Newsletter 116 - Novice School Principals

Preparing new principals in South Africa: the ACE: School leadership Programme by Tony Bush; Edith Kiggundu; Pontso Moorosi

This is a summary of their article in the SA Journal of Education

  • There is increasing recognition that effective leadership and management are vital if schools are to be successful in providing good learning opportunities for students.
  • There is also emerging evidence that high quality leadership makes a significant difference to school improvement and learning outcomes.
  • Huber (2004:1-2) claims that 'schools classified as successful possess a competent and sound school leadership' and adds that 'failure often correlates with inadequate school leadership'.
  • Leithwood et al. (2006:4) show that 'school leadership is second only to classroom teaching as an influence on pupil learning'.
  • They conclude that 'there is not a single documented case of a school successfully turning around its pupil achievement trajectory in the absence of talented leadership' (Leithwood et al., 2006:5).
  • There is also a significant body of South African literature supporting the view that effective leadership and management are essential to develop good schools (Bush et al., 2010, Christie, 2001; 2010, Department of Education, 1996, Roberts & Roach, 2006)
  • While there is an increasing body of evidence that leadership makes a significant difference, there is less agreement about what preparation is required to develop appropriate leadership behaviours
  • In many countries, including South Africa, school leaders begin their professional careers as teachers and progress to headship via a range of leadership tasks and roles, often described as 'middle management'.
  • This leads to a widespread view that teaching is their main activity and that a teaching qualification and teaching experience are the only requirements for school leadership (Mestry & Singh, 2007).
  • Bush and Oduro (2006:362) note that 'throughout Africa, there is no formal requirement for principals to be trained as school managers.
  • 'Wide-ranging changes in the education system have rendered many serving school principals ineffective in the management of their schools. Many of these serving principals lack basic management training prior to and after their entry into headship'
  • Mathibe (2007:523) says that South African principals 'are not appropriately skilled and trained for school management and leadership.
  • Daresh and Male's (2000) comparative study of English and US principals demonstrates that heads experience a 'culture shock' as they cross the threshold from teaching into principalship. Effective preparation is one way of reducing the 'shock' and helping leaders to cope.
  • There are two main options available for the preparation of school principals. These are to identify and prepare potential principals before they are appointed, or to provide development for practising principals after their appointment.
  • The inclusion of mentoring in the ACE programme is widely applauded, by candidates, lecturers and the mentors themselves. Many survey respondents, and interviewees, regard it as the key component of the course, which is likely to have a critical impact on whether it succeeds or fails. The international research evidence is overwhelmingly positive (Barnett & O'Mahony, 2008).
  • However, the model of 'mentoring' used in the ACE programme falls short of best international practice. Much of the mentors' work is with groups rather than individuals and group sessions are led by the mentors, who largely determine the agenda, and dominate the discussion. Where mentors do work directly with the candidates, they often provide 'solutions' rather than asking questions. This reinforces a dependency model rather than providing a vehicle to develop mentees' confidence and skills. Improving this part of the programme, to provide genuine one-on-one mentoring, would require increased funding, would depend on being able to find sufficient numbers of potential mentors with successful experience of township and rural schools, and would need an extensive training programme to develop mentoring skills (Bush et al., 2009).
  • Networking is another powerful leadership development process that has received strong endorsement in the international literature (Bush, 2008). In practice, however, the development of networks is patchy, with a few operating successfully, but most barely functioning or still requiring development. Where they do exist, the overwhelming evidence is that the purpose was to discuss assignments rather than to share management practice. Generating and sustaining effective networks is likely to require either the active involvement of district officials, or to involve 'organic' development, led by the candidates themselves (Bush et al., 2009).


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