METRO CENTRAL EDUCATION DISTRICT
REPORT OF MINISTERIAL COMMITTEE: SCHOOLS THAT WORK
The Ministerial Committee on Schools that Work was tasked with carrying out a pilot study on a sample of schools in middle quintiles that succeeded in achieving good Senior Certificate results, while others in similar circumstances did not. What were the dynamics of these schools that enabled their achievements? Were they replicable in other schools? To what extent were Department policies and requirements aligned with practices in these succeeding schools?
Between June and September 2007, members of the research team visited 18 schools across the provinces of South Africa to investigate these questions. Schools were selected mainly from middle quintiles, and from all former Departments.
Section 1 of the Report explores the parameters of “Schools that Work” and the advantages and disadvantages of using Senior Certificate performance as an indicator of school quality.
Section 2 then provides a short review of selected literature as a context for investigating Schools that Work. This includes a selection of South African studies that throw light on systemic performance. The Report notes with concern the evidence that there are problems with quality in both primary and secondary school performance, and that South Africa lags behind the performance of other countries in international tests.
The Report suggests that there is benefit in recognizing that the majority of schools – the mainstream – are black schools in relatively poor socioeconomic circumstances. The language of teaching and learning in most of these schools is English, which is not the home language of most of their teachers or learners. Schools are often under-resourced in terms of laboratories, computers, sports-fields and opportunities for extra-curricular activities. At one edge of this mainstream are schools in extremely poor communities, classified as quintiles 1 and 2. At the other edge are the privileged schools of quintile 5, including the majority of former white schools. Schools in middle quintiles are the “norm” in South Africa.
Section 3 of the Report presents a brief analysis of the 2006 Senior Certificate results. It shows clearly that patterns of school performance are strongly and significantly influenced by socio-economic context (as indicated by quintile) and former Department. Statistical analysis indicates that the school an individual learner attends has strong predictive effects on their results. The findings of school visits are set out in Section 4. In brief, we found highly motivated schools, with dedicated staff and busy learners, using additional time before and after school, on Saturdays and in holidays. Schools were focused on achievement in the Senior Certificate exams, and celebrated their achievements to motivate themselves further. They battled social conditions of poverty, manifesting among other things in hunger, AIDS orphans, and schoolgirl pregnancy. They had little control over their learner intake; the stability of their staffing was often precarious; and their resources – generally inadequate – were stretched to the limit. Many of them gave and received support from other schools. They took what support they could from external agencies – NGOs, Departments of Health and Welfare, the Police, and textbook publishers. Their levels of support from districts and departments were variable but generally not remarkable. Themes explored in Section 4 are: teachers and staffing; the organization of teaching and learning; leadership and management; the importance of acknowledgement, rewards, recognition and motivation; resources; support from Districts and Departments; IQMS; OBE graduates from primary schools; social-economic conditions surrounding schools; and the evidence that success breeds success.
Section 5 analyses the descriptive themes of the previous section. In reflecting on the ways in which the Schools that Work operated in their contexts and conducted their daily practices of teaching and learning, four dynamics were evident:
• all of the schools were focused on their central tasks of teaching, learning, and management with a sense of responsibility, purpose and commitment;
• all of the schools carried out their tasks with competence and confidence;
• all had organisational cultures or mindsets that supported a work ethic, expected achievement, and acknowledged success;
• all had strong internal accountability systems in place, which enabled them to meet the demands of external accountability, particularly in terms of Senior Certificate achievement.
Are these conditions replicable? The Schools that Work exhibited strong inner capacities in terms of teaching and learning, supported by management and leadership, as well as a sense of agency. If schools do not have these capacities, then change will not be a simple matter, and interventions in the form of incentives or sanctions are unlikely to have effect. The challenge is to work with what exists in schools to build and support capacity.
To what extent were Department policies and requirements aligned with practices in Schools that Work?
