Wednesday, July 14, 2010

ISER Paper Joubert

6th Annual International Symposium on Educational Reform (ISER)
“Effective schools in effective systems”

Sub- theme
Effective schools in ineffective systems

Principals as the professional managers of teaching and learning in their schools: Policy and practice


Managing teaching and learning is one of the most important (if not the most important) activities for principals and other school leaders. The South African Schools Act (1996) in section 16A clearly defines the role of the school principal as the professional manager of a school. As the professional manager of a school, a principal is accountable to the Head of Department (HoD) for the academic performance of the school and the effective use of available resources. If the level of performance of learners is below standard, or if there has been a serious breakdown in the way the school is managed or the safety of learners or staff is threatened, the school must submit a plan to the HoD for correcting the situation. Furthermore, the HoD must take all reasonable steps to assist underperforming schools and if necessary implement the incapacity code and procedures for poor work performance referred to Employment of Educators Act, 1998. These legal provisions in section 16A of the South African Schools Act have serious implications for principals as the managers of teaching and learning in our schools.

The terms and conditions of employment of educators are determined in terms of Section 4 of the Employment of Educators Act, 1998. These terms and conditions of service are described in the Personnel Administrative Measures (PAM) (Department of Education, 1999). According to the PAM the “core process in education is curriculum delivery and the strategic levers for curriculum delivery”. The PAM clearly spells out that the professional responsibilities of school principals are to ensure that the school is managed satisfactorily and in compliance with applicable legislation, regulations and personnel administration measures as prescribed. Furthermore, principals must ensure that the education of the learners is promoted in a proper manner and in accordance with approved policies. The aim of jobs at district offices is to “facilitate curriculum delivery through support in various ways”.

The PAM also states that education specialists (office based educators) must assist educators to identify, assess and meet the needs of learners (provide professional leadership) to implement systems and structures and present innovative ideas that are congruent with policy frameworks and plans.

This article argues that policy as written often fails to inform implementers what they need to know to implement policy. Instead, a network of policy professionals—professional associations, academics, trainers, and consultants—disseminate policy and its entailments to implementers, acting as resources for getting policy implemented. These "implementation resources" may interpret and publicise legislation, formulate and recommend the organisational or individual practices needed for implementation, or train implementers in the skills needed to do their jobs differently (Hill, 2003:17). By offering reasons for putting policy in place, the Department of Education may also convince implementers, whose work environments are typically crowded with competing demands for action, to get policy implemented. This article examines how resource inadequacy, working conditions and attaining goals impede on the management of teaching and learning in South Africa.

Lipsky’s theory of street-level bureaucrats will be used to frame this study to investigate how discretion, autonomy and coping mechanisms of school principals and district officials affect the implementation of the provisions in section 16A of the Schools Act.

The legislative and policy trail

The transformation of the South African education system implies profound changes in the culture and practices of schools. There is a fundamental need to establish a clear and agreed understanding of what the education system expects of those who are entrusted with the leadership and management of its schools. In South Africa the task of the school principal has changed irrevocably. The question is no longer whether the principal has a management or leadership task, but rather how the principal should be trained or prepared for the task of principalship (Van der Westhuizen, 1988:378; Hallinger, 2006:1). The Department of Education (2005) states unequivocally that no national standard or structure exists for the training and accreditation of school principals. The issues mentioned in departmental policies relate, in particular, to the main characteristics of a profession, i.e. core qualities which principals need, educational and social values, personal and professional attributes Department of Education, (2005).

Education Management and Leadership Development draft policy framework (Department of Education, 1st draft 2003, 8th draft October 2004) 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, Van der Westhuizen and Van Vuuren, (2007). 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, site-based management for the achievement of transformation in the education system ( Van der Westhuizen and Van Vuuren, 2007:433). The national education management and leadership development programme implies a collaborative approach that involves the national Department of Education, the provincial Departments of Education, the Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs), professional associations, educator unions, and the private sector.

The Standards Generating Body registered a qualification called the ‘Advanced Certificate in Education (School Management and Leadership)’ for the rofessionalisation 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 (Department of Education (2004a ).

The Department of Education published a discussion paper in August 2005 suggesting a South African Standard for Principalship. The Department of Education 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.

In 2007 the South African Schools Act was amended to include provisions on the professional management of a school. The principal must in undertaking the professional management of a public school as contemplated in section 16(3), carry out duties which include, but are not limited to the implementation of all the educational programmes and curriculum activities; the management of all educators and support staff; and the management of the use of learning support material and other equipment.

In terms of Section 16A, the principal must prepare and submit to the Head of Department an annual report in respect of the academic performance of that school in relation to minimum outcomes and standards and procedures for assessment as prescribed by the National Curriculum Statement and the effective use of available resources.

