Effective appointment of teachers in the South African public schools: Does equity and representivity matter?
This paper is based on my PhD study on school governing bodies’ (SGBs) understanding of the legislation (Education Laws Amendment Act (ELAA), Act 24 of 2005 on teacher appointment). This legislation focuses specifically on the principles equity and representivity in the ELAA for the selection and recommendation of teachers for appointment. The Act encourages the appointment of teachers from diverse groups so as to establish a staff composition that is an appropriate balance between all races. The participants in this qualitative study comprised of parents, teachers and the principal members of the SGB in the Tshwane South District of the Gauteng Province of South Africa. Learners, however, were excluded since they are never involved in the selection and recommendation of teachers for appointment. Semi structured interviews were used to collect data. The constructivist and interpretivist approach used in the study acknowledged that the implementation of equity and representivity in teacher appointment is controversial in both conception and application. The findings show that while the government is committed in theory to equity and representivity in the selection and recommendation of teachers for appointment in general, the achievement of that commitment by SGBs in public schools remains elusive. While SGBs indicated that they knew the process and procedure for the selection and recommendation of teachers for appointment, most of the SGBs’ understanding and interpretation of the Act revealed the importance of school culture when implementing changes in the Act for staff integration. Further findings were that representivity in teacher appointment should be preceded by cultural interactions rather than imposed teacher integration, an emphasis of school culture rather than equity and representivity.
KEY WORDS: equity; representivity; teacher appointment; legislation; school culture.
When the new ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), came to power in 1994, equality and equity in education were the major concerns for the government and the education authorities. The new government’s goal was to create a unified national education system (White Paper, 1996). In terms of this goal and contrary to past apartheid practices, all schools would in future be fully integrated. By implication any learner and any teacher, irrespective of race, ability and gender would be given the opportunity to attend or work at any school of his/her choice. Informing this goal was the vision of a new, truly united, South Africa where all people would be equal. Both the goal and the vision required a commitment to the key values of equality, non-discrimination and social justice, which lie at the heart of the new Constitution (Section 195(1)) of South Africa.
The key instrument the new ANC government used to attain its goal was the promulgation of a series of Acts that prohibited the use of unfair discrimination on the one hand and promoted affirmative action on the other. Key amongst these Acts were , in order of appearance, the Labour Relations Act (LRA), Act No. 66 of 1995; the National Education Policy Act, (NEPA), Act 27 of 1996; the South African Schools Act (SASA), Act 84 of 1996; the Employment of Educators Act (EEA), Act 76 of 1998 and the Education Laws Amendment Act (ELAA), Act 24 of 2005. Together, these Acts opened the door of equal opportunity and access to all educators, irrespective of race or gender, to apply for any position at any school provided that they satisfied the requisite employment criteria.
Despite the strive to create a radically non-racial democratic society based on the principles of equity, redress and representivity, unfortunately, more than a decade later, South African teachers still remain divided in schools (Jaruzel, 2004). There is a clear disconnection between legislation and actual change. Schools are still shaped by the ethos, systems, and procedures inherited from apartheid past and disparities still remain persistent and present (Jaruzel: 2004). Notwithstanding legislative stipulations to this effect, very little has changed with regard to staff composition of public schools. Black schools, previously under the administration of the Department of Education and Training (DET), are still primarily appointing black teachers; white schools, previously under the administration of the Department of Education and Culture, House of Assembly (DEC: HoA), are still primarily appointing white teachers, while schools previously reserved for Indian and Coloured learners, although appointing a few teachers of other races, also remain mostly mono-racial as far as staff composition is concerned (Motala & Pampallis, 2001; and Naidoo, 2005). This is especially disturbing given that the learner composition of all these schools, with the exception of black schools, has become increasingly multi-racial (DoE, 2004).