Section 5 looks at a selection of Departmental policies, from the perspective of school principals and teachers. Schools that Work are mainstream – not elite – schools that exhibit inner capacity and achieve good results, with enormous effort. The Report recommends that Departments adopt a strategy of support, recognition and incentives for schools that have the inner capacity to work. The aim in doing so would be to value and stabilise the schools that do perform, and incrementally increase their number. This strategy of support, incentives and rewards would target schools in the middle to upper levels of performance, operating alongside strategies targeting poorly performing
schools. Schools that Work show that it is possible for schools in the mainstream of South Africa to achieve, and they stand for optimism, human agency and hope. The challenge is to support them and expand their number.
6.1 Recommendations relating to the Schools that Work
Support, reward and stabilise schools that perform well to assist their sustainability, and incrementally increase their number in a renewed drive for school quality.
• Provincial departments should analyse performance results to identify schools that achieve highly, and those on the verge of high achievement. This should provide the basis for developing different strategies to support these schools.
• The study of Schools that Work shows the importance of recognition and rewards in these schools’ motivational practices. This suggests that Departments and Districts should acknowledge and recognise good performance in schools, wherever appropriate. Rewards and incentives should be used to encourage these and other schools whose internal accountability processes indicate that they have the capacity to use them.
Highly performing schools
• Departments and Districts should “ring fence” highly performing schools, and make every effort to sustain them and celebrate their performance. Understanding more about these schools and the conditions under which they achieve is likely to be valuable for Districts in their work with other schools.
• Provincial Departments should work towards providing these schools with resources that are necessary to support their performance (eg laboratories, libraries, staff-rooms etc). Provinces and Districts should attempt to stabilise the staffing of these schools. This should not be seen as simple preferential treatment. Rather, it should be seen as the basis for a relationship of reciprocity and accountability – that schools be appreciated and rewarded for what they have worked to achieve.
• These schools should also be targeted by national Department strategies that support schools, such as Dinaledi.
• None of these strategies should be seen as being in competition with strategies for resourcing and supporting poor schools, or poorly performing schools. Instead, they should be viewed as complementary strategies to work across the range of different schools.
Schools on the verge of high performance
• Departments and Districts should identify and work with schools on the verge of high performance, with the goal of improving their performance.
• Incentives for improvement should be offered to these schools in terms of resources, to build reciprocal accountability. Reward and recognition should be provided for each step achieved towards improvement.
• Departments and Districts should work incrementally towards the goal of quality improvement with all schools that have sufficient capacity to engage with a strategy of rewards and incentives.
• This strategy for school improvement should operate alongside other strategies targeting school improvement. It should be seen as recognition for hard work and achievement, as a form of reciprocity, not as a form of favouritism. And recognition and acknowledgement should be given to all schools that improve.
6.2 Recommendations on teaching, the teaching profession and teacher recruitment and retention
This research on Schools that Work shows that an essential part of school performance is capacity, defined in terms of competence in teaching and learning, supported by competent organisational structures, including management and leadership. Capacity, and its mobilisation, are part of the internal accountability that enables the schools to meet the demands of external accountability, manifested in good learner performance. All schools spoke of the importance of good teachers in school performance. This suggests the importance of good pre-service and in-service teacher development to build teacher capacity. School improvement cannot be achieved unless schools have this form of capacity. Recruitment and retention of quality teachers – particularly in the current difficulties facing the profession – was a concern for the leadership of all of the schools in the study. Participants in this study pointed to a crisis in the teaching profession in South Africa, which they related to low salaries and status, and increasingly difficult classroom conditions. All schools highlighted the difficulties of attracting good new entrants to the profession and retaining good young teachers. Again, the consistency and seriousness of these messages on staffing – the importance of stability, of selection, the status of the profession, and attracting and retaining good staff and good young people into teaching – coming from highly performing schools, means that they are worthy of consideration by the National and Provincial Departments of Education. The very fact that some of these matters are being addressed by the Department of Education, and that there are National initiatives have been taken, suggests the need for them to be communicated more directly to teachers. For example, the proposed Occupational Specific Dispensation for teachers may go a long way to relieving some of the concerns of teachers, but it is not well communicated to teachers, who often receive incomplete information via the media or through Union structures.