The Head of Department must annually identify schools that are underperforming and must issue a written notice to the school that the standard of performance of learners is below the standards prescribed by the National Curriculum Statement and is likely to remain so, and that there has been a serious breakdown in the way the school is managed or governed which is prejudicing, or likely to prejudice, the standards of performance; or the safety of learners or staff is threatened.

In such a case the principal must at the beginning of the year, prepare a plan setting out how academic performance at the school will be improved. The academic improvement plan is a short-term plan or programme of action which the school develops in response to the findings and recommendations made in the evaluation reports. This plan is aimed at effecting improvement in the school’s areas of need as highlighted in the evaluation reports compiled by the district officials. The academic performance improvement plan must be presented to the Head of Department and tabled at a governing body meeting. The Head of Department may approve the academic performance improvement plan or return it to the principal with such recommendations as may be necessary in the circumstances. If the Head of Department approves the academic performance improvement plan the principal must, by 30 June, report to the Head of Department and the governing body on progress made in implementing that plan. It is unclear how a school principal whose school has underperformed will be able to develop an academic improvement plan within months and successfully execute this improvement plan without serious interventions supported by the education authorities.

The professional management of teaching and learning

The Department of Education now requires principals to carry the primary responsibility for the management of teaching and learning. They must effectively promote and support the best quality teaching and learning and enable learners to attain the highest levels of achievement.

The Department of Education, in its Education Leadership and Management Development Policy Framework in 2005 proposed a South African Standard for Principalship (Department of Education, 2005). It is the Department f Education’s itention that this Standard for Principalship will define what is expected of its principals, and that it will serve as a template against which professional leadership and management development needs will be addressed.

The Standard for Principalship clearly identifies the principals’ primary role as the promotion of effective teaching and learning. The six interdependent areas of principalship are all subsumed within the principals’ responsibility to enhance the quality of teaching and learning and to raise levels of learner achievement.

Our nation’s underperforming schools and learners are unlikely to succeed until we get serious about the professional management of our schools. As much as anyone in public education, it is the principal who is in a position to ensure that good teaching and learning spreads beyond single classrooms, and that ineffective practices aren’t simply allowed to fester. The continuing professional development principals get once they are hired and throughout their careers, has a lot to do with whether school leaders can meet the increasingly tough expectations of these jobs.

That schools should be focused on teaching and learning, is a platitude. But the truth of the matter is that in some schools learners learn and progress, and in others very limited teaching and learning take place. The South African government places much emphasis on providing high-quality education for all learners. However, equal opportunities and quality mean different things to different people.

In South Africa school principals and educators face the challenge of producing results in an increasingly complex education environment. Transformation of the education system, changing financial priorities, shifting education needs and new teaching strategies require that education managers at all levels take on new responsibilities. Muijs and Harris (2003:440) point out that evidence from school improvement literature consistently highlights the fact that effective educational leaders exercise a powerful influence on schools’ capacity to improve learner achievement.

Elmore (1995:356) argues that the organisational conditions of a school, in particular the approach taken to staff development and planning, as well as the way teaching and learning is conducted determines the effectiveness of teaching and learning. Leithwood and Jantzi (1990:253) emphasize the importance of the behaviours of teachers as they engage in activities directly affecting the performance of the learners.

Knowledge of how principals manage curriculum in South Africa is limited (Hoadley & Ward, 2009:4). Studies on the availability of training and the needs of school managers dominate the field (Taylor 2007; Van der Westhuizen, Mosogo and Van Vuuren 2004; Bush et al 2006). One of the key findings is that resources are important, but the effective use of resources “is a central problem in South African schooling and one we know least about” (Taylor, 2007:536). There is consensus in research literature that school managers play a crucial role in creating conditions for improved instruction (Spillane 2006; Taylor 2007). What is less understood is how the principal contributes (Hoadley and Ward, 2009:4).

Hallinger and Heck (1998:187) argues that the principals’ primary influence on schooling outcomes is creating the conditions of possibility for teaching and learning. They propose three sets of management dimensions – defining the schools mission, managing the instructional programme and promoting a positive learning climate. Leithwood and Riehl (2005: 6) identify that we need more robust understanding of management practices, responses to external policy initiatives and local needs and priorities.

Managing teaching and learning involves active collaboration of the principal and teachers regarding curriculum, teaching and assessment. The principal seeks out ideas, insights, and expertise of teachers and works with teachers towards improving learners’ achievement. Principal and teachers share responsibility for staff development, curricular development and supervision of teaching tasks (Marks & Printy, 2003).

