Oldest school debate

Sigi Howes, principal, Centre for Conservation Education and Education Museum

With reference to your article “Schools celebrate International Museum Day” (Tatler, May 23), I unfortunately have to disagree that SACS is the oldest school in the country.

Not to take anything away from this fine institution, but my research over the last 10 years indicates that there are quite a number of schools older than SACS.

This includes schools that developed out of mission schools (eg Mamre Primary School, 1808); at least two others in Cape Town (Simon’s Town School, 1815; Durbanville High and Primary, 1827); in other parts of the Western Cape and in the Eastern Cape (Bathurst Primary, 1820). It is generally agreed that the oldest school in South Africa is the LR Schmidt Moravian Primary School in Genadendal, which was founded in 1738. And there are others.

Over a period of 150+ years, schools were often reclassified, renamed, relocated, split, amalgamated or even restructured under various government policies. The two that probably had the biggest impact were the Education Act of 1865 and the Group Areas Act of 1950. When such changes happen to schools over a long period of time, continuity gets lost and the original founding date becomes increasingly difficulty to establish with absolute certainty. It is re-establishing this continuity that is key to helping schools with a complicated past find their origins.

One of the other problems is that in recording the history of education, some authors rely heavily on secondary sources, so that if there is an error in one of them, it gets replicated over and over again. I have thus tried to use as many primary sources as possible, including official educational statistics from the Government Blue Books, the Education Gazettes from 1901 onward and early Inspection Reports. Of course, research is always open for debate.

SACS archivist Simon Perkin responds:

It would be churlish of SACS not to respect Ms Howes’ research. We are quite happy to accept her words: “Of course, research is always open for debate”.

In 2029 SACS will be 200 years old. We are looking forward to this occasion tremendously.