South African Principals Association year end Function | Western Cape Government


South African Principals Association year end Function

27 October 2009
Ms van Heerden
Mr De Korte

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to address you all tonight.

It's hard to believe that we are fast approaching the end of the school year.

Personally I feel that the last seven months have flown by, but I know that for many of you this has been a long year and that you are looking forward to a well deserved summer holiday.

I am well aware of the many challenges some of our principals and educators have faced this year.

In fact, we must have no illusions about how challenging your responsibilities are - as they are for all school principals any where in the world. In South Africa, these responsibilities have been compounded by reasons of history, change and societal factors.

When I was first appointed I had no illusions about the task at hand, but after visiting around 140 schools in the Province and meeting over 200 principals, I have realized just how big this task really is.

Therefore, in the last seven months, the Ministry has re-examined the various programmes and policies that have been implemented within the Department over the last few years. We are carefully evaluating and testing their performance, monitoring whether they contribute positively towards quality education in the Province.

We have already made some significant changes and are currently in the process of rewriting the Western Cape Education Act of 1997.

This Act has not been amended in the last twelve years. In the same period the South African Schools Act has been amended seven times.

Therefore, we intend to bring the Western Cape Act in line with the current education landscape, but also to ensure that we have appropriate legislative mechanisms available that will enable us to have a truly unique system of public education in the Western Cape.

We are especially focused on bringing greater accountability into the system and restoring the balance between the rights of learners and those of educators. We are confident that this process will be finalised by February 2010 and we look forward to a constructive engagement with the broader education community on what we propose to do.

One of my first commitments was to ensure that the long overdue Education Council in the Western Cape is set up. This will happen by early next year. We will use this constructive and advisory mechanism for much of this discussion.

But perhaps the greatest change so far is the appointment of a new Head of Education, Ms Penelope Vinjevold, who will assume office at the beginning of November.

As MEC, I am confident that the new HOD will bring to this province the necessary professional vision and leadership required to create appropriate quality learning opportunities for learners and a stable and rewarding professional environment for educators.

Together, we will be putting education back on top of the social agenda!

But we have some key challenges ahead.

A key concern is the leadership and management of our schools, particularly in our schools that are underperforming.

If a principal does not have the requisite skills, knowledge or management expertise, a well-functioning school can be driven into the ground. It is therefore critical that we ensure that all principals have the skills and knowledge to lead their schools effectively.

We have a clear responsibility to ensure that all our principals have the necessary capacity to master the complex demands of managing modern schools.

It is encouraging that so many principals have approached me with a view to improving their skills.

Therefore, we have, with the support of the private sector, initiated a pilot programme with Metro East Principals, with a particular focus on Khayelitsha, to restore positive energy into our schools and their management teams.

The course includes general leadership skills, time management and accountability. The feedback from the first two training sessions has been overwhelmingly positive and we are contemplating the roll-out of this programme through all regions in due course.

We also intend to intensify and strengthen the programmes offered at the WCED's Cape Learning and Teaching Institute. These courses teach principals to think critically and systematically, and explore daily experiences of leadership within the school setting.

There is no doubt that many of our principals are being distracted from their core duties by increased levels of administrative and other responsibilities. To counter this, the WCED has taken up the challenge to develop a South African version of the UK Certificate in School Business Management, entitled the Certificate of School Business Administration or CSBA.

A school business manager is a member of staff who helps to ensure the smooth and successful running of a school. School business managers support head teachers (principals) with strategic and operational issues, especially human resources, finance, administration and facilities management. In the UK, head teachers have reported a reduced workload, with the potential to free up to 30 percent of their time as administrative functions are taken over by the school business manager.

The pilot project will come to an end when the first cohort of students graduate in November 2009 and, as from 2010, the CSBA will be rolled out by the respective FET colleges in the metropolitan area of Cape Town, as well as in rural areas.

You are probably also aware of the fact that the revised model for the allocation of posts to schools (the so-called Morkel Model) makes provision for Principals not to teach. We are watching these developments with interest.

Both initiatives could be of great assistance to our principals.

The challenges we face though are certainly not specific to the leadership of schools.

Our literacy and numeracy results in this province are particularly concerning.

The Province's assessment results for 2004-2008 for Grade 3 and Grade 6 literacy and numeracy, reveal that on average, 900 (86%) of our primary schools achieve less than a 40% pass rate (50% or better) in numeracy for Grade 6.

Currently, too many of our learners are being pushed through the system, despite being unable to master literacy and numeracy in the appropriate grade. Unable to cope at higher levels, many of these learners either drop out of school or fail to pass Grade 12.

