Power to the principals

2011-01-14 00:00

WHILE the dramatic improvement in the matric pass rate grabbed headlines and commentators­ debated its ‘real meaning’, behind those headlines was a bigger ‘good news’ story begging to be told.

It is a story of good news in several areas provincially and it has the potential to bring even better news on a national scale in future.

It is the story of the Principals’ Management­ Development Programme (PMDP), a public-private partnership piloted in KwaZulu- Natal­ (see box) to improve public education­ by building capacity in educational districts.

Professor Volker Wedekind, deputy dean (Continuing Education Sector) in the Faculty of Education at the University­ of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) said international studies and research at UKZN have shown that school and district-level management were central to a school’s success. “By targeting principals together with their ward managers as this programme has done, we are able to make interventions that impact on a significant number of teachers and learners.”

Well-meaning attempts to rescue the ailing state education system have been documented previously, but Wedekind insists that this intervention is not only different, but has already proved to be so.

“For the faculty, this programme represents … a commitment to utilise our expertise and research capacity in the development of interventions that are specifically targeted at the needs in the system. It’s a very intensive course of theory and practical application backed up with individual mentoring to help principals apply what they learn to their own schools.

“That’s the difference — it’s not just theoretical learning, but contextualised and applied in practice. We tried to keep things as simple, focused and school-based as possible by taking the intervention down to the level of individual schools. Participants are allocated a mentor and they are under pressure from those mentors and their ward managers to perform the assignments or ‘homework’ tasks required.”

Over a series of residential weekends, experts lecture participants in areas key to managing a successful school. With their mentor’s help they apply that learning to their own schools and produce a portfolio of evidence for assessment. The success of the intervention was apparent immediately from the evaluation of the pilot project. Wedekind said: “Probably the most startling result was the 12% improvement in the matric results of the 50 pilot schools.

“Hopefully the course will not be needed for long because it should be integrated into Department of Education (DoE) practice. We hope that it becomes part of in-house DoE training, and a normal line function in the department.”

Wedekind explained that the programme was designed to improve the middle 60% of schools that are performing. The bottom 20% of dysfunctional schools and 20% of top performing schools were not included. Participating schools were mostly rural and township schools, with a few suburban ones. “PMDP is not designed to turn completely dysfunctional schools around. Those schools require a much more intensive intervention, and the department wants to look at modifying the programme to introduce into those schools, but for now, we aim to help performing schools perform even better.”

News of the success of the PMDP has spread, and UKZN is in discussion with several other provincial education departments about introducing it there, including Limpopo, Free State, Western Cape and the North West.

Speaking at the award ceremony, KZN Education MEC Senzo Mchunu said that the thing that gave him sleepless nights, principals who cannot run their schools, would be a thing of the past thanks to the PMDP. “A row of classrooms is no longer a school. Schools are very complex now and the education system of the country is depending on you — you are the key people to making the system work. We have to massify the process to produce the skills that our country needs. The doctors and engineers have to come from your hands.”

Addressing a recurring theme of the event, quality education, Mchunu endorsed the idea that successful schools require sound management: “Quality education must be delivered in the classroom,” he told the principals. PMDP seems to be an answer to making that a reality.

What is PMOP?

THE programme aims at the rapid upgrading and transfer of management skills in key areas: direction and planning, curriculum management, financial management, school governance, resource acquisition and management, and people management. The programme grew out of the ANC’s Education Roadmap and 10-point plan on education which has as one of its aims to “Strengthen management capacity to ensure working districts and schools”.

The main objective of this six-month programme is to enhance the managerial and leadership skills of school principals, working together with the Department of Education (DoE) and their ward managers. The PMDP was piloted at 50 schools in KwaZulu-Natal in late 2009 by the local DoE and a service provider consortium consisting of the UKZN, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) and Performance Solutions Africa (PSA), who acted as project managers. The pilot programme was funded by the DoE, the J & J Development Projects Trust and the Development Bank of South Africa.

PSA, PWC and UKZN developed the course which was initiated by PSA based on its experience of using focused and strongly-supported (mentored) interventions in the corporate sector. According to UKZN’s Volker Wedekind, PSA is the driving force behind the project.

In January 2010, independent assessors investigated 10% of the schools participating in the pilot and found that the secondary schools improved their matric results by 12,3%. Participants spoke of feeling empowered to carry out tasks and use tools available to them but ones they could previously not clearly understand. Others felt infused with new confidence, purpose and enthusiasm for the task of running their schools. Follow-up visits in September 2010 reported huge successes, with performance ratings for all the key performance indicators exceeding expectations and targets including:

• More than 60% of the schools had started implementing a School Development Plan (SDP) action plan;

• Average pupil attendance improved by 5%;

• School governing bodies (SGBs) and management teams (SMTs) were running in 91% of schools;

• 100% of primary schools were ready to write standardised DoE numeracy and literacy assessments;

• All schools had started using the “curriculum tracker” computerised management tool introduced to track curriculum coverage; and

• All wards had established learning networks to allow principals to share management practices.

As a DoE statement put it: “The findings were too impressive for the department not to roll out the programme.”

Close to 600 school principals and 64 ward managers attended the PMDP course run last year. The DoE has committed to rolling out the programme to a total of 1 710 schools in the period 2010—2012. All ward managers will also attend so that they can then roll out the programme to the remaining schools in their wards and the programme is set to run “until it is no longer needed”.

What participants said

“THE course was relevant to what we practise every day. It was very helpful to have a mentor always there to guide us.”

— Blessed Khathi, Emgangeni Secondary

“All principals should go through this programme. Some of my teachers are uncomfortable now because I am checking up on them and I am looking forward to better Matric results.”

— Zandile Chamane, KwaPhaka- ziwa Secondary School

“Mixing with principals from secondary schools was very helpful because now we know what they expect of us. I never had such a clear idea of what is expected of me.”

— Nomthandazo Ngwane, Odidiwi Primary

“I view PMDP as a ship that has been designed to rescue the sinking schools. This programme has a distinct difference to any other programmes ever presented to us because it is conducted by knowledgeable facilitators.”

— principal, Landelani Primary, Pomeroy

“The programme is impacting positively in schools as principals are realising the benefits of working together with all stakeholders, the policies of the Department which have been accumulating dust in the principals office are being dusted and put to use.”

— D. N. D. Ndlovu, SEM, Nkande Ward

“The project is excellent. It is capacitative. After attending it, you are born again as a school manager. It has made a remarkable impact in my management practices.

“It is indispensable if we are serious about proper school management.”

— M. B. Xulu, Mabuthela High School, Mzumbe Ward

“The programme has been an eye-opener. I have found out that there was a lot I did not know about managing a school…I thought Curriculum Management was for the HOD, and now.” — principal, Umlazi District

SEVENTEEN schools in the 2009 pilot programme posted an average improvement of 11%, in their Matric results in both 2009 and 2010. This is 4% above the KZN provincial improvement of 7% in 2009 and 8% in 2010 and above the national improvement of 3%. The most improved school was Emtshezi Secondary school with an improvement of 33% from 46% — 79%.

— Performance Solutions Africa.

Probably the most startling result was the 12% improvement in the Matric results of the 50 pilot schools.

— Professor Volker Wedekind

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