Athlone High School for Girls


Shortly after the outbreak of World War 1, a shortage of teachers was experienced in the country, which prompted authorities to establish a high school exclusively for students who would commit to continuing with teacher training. Although theoretically co-educational, the first 6 students in 1915 were all girls. Their numbers swelled to almost 30 by the end of the year, and in 1916 7 boys were admitted. Only 4 stayed the course to the end of the year.

The school was known as the Junior Student Centre and located in Doornfontein. The student body comprised a cross section of society, priding itself from the onset on its inclusivity and care.

Additional space was needed for a growing number of students, many of whom had needs other than teacher training. In broadening its scope the school became Doornfontein High in 1923 and catered to 450 learners. The small premises were soon outgrown and in 1926 the school was relocated to new premises which today house Athlone Boys’ High.

The headmaster arranged for the buildings to be opened by the Earl of Athlone, then the Govenor General of South Africa. A deluge almost destroyed plans to serve tea in the gardens, but the weather cleared in time for the Earl and his wife, Princess Alice, to grace the opening with their presence and permission to use part of their family crest in the school emblem. In line with this ‘royal’ background, the school has four houses named for European royal lines:
Lancaster, Orange, Stuart, Windsor.

By 1951 the school had once again outgrown its premises and it was decided to separate into two monastic schools. 450 girls were moved to the present building, then occupied by Observatory Junior High. The buildings comprised those surrounding three sides of the old quad, where assemblies were held. Over time, buildings were added, including the science laboratories and the hall. Parents worked extremely hard to raise funds for the swimming pool, tennis courts and other facilities.

Through the 50’s and 60’s the school served the local middle class community, but in the 70’s demographics began to change as Portuguese immigrants from Angola & Moçambique moved into the less wealthy areas nearby.

The 80’s are remembered for a fire which gutted the administration block, destroying exam papers and many valuable records. This did not stop a mammoth effort on the part of the staff to ensure the exams were written on the planned days, despite having no office, staff room, kitchen or roneo room.

In 1990 the Nationalist government allowed for integration where a minimum of 80% of parents voted in an election and 70% of the total number of parents voted yes to integration. Athlone Girls was one of the first Johannesburg schools to vote yes.

Within a few years the majority of girls were African. This meant changes had to take place, and the staff rose to the challenge. This school has never been afraid to deal with change and make it work. The Model ‘C’ option was imposed on the school, which placed responsibility on the staff and parents to meet school costs from their own funds. New buildings and a computer centre were added, and the proud tradition of producing good results continued.

The school continues to make adjustments, seeking to create a caring society and a school of excellence. It is a school of which we are justifiably proud, both of its record in the transition of the country and for the work it does in the education, cultural and personal fields.



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