It has taken almost 50 years for a school in Mitchell’s Plain to achieve a 100% matric pass rate. Not since the community’s inception in the 1970s has a school in the area managed to ensure that each of its pupils not only made the grade but also excelled at maths and science.
But Mitchell’s Plain’s long spell has finally been broken.
“When we announced the 100% pass rate that day, it was like there was a lump in all our throats,” said deputy principal Mark Fairbairn of Spine Road High School, a focus school for Maths and Science. The school offers only Pure Maths rather than Maths Literacy.
“It only really kicked in the day after. The community is very proud. We used to be one of the worst schools with a pass rate of 40%. We were even labelled the ‘gangster school’.”
“We used to be one of the worst schools with a pass rate of 40%. We were even labelled the ‘gangster school’.”
Spine Road High School is situated in Rocklands. Its school community faces poverty, a high rate of teen pregnancy, gangsterism and single parent households. But it’s a story that the pupils, parents and teachers are keen to rewrite.
“We’ve been striving for a 100% pass rate for so long,” said Fairbairn, recalling how the school achieved a 99.5 % pass rate in 2013. He said to ensure that every matriculant stood the best chance of completing matric, the number of classes for matriculants were increased at the start of the year.
“We even started the school day earlier – at 7am – for matrics. Our internal pass rate was set at 50%. If you don’t make 50%, you fail.”
The school’s 233 matriculants also managed to ensure that 95% passed maths and 84% passed science, despite that 14 Grade 11 pupils who had failed were put over to Grade 12 in line with the Western Cape Education Department’s new policy. Spine Road High School will have almost 300 matriculants in 2015. But the school’s success hasn’t only been about those 233 matriculants.
School Governing Body member, Zaida Julies said the achievement had symbolized a “beacon of hope” in a community riddled with social ills.
“The feeling in our school hall that day… no amount of money can explain what it feels like to be successful against all odds,” said Julies, who has chosen to put her publishing career on hold to assist the school with various creative outlets. Julies said her aim was to establish creative writing courses for pupils as a form of recreation and extra mural activities. Her son is a Grade 8 pupil.
“We have been faced with everything: gangsterism, poverty and children taking up the role of parents. It is absolutely overwhelming (that we have achieved this). I think it was well deserved.
“We try to tell our children that you can live in Mitchell’s Plain but you don’t have to be Mitchell’s Plain. You can follow your dreams no matter where you come from.”
Julies said they had been inundated with calls from parents and from other school communities who had commended them for the significance of the achievement.
“Our internal pass rate was set at 50%. If you don’t make 50%, you fail.”
Director for the Metro South Education District, Glen van Harte said Mitchell’s Plain schools had made enormous strides last year.
“I am terribly proud. Nine out of the 16 schools improved their results despite the downward trend in the province and the country.
“Spine Road High School has shown that you can’t blame your context alone for poor results.”
But despite Spine Road High School’s success, not all schools in the area reported a steady increase.
In some cases, some schools had dropped considerably such as Cedars High School where the pass rate fell from 89% in 2013 to 66.8%.
“Gang violence played a huge role,” said Van Harte, who said there had been several incidents of violence at several Mitchell’s Plain schools last year where pupils had to deal with the trauma of pupils who had been killed – in some cases, on the school premises.
“We are planning to work far more closely with police. We need to have a better response time than 15 minutes. It’s usually all over after 15 minutes,” he said.
Other schools which have previously also come close to achieving a 100% pass rate include Mondale High School in Merrydale, which achieved a pass rate of 99.6% in 2013. But that figure fell to 97.6% last year.
Van Harte said, “Pupils in Mitchell’s Plain begin their schooling at a disadvantage, but Spine Road High has built an element of hope in the community. This has given the child a chance at success where they can become part of the professional market. This will eventually see the evolution of the Mitchell’s Plain terrain.”