The South African government on recognizing that guaranteeing equity through racial segregation was increasingly complex called for the amendment of the Employment Equity Act by the Education Laws Amendment Act of 2005 to redress these inequities. It was however, important that the way in which this was done was sensitive to the history and nature of all it would most directly affect. An intrinsic part of the ANC ethos that was meant to infuse legislation and policy development at all levels was the ideal of participative governance. In terms of the South African Schools Act (SASA), Act 84 of 1996 the governance of public schools would, therefore, be the responsibility of elected school governing bodies comprising parents, educators, non-educator staff and learners. One of the responsibilities devolved to such school governing bodies was the selection and recommendation of staff for appointment at the schools they governed, on behalf of the State. There was a proviso, though. The selection and recommendation of staff by school governing bodies had to adhere to specific procedures and requirements determined by the Minister of Education. One of these requirements was that selection procedures and criteria should reflect a commitment to equity, redress and representivity in the workplace (SASA, 1996).
It was assumed, the devolution of the responsibility to select and recommend teachers for appointment at public schools would contribute to racial integration in the staff components of schools (Jansen, 2005). Without such integration, according to Soudien (2004:95), members of different cultures and races might never have the opportunity of interacting with one another on an equal footing. By implication, they might never come to realize that they are all equal and, therefore, entitled to equal opportunities and equal treatment. Noticing that initial legislation did not seem to have had the desired effect that the staff composition of public schools remained largely mono-racial, the South African government, used its power to amend the Employment of Educators Act (Act 76 of 1998) in such a way that the State would have a greater say in the selection and appointment of public school educators. These amendments, first submitted to Parliament in the form of an Education Laws Amendment Bill (2005), were promulgated in the Education Laws Amendment Act (ELAA), Act 24 of 2005. In terms of this Act, the provincial Head of Department (HoD) would not necessarily have to accept the recommendation of a school governing body concerning the educator or educators regarded as most suitable for a specific post. It is these amendments that lie at the heart of my paper. According to Wong (2000) and Jansen (2005), research has shown that people typically interpret legislation in terms of their own unique frames of reference. It is not impossible, therefore, that the lack of transformation could be the result of different interpretations of the law, interpretations informed by different histories, different cultures and different contexts.
CONTEXT OF THE STUDY
In determining the ways in which the governing bodies of selected public schools in South Africa understand and implement changes in government legislation with respect to the appointment of teachers, this paper, based on my doctoral study, focused on three specific aspects, namely (a) the extent to which school governing bodies’ understand the new legislation on teacher selection and appointment (b) the effect that the legislation has on the equitable distribution of teachers across all public schools, and (c) the factors that contribute to variations between policy and practice in this regard. Using a qualitative research approach, I interviewed SGBs from five Tshwane South public schools in the Gauteng Province of South Africa. The sample consisted of former disadvantaged and former advantaged public schools.
As a black educator, having experienced apartheid in South Africa, I started off with the assumption that the lack of transformation was the result of white racism, that is, unwillingness on the part of white South Africans to share their resources with others less advantaged than themselves. Informed by this assumption I first wanted to include only white schools from the Tshwane South District of the Gauteng Province. However, insights gained from literature, coupled with my own observation that township schools had not changed either, I not only had to adjust my initial assumption but also had to reconsider the exclusion of black schools from my sample.
Informed by the above insights I adopted as my working hypothesis the assumption that differences in the interpretation of the ELAA amendments regarding teacher selection and appointment may well be the result of past governance traditions and/or expectations. More specifically, I suspected that differences in the operational contexts of white and black schools respectively, different school cultures, the different education histories of those who serve on formerly white and black school governing bodies and the differences in white and black governing body members’ capacity to govern their schools, could all play a role in the way legislation is interpreted and/or implemented. I decided therefore, to investigate for myself whether or not there were, in fact differences in the way the governing bodies of formerly white schools and those of formerly black schools interpreted and implemented the amendments to the Educators Employment Act (Act 76 of 1998) as promulgated in the Education Laws Amendment Act (Act 24 of 2005) and if so, to what these could be ascribed.
I would like to point out that interventions aimed at the promotion of equity and redress is not unique to South Africa. Rather, they reflect ‘a worldwide trend, featuring specifically in countries with multi-racial/multi-cultural populations’ (Bush & Heystek, 2003:127). In these countries school governance not only tends to be hierarchical but is also informed and directed by notions of democracy and school effectiveness on the one hand and the espoused aim of promoting equity and equality on the other (Boyd & Miretzky, 2003: 59; Gilmour, 2001). While current government actions in South Africa meant to enforce equity, representivity and redress in the selection and appointment of public school teachers might well have been fuelled by injustices and inequities of the past, the limited devolution of power to school governing bodies suggest that the South African government is in step with what is happening in the rest of the world (Levin, 1998:132).
