‘The results tell us to raise our expectations,” said Wandile Makhubu, principal of Unity Secondary School in Daveyton, Ekurhuleni, one of the top-performing township schools.
“We, as a township school, want to compete with former Model C schools, so we make it our business to learn from schools that are performing by partnering with them.”
Pieter Steyn, head of LEAP no-fee schools, which provide maths- and science-focused education to disadvantaged learners, said: “Quality education is so much more than academics. I wonder how open we are to learners in ensuring that they do not get lost in the system. However, you cannot progress a repeat learner who hasn’t been in class most of the year or isn’t academically inclined.
“We need to look at longer-term strategies such as new teaching methodologies, and at implementing them as early as grade 8, when teachers are more receptive to learning new ways of doing things.”
These were among the insights offered by the panellists invited to speak at the Principals Upfront dialogue earlier this month. Educators attended the second in a series of public dialogues to strengthen school leadership.
The topic, “The results that matter – leading for quality education in South Africa”, led to a discussion about issues such as bringing back vocational schools, the need to resolve the problem of English as the language of instruction, and bringing in retired teachers as mentors.
Click here to view highlights of some of the key themes and issues discussed at the first principals upfront dialogue
The keynote speaker was Professor Mary Metcalfe, Gauteng’s former MEC for education. Now a visiting adjunct professor at Wits Business School, she is involved in the Programme to Improve Learner Outcomes, which is about designing a programme to support government’s intervention strategies.
Metcalfe said: “In the public debate, we tend to look at three things: the overall grade 12 pass rate; the percentage of bachelor passes; and how provincial performances compare. On this basis, superficial judgments are made about the performance of the schooling system as a whole.
“But when we dig more deeply into the data, trends emerge that can help us identify priority areas for improvement as well as issues specific to each province. Take the KwaZulu-Natal figures. The number of learners who failed there exceeds the number of learners who passed in five other provinces, because of the province’s size.”
The key, said Metcalfe, was to ask the right questions. “For example, what do the results in any given year tell us about the throughput and dropout rate before grade 12? Do all schools in all provinces treat repeat learners the same way, and what is the impact these learners have on the pass rate? Is a high number of maths passes commendable, even if the quality of these passes is questionable? You cannot just increase the maths participation rate and not improve the quality of learning.”
The purpose of these and other questions, she said, was to provoke thought among principals and get them to look at data differently.
This article is supported by BRIDGE, Sasol Inzalo Foundation, the Catholic Institute of Education, Wits School of Governance and the Matthew Goniwe School of Leadership and Governance.
The next dialogue takes place on May 18 at the Wits School of Governance