Building the capacity of teachers, both through pre-service preparation and inservice development, should be recognised as essential for quality schooling. National and provincial departments, together with Higher Education Institutions, should commit themselves to taking active steps to ensure the provision of high quality pre- and in-service teacher education. All measures possible should be taken to enhance the status of the profession and attract good new entrants.
Teacher supply and deployment
• The National Department should investigate the effects of the closure of colleges of education and their incorporation into higher education on teacher supply. In particular, the supply of mother tongue foundation phase teachers needs to be investigated.
• The employment of new un- and under-qualified teachers by provinces raises questions about whether qualification structures (such as the NPDE) are appropriate for new recruits into the profession and this should be investigated by the National Department. It is possible that a new qualification structure might need to be considered.
• The structural location of teacher education within the National Department should be given further consideration, given that teacher education is now provided by HEIs.
Teacher education should be given the strongest possible support within the Department and placed where it has the greatest potential for leverage to enhance teacher education and the teaching profession.
• Given the initial positive reception of Fundza Lushaka, the National Department should monitor the placement of new graduates into good rural schools (such as Schools that Work), so that they are given good mentoring. The bursary system should be extended further in order to attract more good candidates into teaching.
• As a start, we recommend that successful learners from Schools that Work should be actively recruited with bursaries from Fundza Lushaka to study teaching (even if this is not their first choice of profession). These learners would have the experience of a well-functioning school to draw on.
• Provincial Departments should ensure the permanent appointment of teachers, to bring stability to schools and teachers, and to ensure that teachers receive proper benefits and remuneration.
Teacher education programmes
• Teacher education programmes need to be focused on the actual conditions in mainstream schools, including Language of Learning and Teaching. Content knowledge, knowledge of how students learn, and knowledge of a range of teaching practices needs to be included in curricula of preservice and inservice education. Skills in second language teaching need to be built for all subject teachers, including mathematics and sciences. The National Department and its quality assurance and accreditation structures need to play an active role in ensuring that all teacher education programmes are well delivered and of high quality.
• Good inservice support should be provided on curriculum, and particularly new FET curriculum. Given that the quality of inservice support depends on providers, they should be monitored and evaluated. International research on inservice provision shows that it is most effective where it is directed towards teacher practice. On this basis, we recommend that inservice support on the NCS should be in the form of exemplars of good practice, address teacher concerns about coverage and depth and provide practical examples of assessment strategies and model exams. This form of practice-based inservice is likely to be more valuable that discussions about the curriculum.
The status of the teaching profession
• Moves to improve the salaries and benefits of teachers are to be welcomed. The remuneration of teachers should be monitored as part of a continuing commitment to ensuring equitable conditions in the profession. Unions as well as the Departments need to ensure that initiatives to improve conditions are communicated to teachers.
• No opportunity should be lost by Education Departments to give recognition to the importance of the profession and to improve its conditions.
• As much positive information about the profession as possible should be made available through publicity campaigns.
6.3 Recommendations addressing the curriculum and assessment
A consistent message from Schools that Work was their concern about the quality of primary school graduates. This message is consistent with the results of South Africa’s systemic evaluations and its performance on international tests. It would appear that the
wide and shallow approach of current primary education is not achieving the basic skills for learning. We recommend that Education Departments address the situation in primary schools – particularly their ability to produce learners who can read and write and are numerate – and should be seen to be addressing this.
Urgent attention needs to be given by all Departments to the functioning of primary schools. The teaching of Reading, Writing and Numeracy should be seen as the essential task of primary schooling. Achieving competence in these areas should be included as part of the Learning Outcomes and Assessment Criteria of all other subjects. The importance of Language of Learning and Teaching needs to be given serious consideration in all matters of curriculum and assessment.
• We recommend that consideration be given to providing an approved set of text books for all schools in the compulsory subjects initially, and that this be progressively expanded to all subjects and phases of the system.
• Alongside textbooks, we recommend that schools be provided with (or assisted to develop) additional Learning and Teaching Support Materials. This might include, for example, a file with compiled tests, work charts, questionnaires and multiple choice questions for each subject at each grade.