This qualitative study aimed at finding answers to the research questions posed in the study. To answer these questions I collected sufficient data from more than one source, using more than one data collection instrument from participants who had the requisite knowledge and expertise (McMillan 2000). Informed by my research purpose, I formulated my research question as follows:
Are there any differences in the way the governing bodies of selected formerly white schools and black schools respectively interpret the amendments to teacher selection and appointment promulgated in the Education Laws Amendment Act (Act 24 of 2005), and if so, to what could these be ascribed?
Purposive sampling was used to select the five schools and the participants were SGB members, to enable me to get information-rich data (Merriam, 1998: 61). The criteria I used in selecting the participants were (a) previous involvement as SGB member in teacher selection processes (b) SGB members’ willingness to participate in the study, and (c) ease of access and minimal financial costs. In addition to these three general criteria I also selected schools and participants that would be representative of public schools and teachers in general. To this purpose I included schools that were both historically advantaged and historically disadvantaged. To ensure that the perspectives of different categories of SGB members were represented I included principals (ex-officio members), parents (nominated and ad hoc members) as well as teachers in the sample. Learners were not included because they do not participate in the teacher selection and recommendation processes. The inclusion of historically advantaged as well as disadvantaged schools was of importance to me since I wanted to determine the ways different racial groups interpreted recent amendments promulgated in the Education Laws Amendment Act of 2005. The study was thus limited to five Tshwane South District 4 schools in the Gauteng Province, three former advantaged and two former disadvantaged schools. Their status as primary or secondary schools was irrelevant since the role functions of all SGBs are the same.
Noting the increased role of the government in promoting equity and representivity in public schools through legislative interventions I explored differences in the way the governing bodies of historically white schools - and those of historically black schools understood, interpreted and implemented amendments to legislation on the selection and appointment of teachers at public schools. Focusing specifically on the school governing bodies of five schools in the Tshwane South, I used one on one semi structured interview questions to look for answers to the recent legislation on teacher selection and appointment, within the SGBs’ life context (Yin, 2003:22-23). The semi structured interviews gave me the opportunity to consider factors such as variations in school structure and culture, governance capacity and resources, all of which have historical and cultural roots, as other factors that might affect the SGBs’ understanding of legislation. The five case studies allowed me to consider multiple and varied responses (Merriam, 1998:9)
The comparison of the responses of the different racial and governing body membership groupings as well as their different operational, cultural, political and educational contexts (Yin, 1994:21) were done after using exploratory, explanatory and descriptive questions, what Berg and Stake, in Denzin & Lincoln (2000), call an instrumental case study approach. Exploratory questions focused on the possibility of selecting and appointing teachers from different racial groups; explanatory questions helped to reassess and refine issues to interpret and frame key findings; descriptive questions revealed the significance and impact of SGBs’ implementation of legislationin an attempt to advance equity and representivity in the schools (Denzin & Lincoln, 2000:388-389).
The following questions were asked:
• To what extent do race, language and culture play a role in the SGB’s short listing process?
• Do you think the criteria used by your SGB reflect the criteria in the legislation? Explain.
• Bearing in mind the thinking behind the legislation, and considering staff composition, do you think your SGB selection process is effective? Give reasons.
Race, language and culture role in the SGB short listing process
RACE: In devolving certain governance responsibilities to school governing bodies (SASA, 1996) the State assumed that these bodies understood their roles and responsibilities and the legislation and would be willing and able to take appropriate action to ensure that their schools promoted equity and representivity. This, however, was not the case. Most SGBs interviewed gave the following response with regard to race:
We consider not only qualifications and expertise but also personality and we are aware of government requirements that we have to create a workforce that is representative of all the people of the country even if, for various reasons, we are unable to meet these expectations. Race is not a ‘school issue’, since it is the responsibility of the provincial Head of Department to ensure racial equity at school level.
Though indicating that they do not discriminate, they however, see no need to transform and they view the new legislation as an external imposition from government to create racial equity among teachers.
