‘Lack of leadership, quality at schools’

By Leanne Jansen Time of article published Jan 18, 2016

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Leanne Jansen

Poor school leadership is failing South African pupils. While most teachers and principals are doing their best, some school leaders are merely “going through the motions”, with little impact, says a highly regarded education researcher.

“Many school leaders and teachers are failing our pupils, but in the majority of cases this is not their fault. The problem is that they themselves are poorly educated,” explained Nick Taylor.

While some teachers and principals were lazy and corrupt, “the majority are doing the best they can”, he said.

“But (their best) is not good enough because they don’t understand the curriculum themselves.”

Taylor is a former head of the National Education Evaluation Development Unit (Needu) and is now with research organisation Jet Education Services.

The quantity and quality of pupils’ writing was one example: schools reported that this crucial learning activity was satisfactorily monitored, but pupils’ writing books revealed that the work done deviated significantly from what the curriculum prescribed.

The implication, explained Taylor, was those responsible for monitoring pupils’ writing work either did not understand the curriculum or in some cases were simply not paying attention.

“In-service training can’t bridge the gap between where teachers and principals are and where they should be.”

It was not true that the majority of teachers did not care and neglected their work.

“My research tells me that this perception, widely held around the country, is wrong.”

Speaking on the quality of high school education in South Africa, Taylor said because so much in-service training was failing to bridge that capacity gap, the monitoring of teaching and learning was weak or non-existent at many schools.

“There is a great deal of instructional leadership activity throughout the system, but most of it is undertaken at too superficial a level to make an impact on teaching and learning,” Taylor said.

Instructional leaders managed time and resources, identified areas of weakness for teachers and pupils, and devised interventions to address these.

They monitored the pace and progress of learning and ensured that learning activities were set at the right level of complexity for each grade, and that pupils were stimulated to achieve their potential.

Time management at schools was one of the most important indicators of good leadership.

Many schools were not allocating even the minimum time for the teaching of maths and English. This meant that schools were not complying with the Caps curriculum.

Another key aspect of time management was absenteeism. Taylor said that for a significant number of schools, teacher absenteeism was often, or always, a problem.

A Human Sciences Research Council study that Cape Times sister paper The Mercury previously reported on found that many maths teachers were bunking class because they were unsure how to teach the subject.

The quality and quantity of pupils’ written work was an important factor in academic attainment.

As a norm, pupils should be producing written work on at least four days out of five. Yet, a minority of schools were meeting this benchmark – particularly in Grade 10 English classrooms.

“The schooling system is beset with many problems, including poor management and leadership, and the inefficient distribution of resources.

“But even where schools are well managed and teachers have access to sufficient resources, the quality of teaching and learning cannot rise above the ceiling imposed by teachers’ capacity to teach and leaders’ capacity to provide instructional leadership.”

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