CSI Forum: School Leadership

Kindly hosted at Tsogo Sun’s Southern Sun Newlands hotel in Cape Town, on 24 August and Volkswagen South Africa’s offices in Johannesburg, on 25 August 2017

Considerable government spend (R320.5 billion in 2017) and the lion’s share of total CSI spend (48%, or approximately R4.1 billion in 2016) does not seem to be resulting in positive, sustained impact in South Africa’s education sector. Historical inequity and pervasive socioeconomic challenges continue to plague the public schooling system.

Root causes of South Africa’s low educational outcomes, while multifaceted, generally fall into one of two categories:

  1. i. lack of accountability
  2. ii. lack of capacity

According to the Identifying binding constraints in education report, there are four constraints to improved educational outcomes for the poor:

i. Weak institutional functionality: quality of provincial and local governance is uneven and too often of an unacceptably low standard

ii. Undue union influence: influence exerted by trade unions, specifically the majority union, The South African Democratic Teachers’ Union, is interfering with the ability of the system to act in the best interests of children

iii. Weak teacher content knowledge and pedagogical skill

iv. Wasted learning time and insufficient opportunity to learn


The need for leadership in schools

Effective school management is universally accepted as critical for the success of a school, with lack of leadership considered a main contributor to underperformance and dysfunctionality in schools. This is usually related to the capacity, competence and nature of the school management teams, particularly the principal.

Various education intervention case studies show that, when external consultants withdraw from programming, objectives cannot be sustained if they are not championed internally by a person, or people, with leadership abilities. For sustained results, good leadership is required at the school, as well as at the circuit, district and provincial levels.

Experience also shows that once-off leadership training is not enough; educators, principals and managers need consistent mentoring and coaching, until a mind shift is effectively entrenched.

Eight key competencies for principalship, according to the Department of Basic Education

i. Leading teaching and learning in the school

ii. Shaping the direction and development of the school

iii. Managing quality and securing accountability

iv. Developing and empowering self and others

v. Managing the school as an organisation

vi. Working with and for the community

vii. Managing human resources (staff) in the school

viii. Managing and advocating extra-mural activities


Examples of CSI in school leadership

The Old Mutual Foundation focuses on the development of mathematics and science teachers, with specific emphasis on fostering leadership within the schools in which it works. The Foundation has found that little reflection and collaboration happens between school principals, management teams and district level government, and is trying to effect a paradigm shift in this regard by supporting communities of practice. The company also supports Partners for Possibility – a partnership between school principals, business leaders and government that aims to facilitate cross-sectoral and reciprocal collaboration.

General Motors South Africa Foundation embarked on a three-year training programme to test out the key competencies for principalship in practice. As a first step in 2016, the Foundation spent a considerable amount of time developing study material for the programme. 2017 is being used to introduce 25 selected principals and their school communities to the eight key competency areas (as outlined above), with a view to using a third year for consolidation and implementation through a community of practice. Since General Motors will be withdrawing its business from South Africa, it has been proposed that the non-profit organisation, Siyawela (supported by The Old Mutual Foundation), continues this project in 2018 and 2019.

The Zenex Foundation looks to advance education programmes in South Africa through systemic and innovative programming that includes leadership and management development. The Foundation conducts school functionality assessments, which include whether or not a school has an appointed principal (acting principals may not be committed) and basic infrastructure, before proceeding with any interventions. It integrates leadership into all of its programmes, and focuses on ‘instructional leadership’ such that behavioural change is experienced within school management teams. Zenex supports systemic education programmes such as NECT and PILO, which incorporate leadership development, as well as programmes focusing specifically on school leadership, such as the development of the Advanced Certificate in Education (ACE) and, more recently, the development of the Advanced Diploma in Education (ADE). It also supports Bridge, which creates a platform for principals and the rest of the sector to interact.

VWSA supports a number of schools around its operations in Uitenhage with the ‘Teach like a champion’ programme, which it recently extended to include ‘Lead like a champion’, after finding that without principal buy-in the programme was not achieving its desired results.

The Sanlam Foundation is identifying 100 schools with which to partner over a five-year period, to improve the quality of mathematics education. This intervention includes the identification of barriers to the effective teaching and learning mathematics in schools, taking into account a broad range of issues, including the impact of poor infrastructure and the effects of poor nutrition on learners.

The Kagiso Shanduka Trust always includes a leadership training component, ‘Igniting the leader in you’, into their education interventions, to help foster accountability, as well as in response to high attrition rates of principals. They plan all programmes with the province and district and set targets with the district and circuit. For them, it is not about individuals, but about the plan. The first year of their current five-year programme in the Free State was spent engaging and planning with the various stakeholders. 3 of 3

The Industrial Development Corporation has identified the need to create stronger linkages between primary and high schools, and has started thinking about projects that link feeder schools with their high schools counterparts, to support holistic and long-term impact in education.


Lessons from companies involved in school leadership interventions

– All education programming (maths and science teaching support for example) could be enhanced by including an element of leadership training.

– Buy-in from teachers, principals and local managers: Zenex recommends ensuring buy-in from district and circuit-level education departments in order to facilitate programme roll-out, as well as ongoing consultation with principals and teachers. By working with circuits, the tools and learnings from your programme may also be applied in schools that are not part of your programme.

– Training does not equal behaviour change. Leaders at all levels (school, circuit, district etc) need to be capacitated within their contexts (not in a faraway class) and supported on an ongoing basis with coaching and mentoring. Zenex suggests a minimum of three years is needed for most education programmes.

– One of the challenges encountered by a number of companies is attrition and the high level of leadership changes. Programmes need to make allowances for this. It also helps to support more than just the principal (school management team, school governing body, circuit leaders etc.), so that when the principal leaves there is still change embedded in the system.

– Identify – in order to hold to account – the individual and the interconnected responsibilities of all role players in education, within government, at school, at home, as well as within the broader community.

– It helps to engage the broader community so that they can make the schools more accountable. For example, NECT has a programme around parental participation. This is often challenging as parents are away at work most of the time and have little time for engagement.

– As with any CSI, it is important to have honest conversations about the school’s primary and urgent needs, versus the ‘nice to haves’, as well as to what extent the company is reasonably able to provide support.

– ‘Communities of practice’ have been found to be very useful in addressing the root causes of, as well as the circumstantial issues impacting, the quality of education. It is however also necessary to look further upstream, to the lack of a formal principal qualification and the need for a more systemic response to poorly skilled school principals and management teams.

– Effective monitoring and evaluation is desperately needed if CSI and other efforts in school leadership are to gain traction in South Africa. Indicators need to be agreed on at the start of a project and a body of knowledge must be developed.


2019-04-03T10:18:56+00:00 September 20th, 2017|CSI, CSI Forums|