Holistic education - with an insistence on high standards

The success of the learners of Pretoria Boys High can be attributed to a philosophy of excellence and good support structures

The success of the learners of Pretoria Boys High can be attributed to a philosophy of excellence and good support structures

One of the oldest schools in the Gauteng province, Pretoria Boys High School was originally formed in 1901 and subsequently established on its present premises — an 85-acre campus southeast of the city centre, in 1909. Some of the existing buildings still remain and this campus is immaculate, with a park-like atmosphere.

The school has a governing body elected by its parents, making the school community responsible for the entire upkeep and running costs of the school, while the state pays the salaries of a prescribed number of staff, both academic and non-academic. The school caters for approximately 1 540 boys, around 345 of whom are in boarding, making it the largest boys school in South Africa.

Asked how the school overcomes the challenges that other government schools are facing, headmaster Tony Reeler explains: “We are blessed to have wonderful facilities that are among the best in South Africa.
We have a parent and old boy community that supports us and our fee-paying parents contribute significantly, which allows us to employ additional staff to teach or to manage the facilities.

“Approximately half of our staff are state-employed, while the balance is employed through the funding we raise via school fees.

“We are a proudly state school run under the auspices of the national department of education and provincially under the Gauteng department of education that reflects the community of which it is a part. We have boys from many backgrounds coming together under the Pretoria Boys High banner.

“Due to there being no difference in qualification between the IEB and the National Senior Certificate — as both fall under Umalusi as the moderating authority, and it is Umalusi that issues the certificate — we attract top teachers and outstanding boys, who contribute greatly to our community.” 

As an academic school, the majority of its pupils follow a university entrance course. The school drives a philosophy of striving for excellence in all endeavours that it undertakes, which carries through to its pupils. “As ambassadors of our school they are expected to maintain the highest standards of behaviour and appearance.”

In its first decade of existence Pretoria Boys High was a dual-medium school, but it is now an English-medium school, and as such, its pupils are admitted based partly on their proficiency in this language. The school prides itself on maintaining exceptional standards; this is illustrated through an ethos of holistic education based on a full academic, cultural and sporting programme. It is an institution all government schools can benchmark themselves against.

“Any good school, whether state or independent, which has good support structures in place and is uncompromising on matters of principle, usually based on sound educational reasons, stands to be successful,” continues Reeler.

“Our outstanding matric results were as a result of a continued insistence on high standards from our boys and our teachers, with the support of the structures at home or in the boarding houses.

“Whether a school is state or independent is not a determinant in its success and the success of its pupils. It is the devotion and dedication of the community that matters.

“I believe the secret to our school’s particular success is our insistence on high standards. We also promote the gateway subjects of mathematics and physical sciences to the extent that almost 90% of our [matric] class of 300 takes pure mathematics and around 85% take science.

“We do not spoon-feed our boys and they are required to take responsibility for their own progress, with our help and support, of course. Their success at tertiary institutions is a testimony to this approach. Our insistence that our boys are busy and are involved in a wide range of activities also helps in their holistic development.

“All of our teachers contribute to our success. Those who teach only at junior level must also take credit because it is upon their foundation that the senior teachers build. Obviously the senior teachers have done a wonderful job, which in grade 12 consists mainly of motivating boys to do their best.

“There are a number of boys who have done remarkably well and those we are often most proud of are those who have overcome obstacles to their learning to achieve success. I refer to emotional obstacles as well as physical, and we applaud those who improved through hard work. Those at the top continue to amaze us, considering that many do advanced programme Mathematics as an extra subject as well as two A level subjects — maths and English.”

The four core values of this school start with honour and the quality of knowing and doing what is morally right, including taking responsibility and owning up when asked to. The school stresses this, saying people of honour are held in high esteem by the community as those who can be trusted to do what is right, despite peer and social pressures.

Loyalty is the second core value and a culture of being supportive and true to the school, what it stands for and to those in the school community it is continuously infused. Recognising faults and constructively criticising does not imply disloyalty. Blind allegiance is discouraged but devotion, emotional attachment and a sense of belonging is nurtured.

Integrity and having strong moral principles that are consistently lived under all circumstances is very important to this school, with its philosophy that people of integrity are honest and righteous, having an unwavering moral compass.

Finally, there is respect and having exceptionally good manners, so much so that this is commented upon by the school community, visitors to the school and the general public. There is the drive to act in a manner that is respectful to all, with consideration for others and their points of view. This includes respect for self, others, the school, the environment and those in authority.

A Nobel-winning alumnus

In the 1900s, South Africa’s first Nobel Prize winner attended Pretoria Boys High School in the first decade of its existence.

Max Theiler received the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for his research on the origins of Yellow Fever.

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