Mbarara High School started as a primary school by the Church Missionary Society (CMS) on February 19, 1911, at the king’s palace in Kamukuzi. J. Kironde was the first headteacher helped by Rev. H. Clayton.
The School started as a primary school in 1911 and it is possible it was the first primary and junior secondary among the seven junior secondary schools in Ankole district. Others were: St. Joseph’s and St. Helens in Nyamitanga, Bweranyangi, and Ruyonza in Bushenyi, St. Georges Kagongo in Ibanda, and Kitunga in Ntungamo which all had evolved by the 1960s.
The school was commissioned with 24 boarding pupils aged between nine years and 30 years. Some of the pioneer pupils include S .Mubangizi, Y.Katokwa, P.Mandwa, K.Rutajumbya, Y.Rwabutomize, Y Baremezi, R Rutarago, J Nyabaana, A.Katebarirwe and E. Kyoyonka.
The idea of starting a school was conceived by Rev. Can Y. Buningwire in 1910. During his pastoral course in Tooro district, Rev. Buningwire observed that the people of Tooro had already embarked on the task of building schools in their area. He came and shared the idea with the then Ankole King Kahaya II. All leaders in the kingdom were summoned to deliberate on the idea of starting schools. It was resolved that every civil servant would pay half of his monthly salary towards the school's building project.
The then Ankole Prime Minister Nua Mbaguta offered space at Ruharo hill where the kingdom had more land. Mbaguta dispatched his private secretary Lazaro Kamugungunu to Imaramagambo forest (Bushenyi) to organize hardwood for constructing buildings for the school at Ruharo. After two years, the school had to shift from Kamukuzi.
Mugume Namani was adopted as the school motto. The Bull’s head was chosen as a symbol and badge of the school. It is this bull’s head on the badge that students would baptize Mbarara High School -Kyapa.
The school, being circumvented by River Rwizi, has not only been advantageous but disastrous too. Since the school's inception, 33 students have drowned in the river while swimming. Stories are told of how students during weekends went to the river and staged swimming competitions, some drowning in the process.
The old boys have decided to construct an Olympic size (50m by 25m) swimming pool at the school. It will cost Shs 500 million. At the centenary celebrations, they raised Shs164 million for the project.
The value of hard work made Mbarara High School an academic giant. Over the last decade the school has oscillated between fifth and 15th positions in academic performance at national level in both O and A’ levels. The school was ranked the seventh best performing school in the UACE exams last year. It was the national debating competitions champion in 2009. In 2004 the school produced the best UACE sciences student in the whole country- Cosmas Mwikirize, who is now lecturer in the school of engineering Makerere University.
"Educating the whole"