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Headmaster Garth Shaw’s assembly address at Dale College – 1 Feb 2019

Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen – I am honoured to be able to address you in this capacity. I would like to acknowledge and greet some individual groups here today:

It has been tough for me to prepare for this gathering today: Partly because I have never seen a new Headmaster / Principal introduced to a school. Why do I mention this? Basically, because I think it is a mark of a good school if the Headmasters / Principals don’t come and go, but rather walk a path, commit to the task at hand and give continued leadership over a sustained period of time. I have been lucky to be associated with schools that follow this kind of pattern, and apart from the last year of uncertainty, I know that this has been the legacy of Dale College. I look forward to building on this legacy.

But it is also tough for me to put into words what I am feeling right now. It is a huge privilege to be leading one of the most prestigious schools in the country. One of the few remaining Boys’ High Schools. For 12 years I attended another Boys’ school not too far from here. When I fell sick on the Thursday evening before what would have been my first ever rugby game, as a 7-year old and barefoot, on the Dale Primary fields, I cried… I felt similar emotion when I ran out for my 50th game for the Queen’s College First Team at the ‘’Graveyard’’ in 2002. Although Queen’s lost 13-0 I can now possibly say We beat Queen’s! The ethos of a boys’ school, the camaraderie, culture, singing, sport as well as being back in my homeland, the Eastern Cape… These things I have missed, and I get goosebumps in anticipation of experiencing this again. Let me start by briefly telling you a little about myself: I spent all my years at Queen’s College. I think it is fair to say that I lived for my sport – Rugby, athletics, water polo, in that order. To be honest, losing to Selborne was bad, but beating Dale was very, very important.  I am also studying and working towards a PhD degree that is close to completion

After school, I initially ran away from my calling as a teacher. I started studying Civil Engineering, but I always knew that I wanted to go into teaching. Coupled with this calling was a heart for social justice. I think this comes from my parents. My dad spent many years working in rural clinics in the former Ciskei region, and then in the provincial health department here in Bhisho, in charge of Rural Hospitals. From early on in my teaching career I found myself compelled by the desire to actively break down the inequalities in our country. The largest chunks of my experience come from Paarl Boys’ High School, and a new school you may not have heard about, Claremont High School. It is during my time at Claremont High that I have really grown in my understanding of what it takes to run a school.

I am married and have three young future Dalians! My wife, Marionelle, is also a teacher, and hails from the Eastern Cape, having grown up in Cradock. I am sorry that she cannot be here today alongside me. Apart from the late notice of my appointment, part of the reason she cannot be here is that she and our boys are celebrating my middle son’s birthday today at home in Cape Town. He turns four today  They will all be visiting in March, and then joining us at the end of the term.

I want to say, I think I have said it already, that I count it a privilege to be a part of the Dale Family. In preparation for the interview last year, I thought long and hard about if and how I could add value to the school. While I am still keen to get to know the school, and understand its history, its current context, its culture and the ethos of the Dale community, I do have somewhat of a vision for the school. I’d like to share it with you, although much of it may sound familiar to you, and in line with what you already know to be the school’s mission statement…

  • I see Dale as a school contributing to the development of focused, well-disciplined young men who emerge to become empowered agents of social justice, and who can critically engage with the needs of our country, both socially and developmentally.

  • Morally engaged students who know the difference between what is right and what is wrong.

  • Students who take stances, take responsibility, and take the initiative. Informed leaders who will become active citizens, strengthening and building on our democracy, each in their own way.

  • How will we achieve this? As it is already done at Dale College! In the classrooms and halls of the school building, on the sport fields, on camps and tours, in the hostels and in the cultural spaces in which we debate and act and sing.

This is the school’s ongoing and historical legacy! You – we – are a prestigious institution. You don’t need me to tell you that this school has produced leaders, businessmen, politicians, sports stars and academics, and best of all, teachers.  I am told that three Old Dalians have gone on to become Headmasters (Principals) at Queen’s College, but that I am the first Old Queenian to become a Headmaster (Principal) at Dale College. I’m not sure what this says to us!

I am also aware, however, and I would like to share this with you:

Measuring success in education is a complicated thing! In sharing my vision for the school, I want to differentiate between two schools of thought, and I want to stress that we must strive to be successful according to both of these perspectives; The first way of looking at schooling is from what is known as a “school effectiveness” perspective. When are schools effective? When their learners come to school and actually learn When teachers come to school and actually teach. School starts on time; Things run in an ordered and orderly manner, timetables exist, planning exists, teachers are professionally in tune with academic needs, school facilities and resources are used optimally, extra mural activities are offered, external stimulation exists, leadership development happens, assemblies happen, these kinds of things.

Official studies say that “effective schools” produce good results. I think we all know that Dale has a legacy of being an effective school. This is good… Is there room for improvement? Possibly… Then we must identify these spaces for growth and work on them.

This is the first way of looking at education. Unfortunately, too many people only consider education from this perspective. Possibly part of the problem is that “the other perspective” is not as easy to define.

There is no doubt that schooling, and the education system in general, serves certain needs, and certain types of learners better than others. This has been known for a long time and is still true in the South African context… I quote from a paper published last year by Pam Christie and Carolyn McKinney

Unsurprisingly, research on South African schooling echoes the findings in sociology of education since the US Coleman Report of 1966, that while schools may be more or less effective (and this does make a difference), the social background of students has overriding effects on their life chances beyond the school.

Ladies and gentlemen, I say to you that we will not achieve the transformation our country is crying out for until we have an education system, and schools, which fully understand the needs and constraints, the home circumstances and challenges of poorly positioned or historically disadvantaged South Africans. There is no doubt in my mind that schools, and especially those like Dale College, have made significant strides in transforming education and are better meeting the needs of poorly positioned learners. More so possibly than some of the schools in the Western Cape from which I have drawn my experience.

But, are there still ways in which we need to transform? Are there still ways in which we need to adjust our structures, our educational practices, our perceptions, our ways of seeing the world, our ways of seeing education and the role that we can play in this education?

I believe so.