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Violent principal sends top school off the rails

By Songeziwe Mapukata

When elephants fight, the grass suffers. It is a centuries old saying from Kenya’s Kikuyu people which means when the big animals fight, the little ones get trampled.

This is happening at St John’s College, a prominent Mthatha high school where multiple cases of assault levelled at its teachers have led to the learners suffering. And it shows in their grades.

After an accusation of assault was levelled by a teacher against a member of the school governing body (SGB), it emerged that the school’s principal is also facing an assault charge.

The school, which was founded in 1879, is known for producing great matric results in maths and science but the performance has deteriorated over the last few years.

The school’s reputation has been damaged by stories of fighting. A teacher opened a case of assault against an SGB member after a scuffle during a heated meeting at the school in February.

In the resulting chaos, matric learners at the school are currently without teachers for core subjects including mathematics, physical sciences and life sciences. Teachers in those subjects were suspended. This is ahead of term one tests.

Even before the alleged assault sent the school into chaos, it was already on a downward spiral. In 2020 the school obtained a matric pass rate of 82% and 91% in 2021. But then the performance dropped to 77% in 2022. There are fears it could get dramatically worse this year.

When Scrolla.Africa visited the school on Wednesday, the principal was absent. He was apparently seen leaving in a hurry because the police were allegedly about to arrest him for assault.

Concerned teachers at the school, who spoke to Scrolla.Africa on condition of anonymity, said the principal is the one who has caused the shambles at the school.

“His leadership thrives on favouritism among teachers,” said a teacher.

“The teachers who are whistle-blowers for what’s happening here are the ones who are victimised.”

“We started feeling frustrated about how the school was being run during Covid in 2020. The principal and his SGB made a decision to shut down every programme in the school that enhanced the improvement of learner performance,” the teacher said.

This teacher said in 2021 they were frustrated because of a lack of support from school management as teaching happened in the absence of crucial programmes.

“At the time, students started getting involved in alcohol abuse,” said the teacher.

Scrolla.Africa could not get a comment from the school principal as another assault charge has been levelled against him.

The Department of Education’s spokesperson has not responded to Scrolla.Africa’s request for comment.

Pictured above: The former top school in Mthatha

Image source: Songeziwe Mapukata

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