‘Enduring with courage’: Clifton Preparatory School and College, Botswana, joins ISASA

| September 4, 2013 | 0 Comments

Charles Solomon and Kevin Hambidge are the driving forces behind one of ISASA’s newest members based in Botswana: Clifton Preparatory School and College.

These two men – heads of the college and preparatory school respectively – have a daunting motto to live up to: ‘Endure with courage’. It’s attributable, says Hambidge, to a courageous woman by the name of Beryl Clifton, a citizen of Francistown, who to her surprise and delight gave birth to a little girl in her forties in the late 1970s.

One woman’s dream

Clifton and her husband were planners, and conceived of an excellent English medium school for both pre-primary and primary students, including their daughter. Thus began the dream of the school that became known as Clifton.

Devastatingly, Beryl Clifton contracted terminal breast cancer, but as her physical condition deteriorated, her love for her family and her determination to start a school prevailed. Says Hambidge: “The entire Francistown community marvelled at her bravery and when she passed away, her funeral was a celebration of an unselfish, kind and determined life. Her husband and friends of the Clifton family worked harder than ever to establish a rudimentary school in a wooden cabin, on borrowed ground behind a church in town. Dedicated effort over the years by parents and staff gave wings to the dream that became Clifton School.”

Beryl Clifton’s fortitude and her love for her family are the basis for the school’s ethos, says Hambidge. No threatening barrier walls or fences here, but an open layout on the outskirts of Francistown, bordered by three large granite koppies, with an abundance of trees and birdlife and visited freely and frequently by parents.

Such serenity cannot be ascribed to the state of public schooling in the area, says Hambidge. State institutions are still recovering from a prolonged strike that rendered many of them inoperable two years ago.1 Ongoing concerns include unrealistic pupil/teacher ratios and inadequate classroom sizes. While Clifton stands ready to help, it’s also proud of its strong relationships with the other two independent schools in Francistown.

Enduring primary school the foundation for a new college

Solomon says that Clifton is not only enduring, but flourishing. It’s a registered company managed by a board of governors, and is a member of the Conference of Heads of Private Schools of Botswana (CHOPS). “We aim to build on the enviable reputation of our preparatory school,” says Solomon, founding head of the college, which began in 2011 with a Form 1 (Grade 8) class of 15 students.

Consistent college enrolments – now totalling 60 students in three classes – reveal not only the community’s faith in the school, but also in its pioneering spirit. “We aim to increase our numbers by one form each year until a 6th form has been established, with about 250 college students in total,” explains Solomon. Many of these prospective scholars will come from the 360 already enrolled in the preparatory phase, adds Hambidge.

Diverse student and activity profiles

Spirit and pluck are alive in every aspect of this school’s life, particularly in the arena of adventure sports and unusual outdoor activities. Says Solomon: “We’re the only school in Botswana that offers archery as an extramural activity, and our students are fond of abseiling and camping as well.”

Perhaps this love for adventure stems from the fact that many Clifton students are already so far away from home. Explains Solomon: “As an international school, we have a diverse pupil and teacher make-up, representing nine nationalities including South Africa and Botswana. We have a healthy percentage of local Batswana children here as well, and in the preparatory school, where 50% of children come from surrounding communities.”

Double streaming and doing it from scratch

Enduring courage – and no doubt unflagging energy – is seeing Solomon and his colleagues through the significant challenge of growing a high school from scratch – a complex process that includes creating infrastructure and procedures. “It’s a bit of a paradox, really,” he reflects. “We share a campus with the preparatory phase, but we must also develop our own identity and culture. As students graduate to our senior phase, we want to them still to feel ‘at home’, but they must also feel as though they have progressed.”

For Hambidge, the greatest challenge thus far in the primary section has been the implementation of a bold organisational move. “We chose to ‘double stream’ classes in the preparatory school. Our research indicated a number of prospective advantages that would improve academic and pastoral outcomes for our students, such as the ability to provide a broader social experience, to allow more attention to be paid to different learning styles and opportunities for increased collegial planning for teachers.” The move has been carefully managed to protect enrolment numbers, and it will also be rolled out in the college at a future date.

The marvellous thing about courage is that it rubs off on others. Solomon testifies: “Numbers are increasing annually and we are making our mark in the community. The evolution of the college staff into a strong and committed team has been very satisfying. We are becoming the school where many other teachers in Botswana want to come and work.”

Independence synonymous with choice and courage

Courage is also synonymous with independence – which, in an educational context, Solomon calls opportunity. “Independence is an opportunity to implement your educational philosophy within an academic framework. We chose the Cambridge curriculum for its international reputation and its flexibility. Around it, we’ve been able to develop a programme that requires our students to fulfil criteria in the areas of sport, culture, social awareness, environmental awareness and academic achievement.” Hambidge is in full support of this approach. It was one of his proudest moments, he recalls, when Clifton School was accredited as a Cambridge International Centre.

Another, he adds, was when the school joined ISASA, recalling the camaraderie he experienced at a Southern African Heads of Independent Schools Association (SAHISA) meeting. This kind of networking and support, along with an ISASA presentation to the Clifton governing board, fasttracked the decision to apply for membership. On 28 June 2013, says Hambidge, the treasured certificates arrived. Solomon was equally pleased. “As an independent school in a country that has a relatively small number of private schools, we felt it would be valuable to be part of a larger organisation in order to keep abreast of international best practice. As a developing school, having access to policies and information could help with that building process. Botswana is an attractive teaching destination, but we do battle with recruitment. Being part of an organisation such as ISASA will help raise our profile in the teaching community and help us to attract the right type of teachers.”

An ISASA flagship school in Botswana

As soon as membership was confirmed, says Hambidge, ISASA’s regular communiqués on a variety of topical education issues started arriving. It’s a signal of exciting times ahead for the school, which has already proved that courage is part staying power and part vision. “We are about to embark on a very ambitious building project to give Clifton College its own home. We have been granted an area of 12 hectares of land adjoining the preparatory school, and will soon commence with the first phase of construction. Our plans include classrooms, laboratories, a technology centre, library, school hall, swimming pool and playing fields, boarding facilities and staff accommodation.”

Clifton Preparatory School will stand shoulder to shoulder with the college as this new phase unfolds. The mission, says Hambidge, is to continue to “become the flagship school for ISASA in northern Botswana” with a sufficiency of teachers, 420 students, two campuses and the legacy of one woman who taught everyone at Clifton what it means to ‘endure with courage’.

1. See, for example, http://mg.co.za/article/2011-05-17-botswana-closes-strikehitschools-amid-clashes.

Category: Featured Articles, Spring 2013

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