Newsletter 225 - Professionalizing Principalship Part 5-7



Conclusion 3

From the aforementioned, it is clear that there have been calls in South Africa for the professionalisation of the post of school principal for more than 30 years. It is, however, less clear what the role of the Department of Education is in this regard.

Aim of the investigation

Seen in the light of the preceding, the aim in this article was to investigate the development of a national policy framework for education management and leadership development (i.e. school leaders) in South Africa during the period 1990–2006. A periodic approach is therefore adopted to describe and critically comment on the unfolding of a long-awaited national initiative for the professionalisation of principalship in South Africa.

From unbanning to election (1990–1994)

From various documents during this period, namely, ANC Discussion Paper (1991), ANC Policy Guidelines for a Democratic South Africa (1992), Educational Renewal Strategy (ERS) (1992), and National Education Policy Investigation (NEPI), it appears that professionalisation of school principalship did not yet appear officially on the national education agenda. School governance and the involvement of educators in school governance were, however, referred to.

From election to white paper 2 (1994–1996)

In the First White Paper on Education (1994) education management was likewise not referred to, although generic guidelines were indeed offered for school management. In the Hunter Report (1995) it was proposed, amongst other things, that a capacity building programme should be developed for school governance. Proposals were also made for the creation of an EMIS (Education Management Information System) and the founding of an EMTI (Education Management Training Institute). For the first time, official proposals were also formulated for the development of education management, per se.

White Paper 2 (1995/1996), which followed the Hunter Report, introduced the establishment of democratic school governing bodies. The appointment of a task team for education management was also proposed. Part of the terms of references of the task group was to conduct a needs assessment and to identify best practices with respect to education management. During this period, education management was officially placed on the national education agenda and a process was initiated that would irreversibly change the professional landscape of education management (i.e. principalship) in this country.

Report of the task team on Education Management Development (1996)

This report was not only a turning point, but also a starting point, for the training and development of education leaders in South Africa. The highlights of the report were the specification of the needs and priorities of Education Management Development (EMD). This report established the primary focus of education management as being the promotion of effective teaching and learning. Reference was also made to the self-managing school and emphasis was placed on schools as learning organisations. Explicit guidelines for Education Management Development (EMD) were also included in the report, namely: strategic direction, organisational structure and systems, and human and infrastructural resources. The heart of the report was, however, a proposal for the establishment of a National Institute for Education Management. Past and current management and leadership training in the South African education system was, however, not regarded by the Draft Policy Framework for Management and Leadership Development (2004) to be cost effective or efficient, neither with regard to capacity building, skills and  competence development, nor concerning enabling policies that could impact significantly on the majority of schools. This situation was attributed to the absence of national framework to guide education management and leadership development in the South African education system. A policy framework was therefore designed to address these particular concerns by the introduction of a national professional certification for principals.

Education White Paper 3 of 1997: a programme for the transformation of higher education

This policy document introduced a single qualifications framework for higher education in South Africa. The purpose was to provide a framework for the provision of higher education qualifications within a single, co-ordinated higher education sector to facilitate the articulation and comparability of qualifications across the South African education system. The Standards Generating Body (SGB) registered a qualification called the ‘Advanced Certificate in Education (School Management and Leadership)’ for the professionalisation of school principalship with the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA).

This qualification was subsequently developed as a National Professional Qualification for Principalship within the National Qualifications Framework.

A draft policy framework: Education Management and Leadership Development (1st draft 2003, 8th draft October 2004)

This policy framework provides the context for a multi-faceted national strategy for education management and leadership development. From this point of departure the policy framework aims to provide a conceptual “map” that is rooted in the contextual needs and realities of South African schools for building capacity in management and leadership and, by doing so, to build excellence throughout the South African education system. The policy framework intends to define the roles and responsibilities of the national Department of Education, provincial Departments of Education, and school management teams. The premise is that without this policy framework, school management, per se, will remain unco-ordinated and directionless with limited leverage available to hold school managers accountable. The vision for the professionalisation of principalship in South Africa emerged from a reliance on the potential effectiveness of decentralised, sitebased management for the achievement of transformation in the education system. The national education management and leadership development programme is intended to be a truly national initiative because it is designed, shaped, and owned by all role-players and stakeholders. It does not represent a centralised prescription for action. This implies a collaborative approach that involves the national Department of Education, the provincial Departmentsof Education, the Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs), professional associations, educator unions, and the private sector.