Therefore, equipping our learners with the skills they require to be literate and numerate is a non-negotiable. In order to achieve better results, we need to know where our learners' abilities lie. If we do not set benchmarks for our learners and test them against these benchmarks on a regular basis, we will never be able to target individual learning needs.

The Western Cape is the only province that has undertaken to do its own assessment testing at Grade 3 and Grade 6 level, over and above what is done nationally, and we will continue to test these learners every two years. We also intend to expand this to include tests which will reflect a range of subjects being studied at Grade 9 level. National Grade 9 performance indicators will be monitored closely to identify subjects and areas requiring targeted intervention.

The Department has already embarked on a re-training programme for all teachers teaching mathematics in our primary schools. We intend making this programme compulsory, effecting the necessary budget adjustments where required.

Teaching also relies heavily on the organisation of systematic learning. Teachers need to design a clear structure on how the curriculum will be taught. Given the low levels of numeracy in the Province, we hope to assist teachers in organising the structure of their learning and will explore the viability on implementing a lesson-by-lesson plan for all mathematics teachers at primary school level.

A continuing record of teacher performance is also needed in order to tailor teaching to support individual classroom needs.

The literacy and numeracy results reveal that there is a definite need for a "learning support teacher" in many of our primary schools. These teachers could assist learners with specific developmental needs. One of our aims will be to have a "learning support teacher" in every primary school within the next three years.

Another priority of ours is to assist the 74 under-performing in Western Cape, 17 of which, have been termed "dysfunctional."

We will be implementing a performance and evaluation system, including on-site inspections. We will audit late arrivals and attendance, ensure that governing body elections are held where they are due, and that district managers are trained in labour relations. We will also offer exam preparation courses in the lowest-performing schools and also ensure that all Senior Certificate candidates are registered on time.

While we are determined to tackle the problems at non-performing schools, we must also broaden the base of schools of excellence - particularly schools that focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM).

The department is currently working on an action programme for new Centers of Excellence to be situated in the major Provincial urban regions.

I am pleased to say that this has developed significantly in the last few weeks. However more details on this will only be released at a later date.

Looking back at my first six months in office I am struck by the fact that school safety has unhappily been high on my agenda.

Violence in our schools is simply unacceptable.

Our Safe Schools programme has instituted a number of preventative measures to address the causes of rising levels of violence in our classrooms. However, this is not enough. We need to address the causes of violence in our schools. This is huge task, and involves co-operation between a variety of role-players including the Department of Social Development, Community Safety, SAPS, NGOs, parents, teachers and the learners themselves.

We have consulted with the CSIR on a model to make schools the centre of a safe community, and hope to align this model with the Integrated School Safety Plan.

We are also investigating the viability of rolling out a peacemaker initiative, based on the Delft Schools Peer Mediation Project which has the support of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. This project introduces conflict resolution by means of peer mediation and is based on a model that includes the participation of the broader community.

From the range of initiatives that I have discussed here, it is clear that we are working hard to ensure that our learners get the quality of education that they deserve. But, there are a number of other challenges that must be resolved.

For instance, a hungry child cannot learn. Therefore we plan to supplement the national budget allocation for school feeding in partnership with the Department of Agriculture and the private sector.

Some of our schools still do not have access to basic infrastructure such as water and sanitation. Therefore, we are working closely with the City of Cape Town in this regard and other municipalities.

Running a successful public school system is above all a hard organizational and management challenge. You, as principals, are in many ways keys to this success.

Firstly, you are responsible for the efficient management of your institutions, in other words, how well your school runs is largely the result of the decisions that you take.

Secondly, you are essential to providing direction and educational vision in your school and community.

Thirdly, you have the professional responsibility to stand up and question constructively decisions taken within the system which you do not believe to be in the best interests of the learners at your school.

Don't underestimate your authority - remember that even Winston Churchill is on record saying that school principals have powers that prime ministers can only dream about!

I believe that had we been more critical during the early stages of curriculum reform post 1994, we could have avoided some of the worst pitfalls that are only now being seriously addressed.

In this regard, I am sure that you as principals are awaiting with interest the announcements due on Friday by my colleague at national level concerning the implementation of aspects of the national curriculum.

As a member of the Council of Education Ministers, I have had site of the relevant report and its recommendations and have no doubt that the decisions announced will represent a move in the positive direction and will make the day to day job of teachers in delivering the curriculum less complicated.

On this note, I would like to thank all of you for your contribution to quality education in this province.

Enjoy your holidays, take time to recuperate and I will see you all in the New Year!
Media Enquiries: 

Bronagh Casey
Ministry for Education
Cell: 072 724 1422