There is no way that a school principal alone can perform all the complex tasks of a school. Responsibility must be distributed and people must understand the values behind various tasks (Bush & Glover, 2003:25). Effective management also depends on having the authority to hold people accountable to produce results. Capacity building initiatives mean that careful attention should be paid to developing management skills of others in a school. Professional management then becomes a distributed responsibility. Effective professional management requires routines and management tools of various sorts in the school, such as scheduling procedures, evaluation protocols and sharing of information (Spillane, 2006). The culture of schools and the diversity of those that lead them have not always kept pace with the growing diversity in the educator and learner population.

Practical implementation of legislation and policies pertaining to the management of teaching and learning

Street-level bureaucracy, a term coined by Lipsky (1980: xi), refers to "public service workers who interact directly with citizens in the course of their jobs, and who have substantial discretion in the execution of their work". Since they account for a substantial proportion of the personnel in any bureaucracy and enjoy wide discretion in the execution of public policy, street-level bureaucracy determines how policy is implemented in practice.

Lipsky(1980:xii) argues that legislation and policies are not interpreted and implemented in the offices of high-raking officials, because it is actually made in the offices and daily encounters of street-level workers. Street-level bureaucrats make policy in two ways. First, by exercising high levels of discretion in decision-making and second by their relative autonomy from organisational authority. For the purpose of this paper, district officials, school principals and educators in their classrooms are seen as street-level bureaucrats.

District officials and school principals have considerable discretion in determining the nature, amount and quality of benefits and sanctions provided by their offices. For example, principals decide to take action against staff members who do not fulfil their day-to-day duties. To the extent that school principals are professionals, the assertion that they exercise considerable discretion is obvious. Section 16 A of the Schools Act theoretically attempts to standardise the norms and practices that informs the day-to-day decision-making of school principals. The district officials and principals both desire to maintain and expand their autonomy. Principals are not neutral public servants, they also have ideas, values, beliefs, interests which they use to shape policy Their superiors try to restrict their discretion in order to secure certain results, but principals often resist their restrictions (policies) successfully.

There are clear differences between the objectives of the policy-makers and those who have to implement these policies and laws, namely the street-level bureaucrats. Political leaders and Heads of Educational Departments are interested in achieving results consistent with their political views and aspirations. Street-level bureaucrats are interested in processing work consistent with their own preferences and experiences. If everything receives priority, nothing does (Lipsky, 1980:19). Policy-makers and politicians are concerned with performance and those aspects that expose them to critical scrutiny. Street-level bureaucrats (district officials and principals), on the other hand have a role interest in securing the requirements of completing the job.

Lipsky (1980:16) asserts that educators in general will conform to what is expected of them. However, one can expect a degree of non-compliance if the principals’ interests differ from the interests of their superiors (or policy-makers) and the incentives and sanctions are not sufficient to prevail. Some of the ways the street-level bureaucrats withhold cooperation with their superiors include personal strategies as excessive absenteeism, cheating, stealing, deliberate wasting, and negative attitudes such as alienation and apathy.

How the problem of resources impede on the management of teaching and learning

Resource inadequacy is not only about the lack of learning and teaching support materials. It is also about lack of information, large work-loads, lack of time and inadequate personal resources.

Bureaucratic decision-making takes place under conditions of limited time and information. The management of teaching and learning typically are constrained by difficulty in obtaining relevant information, the principals’ capacity to absorb information and by the unavailability of information. Principals of township and rural schools rely on their district offices to provide them with the necessary documentation and to assist them in understanding the implementation thereof. Principals often work with a high level of uncertainty because of the frequency and rapidity with which decisions have to be made. Typical examples would be guiding staff members when curriculum changes take place or developing an academic performance plan within a month after they have been informed that the school is underperforming.

Educators characteristically have large classes. The actual numbers are less important that the fact that they typically cannot fulfil their mandated responsibilities with such large classes. For teachers over-crowed classrooms mean that they are unable to give the kind of personal attention good teaching requires. High learner-teacher ratios also mean that teachers must attend to maintaining order and have less attention for learning activities. Principals also have to spend more time on resolving conflict between teachers and learners than developing positive strategies for more effective teaching and learning.

Principals may also lack personal resources in conducting their work. They may be under-trained or inexperienced. The effective management of teaching and learning cannot be done properly, given the ambiguity of goals and the lack of support they receive form their superiors.

How conditions of work impede on the management of teaching and learning

School principals are consistently criticised for their inability to improve learner achievement. They work in an environment that conditions the way they perceive problems and frame solutions to them (Lipsky, 1980:27). The persistence of rigid and unresponsive patterns of behaviour experienced by school principals result from the substantial discretion exercised by the district officials. Thus the work environment of school principals is structured by common patterns of practice of ambiguous, vague or conflicting decisions taken by their superiors.

In terms of Section 16A, school principals must account for the management of the use of learning support material and other equipment. Schools in general work with inadequate resources. Within these constraints they have broad discretion with respect to the utilisation of resources. In the allocation and application of resources such as learning support material, they are confronted by their own lack of knowledge and experience or ambiguous goals that guide their decision-making.