This emergence of a national strategy for education management and leadership development necessitates a mindful approach to the theory of school leadership in South Africa. As a case in point, it is worth noting that the transformational and distributed leadership theories are, at the present juncture, the two dominant theories in the United Kingdom’s approach to education and leadership development (Lumby, 2006:1). The prevalent interpretation of these theories is, however, that they are essentially identical because they both negate the influence of diversity on the emergence of leadership by valorising similitude. In this sense, these theories can be interpreted as a disguise of value-based or hierarchical inclusion. Transformational and distributed leadership strive for the achievement of aligned values and a configuration of leadership roles. An alternative theory like authentic leadership aims, instead, at finding common ethical positions within the context of value and power conflict so that opposite viewpoints and practices are not “aligned,” but accepted to be mutually influential (Lumby, 2006:3).

Intentions of an inclusive approach and promotion of ownership by relevant stakeholders is commendable, but the initiative and purposive leadership of the Department of Education is vital for the completion and successful implementation of a range of policy documents in practice. Conclusion 2 applies in this case, because the professional development of educational leaders should be initiated and co-ordinated centrally by the Department of Education. The role of the Department of Education should be clear and should not be obscured within a mix of roles of various role players (cf. Conclusion 3).


The South African National Professional Qualification for Principalship (SANPQP) (Concept Paper — September 2004: Draft document for discussion only)

The Department of Education (DoE) is in the process of establishing a South African National Professional Qualification for Principalship (SANPQP). Through this qualification the DoE is seeking to raise the professional standards and competencies of school principals for the benefit of the quality of the entire education service. The intention is to implement a mandatory professional certification for principals without which no educator will be eligible for appointment to the post of first-time principal. Located within the National Qualifications Framework, this qualification is to be developed according to the South African school context and in coherence with proposals for continuous professional development and career paths for educators. The Department of Education (DoE) has identified a number of key principles that should inform a national professional qualification for existing and aspiring principals. These key principles make it clear that the South African National Professional Qualification for Principalship (Department of Education, 2004a:4):

• Should be rooted in school improvement and that it should draw on the best leadership and management practice inside and outside education;

• should be based on a set of agreed upon national standards for principals, rooted in the contextual realities and requirements of South African schooling;

• will signal an educator’s readiness for principalship but will not replace the selection process — it should provide an assurance to School Governing Bodies (SGBs) and districts that the candidate has the necessary foundation of school leadership and management knowledge, understanding, skills and abilities to perform successfully;

• should be sufficiently rigorous to ensure that only those ready for principalship are awarded the qualification, while being sufficiently flexible to take account of candidates’ existing proven skills and achievements and the range of contexts in which they have been applied;

• will provide a focus for the continued professional development of aspiring principals to assist them in preparing for principalship; and

• will provide a baseline from which newly appointed principals can continue to develop their leadership and management competencies within the context of their own school environment.


The above principles of the South African National Professional Qualification for Principalship can be viewed as idealistic because policy makers have assumed that leadership is a necessary factor in creating quality education systems. Leadership development programmes are usually, for the most part, forced to rely upon the mentioned policy logic, which is patched together from rhetoric and unsubstantiated opinions. Leadership development is primarily grounded in the belief that school leaders make a difference in schools. There is, however, no evidence in the available literature to validate the fairly common perception that either university preparation programmes or national certification make a difference in the professional performance of principals. Scientific evidence of the impact, costs, and benefits of leader development programmes are scarce, indirect , and mostly questionable (Hallinger, 2006:3). In this regard Niemann et al. (2002:135) explain the reason for no change in some dimensions of management development and training as being “… that possibly the behaviour of educational leaders in regard to these dimensions cannot be changed by means of training”. Empirical data on the effects of leadership development programmes on the participants, their stakeholders and organizations must replace rhetoric and mere policy logic as a driving rationale for the professionalisation of principalship in South Africa. A systematic and appropriate research programme should be concurrently developed with the intended national qualification for principals.

