accommodation on an adjoining property. The leadership also recognises that it’s not just the teaching staff who make a great school — support staff at all levels are afforded the same respect, as it is they who create the backdrop against which the teachers educate and coach.
The school offers an on-site boarding establishment that is home to boys from the broader Durban area, other provinces and neighbouring southern African countries. Blackmore House has evolved from being a place to sleep and eat between classes to offering excellent social and academic support programmes — for example, maths results soared by an astounding 35% in 2016 as a result of this support.
Family and culture
Durban High School is one of the few schools in South Africa where its student and parent body reflect the demographics of its city. While being a wonderful achievement, this has brought its own set of challenges, with the school working hard to balance the different backgrounds and expectations of its parent body.
For example, while some parents in the school are familiar and comfortable with the notion of it being compulsory for boys to attend a sporting event, even if they are not participating and don’t know any of the players, other parents don’t have the experience of spirit-building that this creates.
Rather than simply insisting on compulsory attendance, the school has transformed large sporting events into social platforms, with families in its community supporting events while being able to braai on the sidelines, for example. This creates a greater sense of support and community for the school, and also builds relationships between the parents, building bridges and allowing for networking.
The school has adopted a balanced approach to its 151 years of tradition and history, teaching boys to honour and respect its past while evolving into a multicultural environment that celebrates diversity, rather than forcefully assimilating boys into a single culture. This is born of a belief that the positive aspects of the school’s heritage, along with the benefits of integration at every level, will equip the boys to become leaders in a multicultural world.