LESSONS FROM RESEARCH
Evidence from research suggests that if the influence of socio-economic factors is stripped away school success and more importantly learner performance is largely determined by two within-school factors. These two factors are the quality of management and leadership as exercised by the principal, and the quality of teaching. The school improvement model that is being developed by the Principals Academy Trust has as its focus, capacity building in these two critical areas of competency.
THE IMPACT OF GOOD LEADERSHIP
Although teaching quality is the factor that is most strongly correlated to learner performance, consistent high quality teaching across phases, grades and subjects is only possible in schools where teacher professionalism and collaboration is made possible and encouraged by strong leadership and efficient management practices. The initial focus of the Principals Academy Trust school improvement model is therefore directed at providing school principals with the knowledge and skills that they need to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of their school’s organisational and administrative systems, together with the leadership competence and confidence that are necessary to manage the challenges that they will face in implementing their school improvement strategy.
The Principals Academy Trust aims to improve the leadership and management practice of the principals on its programme using a two pronged approach:
* Capacity building in the form of a Post Graduate Diploma in Management Practice (PGDMP) at UCT’s Graduate School of Business. This honours-level course has been purposed-designed by the GSB for principals and is based on the GSB’ a highly regarded management programmes and teaching methodologies. The PGDMP extends over 15 months and includes 21 days of tuition spread over 4 modules. Because of the intensive nature of these full-time modules students are accommodated at the GSB’s Breakwater Lodge Campus on the Cape Town Waterfront.
* Mentoring/Coaching of principals by experienced retired principals with strong track record of leading schools that are recognised as being amongst the countries best public and/or independent schools. Principals are visited at least once a fortnight during term-time by their mentor/coach and currently provision is made for the mentoring/coaching to extend for a period of up to 3 years.
During the first 6 months of the programme data is collected from the principal’s schools, the GSB and their mentors as a way of establishing a performance baseline for the school. This baseline data is essentially of two types:
* Hard data on learner performance including learner performance data gathered from externally set and moderated test and examinations including the result of the Annual National Assessment (ANA) test of Literacy and Numeracy in Grades 3, 6 and 9; the Western Cape Education Department’s systemic tests for Grades 3, 6 and 9; the National Senior Certificate examinations (High schools only) and the schools own internal test and examination results.
* Softer, more subjective data drawn the mentor’s perceptions of the effectiveness of the management of each of the schools and on their perceptions of the competencies of the principals whom they are mentoring. This data is collated using a competency assessment tool that the Principals Academy Trust has developed for this purpose.
During the course of the first year the mentor/coaches, working with the principals, their leadership teams, and teachers, gather information about the peculiar and specific needs of each school. This process includes questionnaires which teachers are asked to complete, as well as data gathered from meetings with individuals and groups within the school community. This data, together with reports from the GSB facilitators and the mentor’s observations during their visits to schools, are used to assess and prioritise the school’s needs. In making these assessments and in prioritising needs, the focus is always on addressing those needs which are likely to have the greatest impact on the well-being and performance of learners.
Once the needs have been identified mentors work with the principals and their management teams to develop a programme of appropriate interventions. Where these are beyond the capacity or scope of the Principals Academy Trust’s own team of mentor/coaches efforts are made to identify and locate other agencies within this sector that can provide the training and support that the schools may need. Over the past year the Trust has identified a number NPOs with good track records of working with schools. These include agencies working in the areas of Early Childhood Development (ECD), Literacy and Numeracy Development in the Foundation Phase (Grades R to 3) and in Mathematics coaching in the Senior and GET phases. All have expressed a desire to work with the Trust as they recognised the value of the Trust’s coach/mentors having strong ties to the leadership and management of the school.
SOME EARLY GAINS
Although it is too early to determine the extent to which the model that the Trust is developing is having its intended impact, some promising data is beginning to emerge. Reports from the facilitators at the GSB indicate that the majority of the students will pass and go on to achieve the PGDMP qualification and will graduate next year. Mentors have reported significant changes in the way in which the principals think about their roles and responsibilities as leaders of their schools and a greater willingness on their part to tackle some of the very significant challenges that they face if they are to create the centres of excellence that is the ultimate goal of the programme. Data from the recent (2013) ANA tests has also provided evidence of significant improvement at certain levels at some of the schools.
SCHOOL IMPROVEMENT IS NO QUICK FIX
Evidence from school improvement interventions that have delivered sustained success all involved a longer-term commitment to the improvement process. Most evidence from research suggests that it may take up to 10 years to turn chronically underperforming schools into highly functional institutions that are able to continue to function effectively without the on-going support of outside agencies.