The establishment of a South African National Professional Qualification for Principalship (SANPQP) has highlighted the need for a national standard for principalship and development in this regard, realised during 2005.

The South African Standard for Principalship (SASP) (3rd Draft — Discussion only — August 2005)

The Department of Education (DoE) believes that there is an imperative to establish a mutually agreed understanding of what the country’s education system expects of those who are entrusted with the leadership and management of its schools. With the possible exception of some definitional descriptions included in the Personnel Administration Measures (PAM) and Integrated Quality Management System (IQMS), no such understanding exists at present. The South African Standard for Principalship (SASP) intends to define the role and key aspects of professionalism and expertise required for principalship in South Africa. In this context, the SASP will provide a clear role description for school leaders and will serve as a template against which professional management and leadership development needs may be addressed. The purpose of the South African Standard for Principalship (SASP) (Department of Education, 2005b:5) is to:

• provide information to all school stakeholders about what is expected regarding the role of the principal;

• inform better recruitment and selection procedures,

• form the basis of improved performance management and processes applicable to principals; and

• identify the professional development needs of principals and aspiring principals.


Read together, the various elements of the SASP aim at providing answers to at least the following fundamental questions related to principalship:

Why does a principal take particular courses of action?

What are the main functions of principalship?

How does a principal fulfil effectively the main functions of principalship?


The South African Standard for Principalship (SASP) recognizes that the generic areas of principalship are applicable to any schooling system striving for world-class education provision for its learners in the global market. On the other hand, it also recognises that in South Africa the complex issues of diversity may require particular knowledge, action, and context-specific practical applications within the key areas of principalship. The emergence of the Report of the Task Team (1996), the Draft Policy Framework (2004), the SANPQP (2004) and the SASP (2005) initiated the first operational steps towards the professionalisation of school principalship in South Africa.

In 2007 the name SASP was changed to be more inclusive in terms of its outcomes to the South African Standards for School Leadership (SASSL) (DoE, 2007).


The development of the South African National Qualification for Principalship — September 2004 / November 2005

The Department of Education (DoE) took the initiative and with representatives from higher education institutions formed a National Management and Leadership Committee (NMLC) with agreed-upon terms of reference and an operational plan with time frames. The Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) provide consultative constituency through their nominated members on the NMLC and accordingly mandate the process through representation. The DoE is responsible for leadership and management and therefore chairs the meetings and work sessions. As such, it also fulfils the secretariat function.

The NMLC is responsible for (Department of Education, 2005:1):

• Designing a truly national qualification, which meets the criteria of the SAQA-approved Advance Certification in Education (ACE) for principalship;

• acting as a reference group during study programme implementation;

• setting up and facilitating the course review process; and

• submitting the ACE programme to HEDCOM for approval.




Implementation of a South African National Professional Qualification for Principalship is only one way of meeting the future needs of more effective and improved schools. It is however a positive step towards providing a professional qualification for school principals that will ensure professional competence, specialised knowledge, and skills (cf. Conclusion 1). A salient development in this regard is that the qualification is validated by means of a national accreditation process under the auspices of the Department of Education (DoE) (cf. Conclusion 2).

The development of a national professional qualification for principalship is however a complex process and the following important matters necessitate clarification during the development process of the envisaged programme (Department of Education, 2004a:4-8):

Programme design

A national generic programme (one-size-fits-all) needs to be flexible enough to embrace the diversity of education praxis as well as that of the HEIs. It is not clear to what degree a particular HEI, as an independent institution, will be allowed to individualise the intended study programme.

