President of SAPA, Ms Thembi Ndlovu
MEC, Education and Sport Development, Mr. Sello Lehare
Director-General, Basic Education, Mr Mathanzima Mweli
Superintended-General of North West, Ms Stephina Semaswe
Officials from both the National and Provincial Departments
Members of the National and Provincial Executive Committees,
Ladies and Gentlemen
“School Leadership, a Compelling Priority”
I thank you for inviting me to address this conference of school managers and leaders today. A teacher myself, there is nothing that warms my heart than a meeting of professionals who seek to hone their skills and expertise in order to lead the development of our learners, our future. I am honoured, Programme Director, that you deemed my presence at this conference worthwhile, and hope to make a contribution to the attainment of the objectives of this conference.
All of us who are involved in education agree that leadership is a strong factor in determining the success of a school. Our public schools need firm, capable and informed school principals who have their fingers on the pulse. We need a calibre of principals who are able to identify their schools’ Achilles’ heels and employ right strategies to mediate such in order to ensure and enhance attainment of learning outcomes. The South African Principals Association, my patriots, assumed the Big Brother role to ensure that principals are able to do just that, hence the conference and the theme.
Kim Marshall (2008) asks a fundamental question, Programme Director, which might have spurred the South African Principal Association Executive to mull and agree on the theme of this conference. The question is:
“How can a dedicated principal work really, really hard but fail to get significant gains in student achievement?” The answer should be obvious to all of us, and that is: “by spending too much time on the wrong things and not enough on the right things.”
Marshall, who spent 15 years as a Boston principal, confesses to not having been clear enough about the “right things” and often falling victim to what she refers to as Hyperactive Superficial Principal Syndrome (HSPS). As a result, her students didn’t do nearly as well as they could have. I am certain many of us in here can identify with the Syndrome.
In order to address the syndrome above, which many of us can identify with, Marshall suggests a few ideas, one of which is identifying the big rocks, the priorities. According to Marshall, “the principal’s number-one priority is zeroing in on the highest-priority activities for bringing all students to high levels of achievement.”
To clarify the importance of prioritising, Marshall invokes Covey (1989:161) according to whom, “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” The big rocks, Marshall continues, are the actions that drive high achievement for all students. Without a clear sense of these research-based activities, a school leader will accomplish very little.
Leaders in education, particularly school leaders are charged with the responsibility of ensuring that schools offer education of progressively high quality to all learners. Our success in so doing should lay a strong foundation for the development and transformation of our society. Thus contribute to the eradication of poverty, help in spurring economic growth while simultaneously helping us to advance our diverse cultures and languages.
Our Government recognises education in general and basic education in particular as an “apex priority.” For this reprioritisation of basic education to gain any traction, we need competent school leaders and managers imbued with the enablers of success. According to Wallace these enablers help leaders to focus with great clarity on, “what is essential, what needs to be done and how to get it done,” (The Wallace Perspective, 2013:5). These are the ingredients for us to make a meaningful impact on improving learner outcomes.
School leaders should no longer function as building managers tasked with adhering to district rules, blindly following regulations just to avoid mistakes. School leaders must be seen as leaders of learning, developing teams and delivering effective instructions. Improvement of schools should be the ‘big rock’, with clear objectives set, high expectations established and talent in schools harnessed to support teaching and learning. The major challenge within our education system is finding visionary and competent school leaders, with appropriate administrative skills and professional educational management competencies. All available evidence indicates that school management and leadership is pivotal to the successful provision of quality schooling, and a conference such as this one confirms this perspective. Perhaps with benefit of hindsight that has been our shortcoming as the Department. In the past years, we focused primarily on policy change and institutional re-organisation. This to a larger extent may have compromised teacher development, institutional leadership and the creation of a new ethos and practice in education. It’s therefore our collective responsibility with yourselves to work towards building a new cadre of school leaders that can demonstrate administrative and learning achievement leadership at a high level.
Hence, we have identified the need for professionalizing the development of school leaders. They must be equipped with relevant skills so that they’re able to achieve and sustain good governance. In the same vein, we must insist on accountability. Key centres of accountability include the Principals, School Management Teams, and School Governing Bodies. Similarly, District Directors must be the cog that oils the accountability machinery.
While principals are seen as pivots around which schools turn, the Policies, Acts and Regulations in place recognise the importance of good working relationships between management and governance. There should be mutual respect among and between all spheres of education management. There shall be no competition and protection of turf, or turf wars as it were.
What is to be done?
To support school leadership, the Department is planning to introduce an entry-level qualification for Principalship, namely the Advanced Diploma in Education (ADE): School Leadership. This initiative is in line with the theme of this conference: “School Leadership, a Compelling Priority.” The intention is to have a qualification that is accessible to all aspirant principals in the knowledge that they will have a portable qualification which has currency in any part of the country, and be competent to lead and manage schools. The qualification is an attempt to move away from the tradition that Principalship is a promotional post and not a qualification. We have seen in the past situations where high performing teachers were promoted to be principals. Some of them failed as principals because they were not adequately prepared to be managers and leaders. With this qualification, our intention is to rectify this error.
The ADE: SL qualification is initiated and coordinated by the Department of Education and designed in conjunction with all relevant stakeholders including Higher Education Institutions. The qualification is common to all providers in the sense that all institutions will follow the same learning programme and content. I urge SAPA to support this initiative.
Another initiative aimed at enhancing the management and leadership capacity is the Management of the National Curriculum Statement (NCS) Project. An analysis of the National Curriculum Statement (NCS) official monitoring reports on the training and effective delivery of the curriculum indicate educator concerns about the lack of support and guidance from principals and School Management Teams (SMTs) in implementing the NCS. This weakness was also identified by the Chisholm Report (Report of the Review Committee on Curriculum 2005) in its analysis of the delivery of Curriculum 2005.
The Chisholm Report indicated that one critical reason for poor implementation of the new curriculum was the failure to train school managers in the new curriculum. The Department faces a similar problem in the delivery of the NCS.
Even though principals were to be trained in the NCS workshops, the HSRC report indicates that in most provinces few were included or turned up for the workshops.
In conclusion, Programme Director, ladies and gentlemen, I want to stress that we expect a commitment to excellence and high professional ethics from our principals. We are committed to delivering quality education to all our children. The Department alone cannot succeed in achieving this objective. I therefore urge you to support us in achieving our goals. I hope you will enjoy, learn and make the best out of this conference.
I thank you.