4 March 2015

Letter from the Head – 4 March

Dear Parents

I have been asked a number of diverse questions recently and I thought I would take this opportunity to respond to some of these as per the request of the Parents Association – please only read that which is pertinent to you or you will be thoroughly bored by the length of this letter.  If brevity is the keynote of style this letter will be found wanting!


Changes to curricula and curriculum statements are often confusing; especially when unfamiliar discourses are employed.  2014 Matriculants were the first group to write examinations around CAPS – Curriculum Assessment and Policy Statements. The new policy statements saw an increase in the difficulty of examinations and particularly in Physical Science.  Because Physical Science in South Africa has been identified as needing improvement a more rigorous assessment policy was introduced.  This affects all Physical Science teaching and learning and students taking this subject will have noticed increased levels of difficulty in recent years. By way of comparison, in 2012 and 2013 the final Matric paper had 65% of the questions in the moderate difficulty range while in 2014 40% of the questions were moderately difficult.  Likewise in 2012 and 2013 23% of questions were difficult while in 2014 48% of questions were deliberately set in the difficult range and 11% in the very difficult range while only 2% of questions in 2013 were set as very difficult.

The reason for sharing these percentages with you is to show statistically that the papers have become more difficult and that the new CAPS (written by both state and independent schools) are more rigorous than previous curriculum statements.  There was a decline of more than 10% in the Physical Science average nationally and a significant number of students in both education systems failed to reach an adequate level to pass. The intention is not to be discouraging.  In fact the opposite is the case.  We should celebrate an increase in educational standards but at the same time know that our students are having to apply themselves with even greater depth of thinking to the difficult tasks at hand.  Our Science Department is well prepared to manage these changes and the fact that their results were well above the IEB national averages for the subject bodes well for future success.


Parents have requested the return of a traffic marshal on Bredell Road.  We have requested that the municipality provide us with a Traffic Official to marshal our traffic in the morning but they have been unwilling to provide this person.  Our staff is not trained and there are legal implications if we place our staff on a public road to direct traffic.  While generally our parents are grateful to the person directing the traffic, some members of the public who use Bredell Road, and who are not Somerset College parents deliberately ignore the traffic marshal and there have been a number of dangerous incidents, including accidents.  This has placed the lives of some our staff at serious risk.  The inherent ethical issues are obvious.  Less common, but occasionally, we have had a few Somerset College parents verbally and even dangerously abuse the traffic marshal which has been utterly unacceptable.  I am not sure what lesson they are teaching their children.  Fortunately this is NOT common practice among our parents but the occasional incidents have frightened the staff who have been traumatised by cars driving at them and people being abusive.

In order to understand this question, I braced myself to join the maelstrom of traffic and came to school a little later than I usually do.  While traffic was busy, I found parents to be courteous and generous in allowing cars access.  There was a natural flow of traffic which worked well and I am of the opinion that we all know how to be decent and manage the congestion.  Ideally if we could gain access to the land on either side of the entrance all our lives would be easier – sadly the land does not belong to the College.  So we dream of an additional entrance at this stage. In the meantime, those who can catch the bus are urged to do so.


Matthew Whall was placed 10th in the National German Olympiad.  This is a wonderful success and he is congratulated on this excellent achievement.

Somerset College has been approved by the KMK, the German authority in charge of the German Language Certificate (DSD) to hold DSD II exams from 2015 onwards. This means that Somerset College is now an accredited DSD school and as such part of the worldwide partner school network consisting of more than 1,100 PASCH/DSD schools.  Students who pass this examination will be eligible for entrance to German universities as their level in the German language will be considered to be more than proficient.


The Cricket and Rowing Centre will be completed by next term.  Recent Rowing and Cricket successes suggest that these new facilities will be an asset in furthering the skills of our students.  We are ever grateful to the parents who have so generously made these buildings possible and who are eager to expedite some of the suggested additions on the recently presented Campus Development Plans.


After many years of service to Somerset College from its inception, setting up systems in the early days and pouring huge amounts of effort into getting Somerset College to the stage it is today, Gail Schulschenk has decided to retire from her position.  Gail has started to find the demands of managing the business of the school very stressful and it is impacting her health.  She will be leaving at the end of April and we will have to work hard to find a replacement for her.  It is a daunting task indeed.  We will say farewell to Gail in a formal function at the same time that we bid farewell to Mr Jan de Waal on 25 March 2015.


Marli is making remarkable progress and while she still has a long road ahead of her, her tenacity and youth will hold her in good stead for ongoing recovery.  I continue to be in awe of the character being displayed by the Grade 11 class and others who are friends with Marli and who were close to the family.  Marli is going to need significant support in the coming weeks and months and I have no doubt that she will receive that from the remarkable people in this community.


We wish our Rowers well for SA Champs this weekend and hope our Cricketers play positively in the Ashes matches against Parel Vallei.

And if anyone is feeling down about SONA and other sad events, take heart from this snippet for us all from Archbishop Tutu:

“We can become a great country. And you and your school are part of the army of those determined to make ours a fantastic country.
Much love and blessings for a holy Lent,”

Yours sincerely

Meg Fargher
Executive Head