School History

From Small Beginnings

For an almost centenarian, The Ridge School has never been so vibrant and in such robust health. With 490 boys currently enrolled, the school is enjoying its fullest years ever. The Ridge has indeed come a long way since it opened its doors in 1919 to just 13 boys with two members of staff. Two years later, in 1921, The Ridge School colours arrived from the UK. Back in the early 1920s, boys wore white shirts, grey shorts and identical socks to those worn today, plus the grey blazer with its cerise intertwined ‘RS’ as its crest. (Khakis were only introduced as an economy measure during the Second World War.)

1921 marked another important milestone in the school’s history when Edna Dunn joined the staff, a position she held for 45 years. She is a much-loved and admired luminary in the school’s history – if you speak to any old boy from these years, her name is sure to be mentioned lovingly. She was devoted to the school and bequeathed a humble amount of money to The Ridge when she died. A trust has since been set up in her name to commemorate her dedication to the school, and one of the houses has been named after her.

By 1922, there were 62 boys of whom 15 were boarders. The school sported a rifle range and a pathescope for the showing of educational films. In 1923, work began on levelling the playing fields, in the literal not modern figurative usage of the expression. A small swimming pool was built although the baths, as they were then known. As they were too small for galas, the boys used the Johannesburg Country Club facilities for competitions. Only in 1934 was a filter for the pool presented to the school, prior to which the boys frequently swam in ‘pea soup’!

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A New Force on the Educational Map

1924 marked the beginning of the Nicolson dynasty when Guy Nicolson joined as Headmaster, with some early assistance from another South African educational luminary, Ronald Currey. Thanks to Guy Nicolson’s headmasterly skills, the school emerged as a new force on the Johannesburg educational map, and the reputation of The Ridge School gained traction. Additions and alterations to the school buildings, to accommodate more classrooms and more dormitory space, gathered pace under Guy Nicolson. In fact the current headmaster’s office used to be junior dormitories called ‘Cape’. The School went from strength to strength under his guidance, not only in its architectural development but also in its philosophy of encouraging the boys to speak, express themselves, think independently and gain self-confidence, an ideal which holds fast today.

During the Second World War, Guy Nicolson went north to fight, and was eventually captured, ending up in a POW camp, where his musical talents enabled him to lead the orchestra. While he was away, The Ridge was run by the highly capable and fondly remembered TE Rose, after whom the Pavilion and one of the houses is named.

Initially, Nicolson Senior leased the property, but later went on to buy the school, which ensured his vested interest in its success. After his return from the war, Nicolson decided the school should become a non-profit-making company with its own Board of Directors.

In 1952, Guy Nicolson’s son, John, joined the staff, eventually replacing his father as principal in 1959. Nicolson Senior served for 37 years at The Ridge and died on 8 August 1964, coincidentally the anniversary of the founding of the school. Of course, one of the houses is Nicolson, in honour of both headmasters.

John Nicolson was a pioneer on the technology front in education, and pursued some exciting educational possibilities, in many ways being ahead of his time. He emigrated to America in 1969 with his family to explore the burgeoning opportunities over there at the time.

A Growth and Forward-thinking

“Young Nic” was replaced by Alan Cheales, after whom today’s fourth house is named. Alan Cheales was quite a presence at The Ridge! His booming voice could be heard by all and yet everyone knew how kind and considerate he was towards all concerned. Like “Old Nic”, Alan was a lover of music and drama especially. He often took part in school dramatic productions and added life to these through his passionate involvement in the characters he portrayed. The Ridge grew under his tenure, not only in numbers but also in the range of the activities offered. The Ridge was a happy place in the years that Alan was at the helm. People, staff, boys and parents, knew that each was important to Alan and the school to which he devoted his last years. Sadly, Cheales died in 1979.

He was replaced by the Second Master, Grant Nupen. Nupen’s tenure lasted from 1979 to 1987 during which time he oversaw the paving of the main car park and the installation of new main gates, as well as the purchase of the adjacent property for a new boarding house. A forward thinker, Nupen incorporated Edward de Bono skills into the curriculum; he also expanded the number of classes per grade from one to two. Due to Nupen’s motivation, The Ridge was one of the first schools in South Africa to introduce computer education in the form of Logo, which was designed to get pupils to write simple programmes. Grant Nupen left The Ridge to work on social responsibility projects in education. This was to result in him working at St Alban’s College, which he later went on to head, before moving to Bishops in Cape Town as Principal.