6.4 Recommendations on streamlining administrative requirements
The message from the Department to maximise the use of available time for teaching and learning is sometimes undermined by administrative requirements imposed by the Department. In this study, examples emerged where schools and teachers were supportive of accountability requirements in principle, but perceived particular policies and their implementation as unnecessarily time-consuming and administratively burdensome (eg IQMSand portfolio assessment). Policy-makers would do well to address this seriously, so that implementation strategies are developed which do not undermine the policy intent.
The Department should engage with District officials and with Schools that Work to establish how practices for meeting reporting and external accountability requirements can be made more effective.
6.5 Recommendations addressing the conditions of poverty that schools operate in
The majority of mainstream schools in South Africa operate under conditions of poverty (although to varying extents). Many operate in communities of high unemployment, and they deal with the effects of violence, substance abuse, and HIV/AIDS. Under these conditions, schools need whatever support is possible so that they are able to carry out their primary tasks of learning and teaching and achieve good performance.
While “resources do not teach”, and there is much evidence of under-used resources in South African schools, it is important to recognize that for schools that are focused and achieving well in teaching and learning, resource constraints may seriously hamper performance. While basic resources, such as textbooks and toilets, are the right of every school, we recommend that the Department consider ways of targeting resources towards highly performing schools, for example through a reward for- achievement system, or partnerships with the private sector. This may also act as an incentive for other schools to perform better.
Resources for schools should be addressed as a matter of priority, and Provincial Departments should spend more of their allocated funding on improving the infrastructure of schools.
The provision of additional psychological and social welfare support should be a high priority for schools in difficult circumstances – most notably, township schools. Provinces should increase specialist support services, and ensure that they are available in all districts.
Schools in the mainstream handle difficult circumstances, and cannot solve their problems alone. All Schools that Work spoke of the support they drew from outside – be it chiefs and governing bodies, NGOs, or the Police. It is important that schools be encouraged in their initiatives to build networks of support and to draw support from whatever sources are available. The sense of inner agency, and mustering resources to solve problems, should be viewed as a strength in schools, and should be encouraged. At the same time, structural networks should be established with other Departments and agencies to support schools.
Schools should be encouraged to build their own networks of support, as part of their capacity to address the problems they face. Alongside this, further links between the Departments of Education, Social Welfare, Health and SAPS should be developed to extend support to schools. “Full service schools” could be a positive part of community development.
Orphans and vulnerable children
Schools that Work, particularly in townships and rural areas, assisted learners with food and clothing, often on an informal basis, and many spoke of the importance of school feeding in the lives of these children. Clearly, these are problems faced by all schools in similar communities. For orphans and vulnerable children in particular, schools often serve as informal nodes of care in the absence of other social services. This role needs to be recognized and attended to, particularly in conjunction with other departments.
Schools need to be supported as nodes of care for orphans and vulnerable children. Fuller consideration needs to be given to the care and support of these children, as well as all children in poverty. School feeding should be extended to cover secondary schools as well, and provision should be made for feeding when schools are not in session.
Discipline and authority
Many Schools that Work spoke of difficulties with discipline, and a culture of rights among students which undermined teachers and was not accompanied by a culture of responsibility. Some also spoke of difficulties stemming from the breakdown of authority in families and communities. We suggest that “discipline issues” speak to larger problems of authority in schools and communities, and should not be simply brushed aside.
Schools need assistance in dealing with discipline, and disciplinary procedures within Departments need to be handled with greater speed and efficacy.
Pathways for learners
Learners in poor communities may achieve well in Senior Certificate exams, but be unsure what to do next, or unable to find resources to study further.
Departments should give attention to ways of developing pathways for learners who pass the Senior Certificate in schools in poor communities, including rural and remote communities, so that talent is not lost to the system because of inadequate networks of communication.
6.5 Launching a network of Schools that Work
Principals who participated in this research on Schools that Work should be brought together to discuss their hopes and achievements with the Minister of Education. We recommend that they be networked to each other to constitute an informal professional community – the first of many communities of Schools that Work.