Both black and white SGBs had excuses for not appointing teachers from another racial group. For example a black SGB member commented that:
Scarcity ‘and ‘non-availability’ is due to - ‘other races that will never avail themselves to be appointed at our schools’ – and ‘because we are also having segregated residential area, different races are found more in their local schools, in their vicinity; and fear’. ‘Whites are scared to come to our schools, because of the problems in the township’, but ‘we can consider other races.
This comment implies that some SGB members still carry a baggage of racial segregation from the historical past of South Africa and this influences their decision when it comes to appointing teachers from another racial group. Ethnic and racial segregation in both formerly white and black schools is still perpetuated because former black and white schools have remained mono racial with regard to staff composition.
A white SGB member, similarly, commented that:
Each group of people in the country tends to have ‘own race schools’. They blamed ‘ethnic and racial segregation’ created by apartheid’
It seems that both groups, black and white, blames the historical past for their racial segregation.
Language: All SGBs in the single and parallel or dual-medium schools indicated the importance of proficiency in both instructional languages. They stated that the Language of Instruction (LOI) is decided by the SGBs’, and it is their responsibility to ensure that the staff they select is able to implement this policy effectively. One white SGB member commented that:
Language proficiency is crucial for learning and communication and it is considered in terms of the language of teaching and learning in a specific phase or a specific school.
A black SGB member from another school also emphasized the fact that:
‘We need teachers who speak indigenous black languages to teach Foundation Phase learners. We look at the experience of the teacher and the language of the schools since it is important for the teacher to be able to relate to the children. If the teacher suits the post requirement we will employ any teacher who can communicate in the school’s language.
Language here is being used as a barrier for not employing multicultural teachers.
Selection criteria and procedure
In recommending teachers for appointment, the SGBs feel that the government should allow them to have their own selection criteria due powers devolved to them in the South African Schools Act. This is reflected in this statement made by one of the SGB members:
The selection criteria used is aimed at ensuring that the teachers who are selected for recommendation to the provincial Head of Department are the ones most likely to add value to the school.
This means that SGBs not only consider qualifications but need someone who would be effective in the day to day running of the school. This indicates that the outcome of the process reflects multiple interpretations to the selection criteria. They further indicated that:
We operate in ‘strict adherence to law’, ‘interviewing all applicants’ to ‘choose the best candidate’, and according to ‘what the principal said in the briefing’.
This means that the selection criteria may be influenced by other factors such as knowledge, preference and authority of the principal.
Legislation and staff composition
All SGBs feel that staff composition/integration should not be forced upon people because it even occurs in people of the same race, a disturbing factor considering that the majority of former Model C (white) schools now have a mixed learner population, and the teaching staff and school governing bodies are still predominantly white. The following was said:
The person to address the issue of representivity is ‘the employer when they employ people. The best the SGBs can do is to go for ‘the best teacher, irrespective of colour.
There are indications of a gap between legislation expectations at national level and legislation realities at school level. This could be ascribed to the fact that both black and white SGBs are aware of legislation expectations at national level and legislation realities at school level that could be ascribed to a mismatch between what the government’s intentions of racial representivity among teachers and what the school wants. For exmple, emphasis is placed on the language of the school by all SGBs, an indication that they want to retain their own culture in the schools and by doing so they exclude other teachers from other racial backgrounds. This implies that SGBs feel that the state should allow SGBs the legislative authority bestowed upon them as equal partners in decision making, instead of interfering and undermining their authority (Naidoo, 2004). Because all SGBs agree that there should be willingness and not coercion for integration, they still want to remain segregated.
Since legislation on teacher appointment emphasises implementation of equity and representivity principles at school level – the responsibility rests with the SGBs. Based on the above, SGBs believe that their understanding of policy gives them the right to select the best teacher because they were trained by the principal. Because SGBs know that the principal represents the DoE, they base their knowledge and understanding of legislation on the principal’s trust, and view any failure from their side as a failure from government’s side. Because SGBs are democratically elected to their position, they maintain their right to democratically maintain control over decision making in their schools, and regards the state’s intervention as a political move that values race more than quality (DoE, 2005). Although they all understood legislation this did not in any way make them accept and implement legislative stipulation with regard to teacher appointment.