A salient condition of work is that the educators employed by the school are not always committed to their teaching. Thus school principals have considerable responsibility in managing effective teaching and learning but little external support in how to achieve learning objectives. Dealing with incapacity and poor work performance does not form part of the key areas of principalship discussed in the South African Standard for Principalship. Knowledge and skills in the interpretation and implementation of the basic aspects of labour legislation are not included in the Advanced Certificate in Education (Education Leadership) that was developed by the National Department of Education.

School principals develop their own school policies to deal with the complexity of their tasks. In the development of these school policies, school principals have to interpret and implement legislation and departmental policies. In this way school principals and district officials “make” policy. These policies based on procedures and routines are often biased and often have unintended consequences. For example, principals who are under constant pressure to improve results face being fired or demoted if their schools consistently produce poor matric results deliberately hold back weak learners in Grade 11 in a bid to boost their matric pass rate (Govender, Sunday Times, 21 March 2010).

How goals and performance measures impede on the management of teaching and learning

School principals have conflicting goals. Is their role to communicate social values, meet the need of employers in South Africa or meet the aspirations and ideals of politicians? The reason for amending the Schools Act to define the roles of the school principal as the professional manager are inundated by power struggles between the education authorities and school governing bodies. The exact role of the principal as the professional manager of teaching and learning may be ambiguous, because it is defined by accretion and have never been rationalised. Defining the functions of the school principal in the Schools Act could be seen as part of the education authorities not to confront its goal conflicts. Typical claims in education policies that actions are “in the best interests of the child” is an attempt by the Department of Education to support their coercive modes of compliance with their policies. A fundamental dilemma school principals’ face is to provide individual responses to the educational authorities and not be subjected to mass treatment. This is a classic example of goal displacement. Goal displacement takes place when the norm of the individual school becomes subordinate to the needs for mass processing (Lipsky, 1980:44).

Typical goal conflicts arise from the contradictory expectations that shape the role of the principal as the professional manager of teaching and learning in a school. Role expectations are generally determined by peers, reference groups and public expectations. The most important dimension, the learners, are often not considered in the determining of the role of the principal in the management of teaching and learning. In South Africa the emphasis is currently on matric results. Although Sections 16A and 58B refer to learner performance, the achievement of learners is only measured at matric level. The decline of the number of learners progressing from Grade 11 to Grade 12 and the poor performance of South African learners in the international Pirls and Timms assessments demonstrate that political leaders and Heads of Educational Departments are mostly interested in achieving results consistent with their political views and aspirations.


Managing teaching and learning involves active collaboration of the principal and teachers regarding curriculum, teaching and assessment. Leithwood and Jantzi (1990) emphasise the importance of the behaviours of teachers as they engage in activities directly affecting the performance of the learners.

The South African Schools Act, the Employment of Educators Act, PAM and proposed South African Standard for Principalship attempt to change the culture of the management of teaching and learning. Unfortunately with principals and education authorities there is a greater familiarity with the jargon of transformation than practical understanding of what it means to manage teaching and learning. There seems to be general lack of knowledge and skills about the role of the school principals in the process of strategic planning and implementation of teaching activities.

School principals lack experience in the utilisation of resources such as staff, time and existing knowledge. The proposed Standard for Principalship does not refer to the knowledge and skills required to manage staff, resources and time as fundamental actions required for effective management of teaching and learning. There is also a need for a process of role clarification, including definition and development of the working relationships between district officials and school principals. In terms of the Schools Act (section 58B (4) the Department of Education must take all reasonable steps to assist the underperforming schools in addressing their teaching and learning challenges.

What then should principals be able to do as the professional managers of teaching and learning in their schools?

• As school managers with formal authority for visiting classes and controlling staff preparation and learner assessment, principals can easily see these functions as their main or sole contribution to the management of teaching and learning. But principals need to re-interpret their role as that of strategic planning and support of teaching activities.

• Management of teaching and learning asks more of principals than
overseeing the division of labor among teaching staff. Rather, their professional management work means creating working partnerships with various staff members teaching in different grades or phases.

• Principals need to find ways to establish conditions of trust, openness to critique, and focus on teaching to enable teachers to do their work.

• Principals’ management of school resources is vital to creating a school-based infrastructure for learning improvement. The managerial work of allocating resources, managing time for the school, improving facilities, managing discipline and safety, and managing staff development are vital to ensuring that an environment for learning improvement is in place.

• Principals need to be comfortable exercising greater discretion and acting
more entrepreneurially in a context of accountability. Principals are compelled to make decisions regarding the vision, mission, functioning and resources of the school within a context of increasing accountability for school performance.


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