Embracing Changing Times

Rob Dickson was appointed to The Ridge when Grant Nupen left. He was a man full of bonhomie, articulate, and extremely well-read. He was an engaging raconteur and keen to make his own mark on the school. The Board at the time had agreed that the school needed to move from a small but remarkably successful institution to becoming more representative of an increasingly integrated society, and offering a standard and facilities consistent with excellent education. Consequently, the Board looked to Rob to initiate these changes.

Although his stay was short (1987-1989), just two years, he oversaw more structural changes to the school, including the construction of the Nicolson Hall, the creation of the Hersov Field below it and the building of the grades block which now houses Grades 1 and 2. New tennis courts were built as well as a turf wicket on the Rose Field. In 1988 the boarders were moved into their new home at the house next to the Grades Block. It was a school emerging from its small secure cocoon into the highly successful ‘busy butterfly’ it is today. When Rob left at the end of 1989, Alan Wyborn was appointed to meld The Ridge School and family into its newer, bigger, more competitive being.

Alan Wyborn oversaw a period of consolidation for the school which had passed through some difficult times, with all the changes and growth, prior to his appointment. Under his dynamic and compassionate leadership from 1990-1996, The Ridge was injected with a new vigour which put it firmly on the road to continued success. One of his projects, and to mark the school’s 75th anniversary in 1994, was the construction of the Anniversary Quad which has since been added to with new paving and the fountain. He introduced Design and Technology into the curriculum and, once again, The Ridge was one of the first schools in South Africa to teach this subject. It is fitting that the second quad is named the Wyborn Quad in honour of this good man and fine educationalist.

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Into the 21st Century

Our previous Headmaster, Paul Channon, joined the school in 1997. Paul brought with him not only his exceptional skills as an educationalist, but those of a businessman and he guided The Ridge into the 21st century, ensuring it remains competitive in today’s preparatory school market.

Since 2004, and in response to parents’ requests, The Ridge has offered three classes per grade. This has resulted in smaller classes, whilst at the same time maintaining school numbers within budgeted, and manageable, levels. This has necessitated the recruitment of additional staff and the building of new classrooms. We are proud of our beautiful school and the fact that it is able to attract some of the very best people the teaching profession has to offer.

In 2004, the Parker Block was opened for the new three-stream Grade 0 classes. The new facility was named after Trishie and Ron Parker, two wonderful teachers who spent 25 years at the school, ensuring that The Ridge is truly a place where “boys are known and grown”.

The acquisition of properties adjacent to the school during recent years has ensured expansion possibilities on the sports front which will eventually include a new sports field to accommodate a cricket oval and an additional pitch for football and rugby. The Ridge more than holds its own in the sporting arena, and all its competing teams do the school proud with both winning results and a winning spirit.

The Ridge already offers leading facilities in its Design and Technology Centre and Music Department. The libraries and computer rooms are equipped with the latest publications and software. Academic support is available throughout the school, with a focus in the Junior and Intermediate phases. This ensures that all boys who need it receive help with numeracy and literacy while Occupational and Speech Therapists work from the school with boys who have difficulties in these areas.

Richard Stanley joined The Ridge as Headmaster in 2015.

A Focus on Transformation

The School developed a “Ridge Charter” to capture its value statements. As part of this, it is currently focussed on transformation in its pupil and staff body, and its model has been rolled out to other schools.

Outreach and social responsibility are important elements of the boys’ education and close association with Salvazione Christian School in Brixton gives them an opportunity to share experiences with children from a seriously under-privileged environment.

With a strong sense of history, but firmly rooted in its modern contemporary environment, The Ridge School continues to provide the boys with a holistic approach to education and the lessons of life. We thank everyone – staff, parents, the Board, Old Boys, successive Parents’ Associations and especially the boys who make this school the happy and successful place it is today.