In the implementation of the new legislation it seems as if SGBs still appoint people they prefer and need, an indication that reception of ‘the same legislation is not only open to different interpretations’ but allows for exclusion of members of the other racial background. This is supported by Wong, (2000) and Jansen, (2005) who indicate that different school governing bodies ‘apply different criteria’ in the selection and recommendation of teachers for appointment at the schools for whose governance they are responsible (Wong, 2000; Jansen, 2005).
For this study culture emerged as a strong influence on the way in which SGBs understand and implement legislation for teacher selection and appointment. Dominant cultural practices shape school culture, and culturally and linguistically diverse races find it challenging to function and participate in such a school (Erikson, 2001). This indicates that the good intention of legislation to integrate races might cause more harm than good if cultural issues are not taken into consideration.
Another issue that emerged from the study was the issue of race. The findings from this study revealed that most schools included in the study are still ‘own race schools’ with only one of the formerly white schools being multicultural. There are several reasons for the lack of equity and representivity in some of the former black and former white schools. The main reason was that the black schools are mostly situated in high problem filled areas. Black SGBs absolved themselves from all blame, claiming that no teachers from any other race have ever applied for a post in their schools. The white SGBs, on the other hand, gave excuses for not recommending teachers from other races because of economic and cultural issues. There is also the perception that there was a lot of crime in the townships. If these barriers could be overcome, there will be more equity and representivity as intended in legislation. Bloem & Diaz’s (2007) acknowledged that representivity can only be realistically achieved to a degree since functional adjustment is often related to cultural norms and values.
It seems that both black and white SGBs are using language to justify exclusion of teachers from other racial backgrounds. They used interviewing of candidates from different ethnic backgrounds and different languages as equity but do not appoint them if they cannot speak their language. This is acknowledged by Sayed (2002a) who indicates, however, that the development of current government legislation does not necessarily result in effective implementation, as a result, it may in fact, undermine moves aimed at equity and representivity and lead to a controversy between schools and the department (Sayed, 2002a) over criteria for the selection and recommendation of teachers for appointment.
Without evaluation, even good policy intervention practices may not result in improved practice outcomes and may continue to result in non- representivity of staff in schools. Culturally responsive instruction could address this problem since it builds on the existing school culture, the ways people reason about and make sense of their worlds, and the language and communicative patterns typical of the school concerned (Van Wyk: 2006). Programmes should be developed to engage SGBs in capacity building that will lead to culturally competent practice. Effective SGB development requires attention to cultural self-awareness, attitudes/expectations, beliefs, knowledge, and skills.
Policy implementation is a complex process, especially if the implementers are people outside the classroom, and change should be carried by the school itself (Mortimore, 2000: 143). Elements of school culture are particularly important because schools are now open for all races. The issue of culture and language emerged as influencing factors on the short listing, interviewing and recommendation of teachers for appointment, in this sudy (Ubben, Hughes and Norris, 2001: 116). SGBs have be trained in diverse cultures to become competent in diverse teacher selection and recommendation for appointment. Collaborative relationships with culturally and linguistically diverse schools can be the starting point for effective appointment of diverse teachers because they influence SGBs’ efforts to understand and implement policy aimed at integrating culturally- and linguistically-responsive teachers (Ortiz, 2002).
Grieves et al (2005: 24) partially agree with the above point of view, acknowledging that it is important to appoint a diverse workforce but only if there is already an established school culture and if efficiency and effectiveness are integral to the way the school operates. Rushing (2001: 32) agrees, arguing that education is not a neutral activity but functions in the context of political, cultural and social inequities within the broader society. Hence the consequence of interventions aimed at redress and/or racial integration might be either positive or negative (Garcia, 2002). One of the reasons for this unsatisfactory outcome could be that individuals are naturally biased towards their own interests, implying that conflicts of interest are more often than not a consequence of controversy over the principles of equity and diversity (Mormar, 2004). It follows that failure to consider the common good of a particular group may result in conflicts between group interests and individuals’ own distinct interests. As in the case of this study, the conflict seems to be between SGBs’ criteria for selection and recommendation of teachers in their schools and the government legislation on teacher appointment.
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