Newsletter 151 - Schools That Work II - Lessons from the ground

Schools that Work II - Lessons from the Ground


“In June 2007, the then Minister of Education, Minister Naledi Pandor, MP, established a Committee to conduct a study on schools in quintiles 2 to 4 that performed well in the Senior Certificate exams. Called, “Schools that Work,” the study explored, the circumstances under which these schools achieved good results, while others in the similar circumstances did not.

Ten years later, in February 2017, the Minister of Basic Education, Mrs Angie Motshekga, MP, tasked the National Education Evaluation and Development Unit (NEEDU) to conduct a similar study (Schools that Work II). The purpose of the study was to establish whether, in the ten years since the first study, characteristics of schools that work remain the same or whether new insights have been learnt.

The research question that the 2017 School that Work II study sought to address was:

What are the characteristics of the schools that work in South Africa?

The study’s intention was to lift key characteristics of such schools – applicable across both primary and secondary schools. The National Senior Certificate (NSC) examinations, currently the only objective measure of learner performance in the system, were used as a yardstick to identify schools that work. The best practices identified in the sampled schools therefore are relevant in and applicable to all schools.

One hundred and eleven (111) schools representing the highest-performing secondary schools across the country and in different quintiles were sampled in the 2017 Schools that Work II study. A set of three criteria was used to select these high-performing schools:

· A pass rate of > 95% in the four consecutive years prior to 2016 (2012-2015),

· Schools that presented 100 or more candidates in the NSC examinations in 2016, and

· The “inclusive basket of criteria” was approved by Council of Education Ministers (CEM), as a pilot, to strengthen the focus on the quality of NSC passes. These criteria include schools’ performance in Mathematics, Physical Sciences, bachelor passes, distinctions, maths participation rate, pass rate and the throughput rate.

A perfect basket score of 100% indicates a school that performs extremely well on all seven inclusive criteria. An inclusive basket score of 70% in the 2016 NSC examinations was used as a cut-off point for a school to be included in the Schools that Work II study. The study design allowed for the identification of schools in different quintiles that obtained a basket score of > 70 percent.”


“Schools that Work II - Lessons from the Ground account for the ability of schools to be effective not only in promoting learning and closing achievement gaps but also in helping learners develop core social and emotional attributes that are necessary for learners to succeed in many other areas of life— a well-rounded education. While each of the high-performing schools has unique features, a set of important common best practices emerged from the analysis of data.

These practices are grouped around the following six main themes:

· Theme 1: System’s support and partnerships

· Theme 2: Learner-centred climate

· Theme 3: Enabling environment

· Theme 4: School leadership and management

· Theme 5: Professional development and collaboration

· Theme 6: Quality of teaching

Each theme is further broken down into specific sub-themes. There is at least one best practice for each sub-theme. Thirty best practices were extrapolated from schools’ descriptions of what they do to improve the learning outcomes. The six themes should be viewed as integrated and interrelated—they are important to school effectiveness but not sufficient in isolation. Although they are treated discretely in this study, they are connected, influence one another, and infuse the organization.

One of the most significant findings of the School that Work II study is the continuous success of high performing schools in the lower quintiles, even as the poverty of learners attending these schools remains intractable.

In an era in which school leaders are constantly looking for a magic bullet towards educational success, it is noteworthy that none of the high-performing schools in the present study rely exclusively upon a particular programme to achieve their success. These schools do nothing out of the ordinary—they simply do ordinary things extra-ordinarily well.

The assessment of the variety of strategies and practices employed by the high-performing schools indicated that there are no magic potions, no single golden bullet or any earth-shattering practice to delivering improved learning outcomes and reducing achievement gaps but the following came through in all the sampled schools:

· Bold, courageous, inclusive and creative leadership;

· Ownership of school and its success by all – learners and parents included;

· High expectations of all learners;

· Maximum utilisation of all available learning and teaching time;

· High discipline; and

· Mutual respect between learners and educators

As learner performance and achievement are increasingly placed under scrutiny, teachers are under more pressure than ever to produce good results in the international and national assessments including the NSC. In this era of accountability, the performance of all learners is counted and schools must help every learner to succeed. In South Africa, while many schools are struggling to address low levels of learner achievement, others—referred to as schools that work in this report—have made remarkable progress not only in improving the NSC results but also in narrowing the achievement gap between top- performing learners and those that are struggling or lagging behind.

What makes high-performing schools work? The question resonates in an era when turning around chronically low-performing schools, especially those that serve large portions of children from poor backgrounds, tops the national agenda. International research has applied complex analytical tools to identify particular practices and policies that generate real and lasting improvements in learning outcomes.

Becoming a high-performing school takes many years of hard work. There is no silver bullet—no single thing a school can do to ensure high learner performance. The present study confirms local and international research findings that there is no standalone factor that defines an effective school. Nevertheless, different factors are at play within a multifaceted system to promote learning. This report recounts how 111 high schools are able to produce quality results in the NSC examinations, narrow the achievement gap among learners and sustain their success over time.

In this report, we examine best practices for improving learner achievement, including strategies for engaging learners and improving learning outcomes. Among these practices, some consistently emerge as the key ingredients in successful schools.”


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