It has been a very long challenging journey for Education Districts to claim their rightful place in the education landscape. For many years Districts were viewed as the weak link in the education delivery chain. Not anymore. Districts have come into their own and Minister Motshekga now calls them “the backbone of education” – and rightly so.
For many years there was no clearly defined role for Districts although they were considered a useful conduit through which the national and provincial departments conveyed policies and programmes to schools. They were also considered very useful in “processing paper” from schools through to the various provinces. Their professional role was often forgotten in the process. All this changed when the Policy on the Organisation, Roles and Responsibilities of Education Districts was published in March 2013. This started a chain of events that did not only recognise the importance of Education Districts, but placed them at the centre of education delivery. Not only were the roles and responsibilities of Districts clearly defined, but space was created to work directly with Education Districts in their development and support.
A number of key milestones have helped propel Districts to take their place as key professional role players in the delivery of education. Key amongst these was the establishment of a Forum of Education Districts to act as a Professional Learning Community (PLC) to strengthen district operations. This Forum has ensured that Districts participate collectively in determining their own developmental trajectory and decide on activities that will drive their development. Amongst the key issues that this Forum has spearheaded in this space have been:
- Determining the Minimum Resource Package for Districts and their Circuits to operate effectively (basic Tools of Trade). This is now used across the country to resource Districts;
- Prioritising posts to be filled in line with the country’s development agenda;
- Refining recruitment and selection processes for the filling of District posts so that the right people are appointed in the right roles;
- Determining key capabilities required in District offices and working on a capability development programme for District officials – including an Induction and Orientation Programme for newly appointed District officials;
- Developing a National Guide on Standard Routines and Operation for Education Districts to safeguard basic operations that should be observed by all 86 Districts; and
- Agreeing on how excellence in District operations will be recognised and celebrated.
The quarterly meetings of the Forum of Education Districts have become the highlight of the annual calendar of District Directors throughout the country and are rarely attended by less than 120 participants. The last meeting for the 2016 academic year, held from 01 to 02 December 2016 at the St George Hotel in Centurion, was no exception. It was attended by officials from 79 Districts and 18 officials from Provincial Head Offices.
The success of these meetings lies in making sure that the agenda for each meeting is rich, substantive, informative and relevant to the work of District officials. Through this Forum, the Sector has ensured that District Directors, who are at the coal face of education delivery, meet and reflect on critical policy together, share best practice and together plan for the improvement of the delivery of education throughout South Africa. Minister Motshekga, who spearheaded the formation of this Forum, and Deputy Minister Enver Surty attend each of these meetings, engaging and guiding delegates throughout the two days. It is this commitment from our top leaders that has made every District Director want to attend the meeting.
During the last meeting of 2016, District Directors had the opportunity to reflect on a range of weighty topics including the Mathematics and Science Achievement of South African Grade 9 learners in TIMMS 2015, as well as the Mathematics Achievement of South African Grade 5 learners in the same study. This was an important item given the pressing agenda to improve the quality of learning outcomes in all subjects, but even more so in Mathematics and Science.
The meeting also reflected on issues affecting the day-to-day operations of District Directors such as the findings of the investigation on the selling of posts, an area directly in the scope of control of District Directors. Very robust engagements paved the way for the more functional management of Progressed Learners during 2017 with a primary focus on how these learners should, and will be supported by Districts. There is no doubt that this Forum has added immense value to the business of education and has established a working model for a professional community of practice with peers sharing best practice and growing together. We look forward to a great 2017, working with, and through our Districts.