October 27, 2021

Rector’s eNews – 27 October 2021

/ Rector's eNews

I recognise that you have probably been expecting some comment from me in connection with the recent national dialogue about alleged inappropriate behaviour and/or paedophilia in schools as highlighted in the important work of Deon Wiggett/News 24 and the My Only Story book and podcast.

We have been working on the development of our procedures around what is internationally known as Safeguarding, but this is not complete yet as there are a number of aspects to review in the formulation of an approach which seeks to ensure the safety of the boys, but is also practical.

Yesterday we received questions from the News24 team regarding one particular waterpolo consultant who worked at Michaelhouse briefly in 2018. He did not engage specifically as coach of any particular team and his role was, in essence, to enhance the coaching ability of our own teachers and coaches.

While we currently have no evidence to hand of any inappropriate behaviour at Michaelhouse, we are open to hearing any such evidence from our boys or Old Boys. To this end, later in this eNews we explain the means by which such reports can be made, confidentially if necessary. In any event, parents are alerted that the school may thus be mentioned in tomorrow’s podcast episode.

I have set out below how our school has to date handled the recruitment of teachers or coaches. While we have found these to be acceptable, we are open to lessons learned from the dialogue which is underway so that we can improve where necessary.

When teachers are currently appointed to Michaelhouse, the following is required:
• Two good written references, one from the school/organisation from which he/she comes
• A police clearance demonstrating that the teacher has not committed a criminal offence
• Membership of SACE (South African Council of Educators) which is the professional body to which teachers belong
• Interviews are conducted in person and, when an offer is made, in the contract appointed teachers need to disclose any previous criminal offence

For existing teachers:
• Under the Staff Disciplinary Code and Procedure, there is a paragraph drawing attention to inappropriate conduct with pupils “including on-line relationships which could be construed as grooming”
• Staff are reminded annually of the professional distance required between teachers and boys, as well as of specific situations which must be avoided
• They are reminded annually of the duty they have to report any instance of unprofessional conduct or any illegal activity to the Rector

Coaches who are itinerant and employed at a number of schools or at Michaelhouse on a part-time basis are required to have a police clearance before they can coach here, unless they are under constant direct supervision/surveillance by a teacher. This stipulation would also apply to a guest speaker, for example, coming to the school to interact with boys.

As part of their induction programme at the start of the year the E Block have two sessions on various aspects of living in boarding school life that we call Bodies, Boundaries and Boarding. This is run through an organisation call Sexy Smarts which also facilitates our D Block Sex and Sexuality workshop later in the year. While Bodies, Boundaries and Boarding does not specifically include material on grooming it does cover the “touch continuum”, the law when it comes to our interaction with others, culpability, abuse and the age of consent.

This year due to Covid we were unable to run the full programme but we have made plans for the current E Block to cover what they missed at the start of next year. We are also in discussion as to whether to include content specifically on grooming either in this programme or in some other context as part of the boys’ education.

Our staff are particularly alert to the need to protect and safeguard our boys, an alertness which has been heightened by the recent exposure of some alleged unprofessional and inappropriate conduct in schools. As I have already mentioned, we have been reviewing our processes and procedures in an attempt to be ahead of situations, rather than simply being reactive.

In no way are we complacent about similar events not having taken place historically at Michaelhouse and if parents wish to reflect on situations requiring my attention, these could be bought to my attention either directly or otherwise through our Guardian App which is accessed in the following way:

  1. Download the The Guardian App from your cellphones relevant App Store
  2. Once downloaded sign up, entering in your cellphone number, selected password and contact details
  3. Under category, select school and then select Michaelhouse from the list provided
  4. Agree to Terms and Condition
  5. Register

We recognise our very important duty of care to our boys in the school and our awareness of inappropriate conduct has been increased by the focus, nationally, on issues which should never have occurred. The Chairman of the Board of Governors and the Board are fully behind our making every attempt to ensure that our environment is safe for the boys.

Following the announcement last week that Andrew Davis of Tatham House is to take over the reins from Kwande Dhlomo as Senior Prefect for 2022, I was very pleased to name the Heads of House who are automatically School Prefects in our assembly on Monday. The School Prefects are elected by a combination of boys in a particular House and the staff in that House and across the school and then each Housemaster proposes who the Head of his/her House should be in discussion at a meeting of all of the Housemasters, Deputy Rectors and me. The Housemaster indicates how effective the proposed Head of House has been in leadership portfolios and other situations over the past years.

Taking into account the boys and staff voting for the Senior Prefect, the Second Prefect is then decided upon; warm congratulations go to Lucky Mabuza who is also Head of East House on receiving this honour. Indeed, our congratulations go to all of the School Prefects/Heads of House on their election: Founders: Kamohelo Rathepe; West: Samuel Berchowitz; Farfield: Peter Woodland; Tatham: Andisa Young; Pascoe: Matthew de Villiers; Baines: Benjamin Frost; Mackenzie: Lazola Mayekiso; Ralfe: Robert Lawrence and McCormick: Rupert Hechter.

Michaelhouse School Prefects

The Rector and 2022 School Prefects

With regard to the House Prefects, these will soon be announced in the various Houses. The format for their election and the criteria used are very similar to those outlined above. A maximum of six boys in each House are able to be elected House Prefects for 2022, though it is possible for additional matric boys to be promoted in the first quarter of 2022. There are also Rector’s Leadership Portfolios which may be taken up by those wishing to demonstrate their leadership and who have not been elected to be House Prefects; these relate specifically to aspects of charitable fundraising, marketing and the like and a reference from the Rector specifically relating to such activities would accompany a boy’s CV.

As with any awards, there will always be those who narrowly miss out on being elected to a particular position after the considered opinion of the staff throughout the school as well as in each House and the support of boys has been taken into account, along with the Housemaster’s evaluation of their capacity to lead. In such cases, boys are encouraged to discuss the matter with their Housemasters and to consider applying for a Rector’s Leadership Portfolio for 2022 in order to demonstrate their qualities of leadership and service.

Please see this attached invitation if you are interested in attending a drinks evening in Durban for Old Boys, their wives or partners, parents past and present and of course new parents of the 2022 intake.

Read the full Rector’s eNews here.



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