Programme provision

The intention is that the HEIs will offer the qualification, but acceptance of final responsibility and quality control for the programme is uncertain. It may, for example, be queried whether the programme should be centralised or decentralised to the provinces or to the HEIs?

Theoretical underpinning

The nature, scope, and depth of a sound theoretical basis for articulation between other academic qualifications within the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) need to be finalised. The balance between the theoretical and practical components remains a contentious issue that needs to be cleared up. As such, it forestalls the question whether HEIs will, in fact, be offering it.


HEIs need to develop new approaches and methodologies required for assessment in an authentic context. Terminology like school-based and on sitebased assessment is used interchangeably with no definitional guidance. For example: Does school-based assessment imply the assessment of work done in the school, but not necessarily assessed at the school, and does on sitebased imply an assessor being present to assess the student “in action” at the school?

Capacity development

It is inevitable that the intended qualification will place a range of demands on providers that will require support for both provision and assessment. A national demand for a compulsory qualification will significantly increase the training commitment of HEIs. The nature and process of support therefore need to be clarified.

Accreditation and licensing

Issues relating to accreditation and licensing are complex. On the one hand, they relate to mechanisms for the accreditation of providers while, on the other hand, they relate to the licensing of those who are successful in the programme. The shared responsibility should be clearly defined and, if necessary, the locus of ultimate responsibility should be indicated — with the DoE, SAQA, the EDTP SETA, or the HEI? A further question is: Will HEIs be awarding their own academic qualification (ACE), while the HEQC accredits the offering of the programme and the DoE awards a separate, national licence, granting eligibility to apply for principalship? These respective roles need to be clearly stated and communicated to all involved.


Some of the issues with eligibility include the following:

• Should there be open access for all aspiring principals to register for the qualification?

• In the case of selection, how should candidates be selected, by whom, and what are the criteria for selection?

• What mechanisms are needed to ensure fairness, equity, and redress in selection processes?

• What are the procedures in the case of an appeal?

• Should candidates be allowed more than one opportunity to obtain the qualification?

• What is the role of an HEI’s internal academic rules in relation to a national qualification?



Implementation of a national qualification for principalship will generate funding needs in respect of its provision and maintenance. Mechanisms will have to be put in place for the estimation and provision of such funding, e.g. the training and support of assessors.


Compulsory programmes need to be meticulously trialled before being made mandatory. Effective trialling enables both the design and implementation to be thoroughly tested before the qualification becomes a prerequisite for school principals. The process and results from a comprehensive pre-test programme are not clear to all stakeholders.

Time scales

Realistic time scales are necessary to ensure that the processes of consultation, development, and trialling are fully accommodated. The overall conceptualisation of the programme and its impact may be compromised if essential processes are either rushed or prolonged.

Estimation of demand

The issue of supply and demand needs to be investigated. It is imperative to determine that the provision of sustainable and quality programmes at HEIs is sufficient to meet a national demand from nine provincial departments of education.

Conditions of service

Aspects that also need attention are impact of the intended qualification on conditions of service, negotiations with educator unions, and status of principals with qualifications in Education Leadership and Management.

The above list of important matters is by no means an exhaustive one, but it is an indication of the complexity of such a mandatory initiative. Taking into account the high priority put on the programme by the DoE, it is essential that these and other issues of importance need to be addressed with expertise and caution in an inclusive manner.




The periodic description of an emerging vision of a national policy framework for education management and leadership development in South Africa shows that the need, according to Conclusion 1, is addressed because the professionalisation of principalship is part of a national qualification policy. With regard to Conclusions 2 and 3, the requirement of compulsory academic and professional job-specific training for school principals is accomplished with the initiative that is developed, co-ordinated, and guided by the Department of Education.

It is evident that the professionalisation of principalship is a complex process and presents vital challenges for the short and long term. How these challenges are met will certainly impact on the success of this national initiative. Thus principalship in South Africa is on its way to becoming a fully-fledged profession with a unique career path.

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