Inside Government

How collaboration can transform under-performing schools

9 March 2016

 

Premier Helen Zille

Inside Government is a newsletter written by Premier Helen Zille.

Inside Government: How collaboration can transform under-performing schools

One of the most significant meetings of last week was a progress review of a new category of public school our provincial government is piloting, called Collaboration Schools.

This model is based on the Academy School, pioneered in the United Kingdom under the Labour government in 2000. The approach enables public schools to be operated in partnership with non-profits and sponsors, and has expanded in Britain under successive administrations.

Evidence from a number of in-depth studies has shown that demand is growing for places at these schools, many of them former under-performers.

At the same time, a 2015 census of private schools showed that enrolment for UK pupils is down to pre-2008 levels. One of the reasons is that there is much more quality available in the state school system than there used to be.

Many parents and their children now prefer places at improving state schools, including Academy schools, as evidence mounts that they produce results.

When I visited some Academy Schools in London almost two years ago, I realised we had a lot to learn from them. 

In South Africa we have some outstanding public schools. The problem is we have far too few of them and most applicants can’t get into them. They typically receive four times the number of applicants they can accommodate. Competition for a place in a good public school is often more intense than it is for most private schools.

The market has responded to this situation in South Africa by creating a range of private school options catering for families who cannot get their children into good public schools, but who can afford to pay fees.

But what about those who cannot afford to pay fees at all, or only minimal fees?

It is the government’s responsibility to cater for them. The Academy School model in the UK has shown what is possible. We must try to emulate this through the Collaboration School model we are piloting in the Western Cape.

Our model is based on a partnership between the education department, schools, donor organizations, and non-profits specialising in the practice of quality education. The approach hinges on choosing the right people for each post and introducing accountability for outcomes -- particularly the learning outcomes of students.

Philanthropic donors provide additional funding over and above our department’s significant investment in these schools.

At school-level our operating partners, in the form of specialist non-profits, provide expert support and resources. They are also allowed a significant number of representatives on the School Governing Body.

Principals retain their pivotal responsibility to run the school, and our department retains its responsibility to oversee and support each school.

This year we have 5 schools participating in the Collaboration Schools pilot. We are focusing where we believe our efforts will have maximum benefit on no-fee schools serving poorer communities.

To draw the most useful evidence from the pilot we have selected schools that are a mix of primary and secondary, new and long-established.

The existing schools are Oranjekloof Primary School and Silikamva High School (both serving learners from Imizamo Yethu in Hout Bay), and Langa High School. The newly established schools are Forest Leadership Academy (a primary school in Eersterivier), and Happy Valley Primary in Blue Downs.

Where all partners are committed, we are already seeing the results, from increased teaching performance, to growing community support, manifesting in high demand for 2017 enrolments.

These schools are becoming the standard bearers for an approach with enormous transformative potential for under-performing schools, of which there are a great deal fewer than when we took office in 2009.

But this potential can only be unlocked if all partners in a school community are fully committed to doing what is in the best interest of the children.  It requires sound management and administrative systems, that ensure accountability. It requires good communication, and a profound understanding of what constitutes good education.

It requires a partnership between all role players to ensure that children, and their education, come first.

There are far too many role-players, from parents to principals, in education who do not get this. The biggest culprit is the collective known as the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU).

This is already evident at 2 of our collaboration school pilot sites.

Teachers at Langa High School are divided on whether to proceed with the pilot, despite strong support for the collaboration model from parents and the School Governing Body.

Local conflict has led to the withdrawal of our operating partner there, and it is no coincidence that the genesis of this conflict coincided with the advertising of the Principal post at the school.

SADTU wanted to control the filling of that post. And with the new collaboration model, they would not have had the sole role in doing so.

We are determined to see the collaboration model succeed at Langa High, one of the oldest black high schools in Cape Town, now operating in the midst of an established middle class community. It should be one of our best schools. Tragically it is one of our worst.

Instead of taking their children away, to other schools, Langa parents should stand firm and back the educational interests of their children. Together we can turn Langa High into a hub of quality education, and it would be sad if parents failed to find their voice, because SADTU’s voice is so overpowering and often intimidating.

The same goes for Oranjekloof Primary. Despite its location in the same community as the Silikamva High collaboration school, where the early results of our efforts are there for all to see, Oranjekloof is a textbook example of how a small number of self-interested teachers can derail progress toward quality education.

A misinformation campaign is currently doing the rounds amongst parents, with lies being peddled about the so-called “privatisation” of the school, and the intention to charge high fees and enrol learners from outside the community.

When we speak to parents they are amazed to hear that all of this is actually untrue. They then tell us of their genuine concerns about the quality of teaching their children are getting. In this school alone, we discovered, five teachers were away for 207 days during the last school year! Talk about lack of accountability!

In the face of this opposition driven by a handful of teachers, our operating partner has begun pulling its assistants from the school, packing its equipment away, and taking down the signage that once announced Oranjekloof as a site of great hope for the future aspirations of this school community.

We will meet with parents next week to offer them a final opportunity to stay with the pilot, but we will not push beyond the point of diminishing returns.

For our part we are forging ahead with plans to expand the collaboration model. We will offer our support to under-performing schools who volunteer to make it work, and we will put the measures in place to track performance.

We will also expand our donor base, which already includes some incredibly generous and good-hearted organizations - the DG Murray Trust, Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, Zenex Foundation, Ark, Millennium Foundation, and the First Rand Empowerment Foundation. We thank them for pioneering this vision.

Our goal is for the improving quality of education at collaboration schools to be so evident, that demand for public school places is spread more evenly across a growing number of excellent quality schools. We must get away from the model of public education as a dogfight to get into the handful of outstanding schools.  Everyone has the right to a decent education.   

Media enquiries:

Michael Mpofu

Spokesperson for Premier Helen Zille

Tel: 021 483 4584

Cell: 071 564 5427

Email: michael.mpofu@westerncape.gov.za