Creative Learners

Creative Learners
Learning Brief

Nelson Mandela University

Why whole school development is still important

Category: Creative Learners | Education system improvement | 24 January, 2014 - 02:00



The Centre for Educational Research Technology and Innovation (CERTI) has a mission to generate meaningful research that is applicable to South African and international contexts. It aims to serve the county’s varied communities via innovative projects and technologies in line with the vision, mission, and strategic priorities of the Faculty of Education and the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. CERTI faculty conducts a range of research and intervention projects to support the school community in their area.

Whole School Development Project background

One of our projects aims to improve whole school development and includes a number of intervention strategies to help support school leadership, and to improve the teaching and learning of maths, science, language, and literacy. These strategies are mutually supportive and are planned in an integrated manner to provide maximum impact in the whole school community. The project consists of ten components in three main areas. These are listed below:

Area one – School Leaders Support Programme

  1. Action Research for school leaders
  2. A short learning programme in Financial Management
  3. A Computer Skills training programme

Area two – Improving Teaching and Learning in Science and Mathematics

  1. A short learning programme in Mathematical Reasoning for primary school teachers
  2. A short learning programme in Scientific Literacy for primary school teachers
  3. A short learning programme in Family Maths for primary school teachers
  4. A short learning programme in Mechanics in physics for secondary school teachers
  5. A training programme in FET Mathematics

Area three – Improving the Teaching and Learning of Language and Literacy

  1. A training programme to improve the teaching of reading and writing in the Foundation Phase
  2. A training programme to improve the teaching of reading and writing in the Intermediate and Senior Phases, as well as in the FET band.

All of these ten training components listed above were developed over a period of time and were subjected to extensive research in Masters and PhD degrees. They were then implemented and evaluated for effectiveness and impact and proved to have valuable beneficial results.

Implementation based on the project’s founding assumptions

At the outset of the project we consulted with a range of education department officials and other NGOs that had implemented similar school development projects in our Metropole. They indicated that school managers and teachers “needed something different” as they were tired of attending workshops over and over in the name of Whole School Development, Whole School Evaluation, Integrated Quality Management System, etc. Our informants indicated that whole school development was not a strategy that we should adopt.

Furthermore, we assumed that many schools would have been through a Whole School Development Programme because of the introduction by the Department of Education of the Whole School Evaluation and the Integrated Quality Management System. We also assumed that because of these structured changes all of our target schools would have sufficient policies and systems in place that laid a foundation from which to build and develop the school.

In view of these assumptions, we decided not to adopt a Whole School Development strategy and instead to focus on delivering each of the ten training components individually.

Lesson learnt: The problem of false assumptions about school development

However, we soon learnt that our assumptions were wrong and that school leaders wanted training that would help them develop a whole school foundation. For instance, most school leaders asked us to conduct the Action Research training (i.e. Improving relations amongst staff, Enhancing parent involvement, and Improving late-coming and learner discipline). This choice is symptomatic of the many challenges facing schools, for example:

Early on into the programme implementation we had a new Circuit Manager who commissioned a strategic planning exercise with 21 schools so that she could get to know them better. During this exercise, the schools developed School Development and Improvement Plans. Through this Strategic Planning process it became evident that most of these school leaders lacked expertise in financial management, and general budgeting. In addition, the schools indicated that they need training and assistance in establishing committee structures and systems; developing and implementing a code of conduct for learners, task-directed meeting and minute taking; and fund-raising.

Conclusion: Adapting the programme to suite new findings

As a result of the findings that countered our prior assumptions, we changed the project strategy and included a Whole School Development training and support component. In this way we were able to begin to meet the real needs of the schools. Our assumption that Whole School Development as an intervention strategy was not necessary at the outset of the project had been wrong. Many schools required training and support in a number of key areas in order to become fully functional.

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In Short

In this learning brief CERTI highlights the importance of community driven whole school development. Many schools require training and support in foundational management in order to become fully functional. Only by first addressing this is it possible to successfully implement programmes to improve teaching and learning.

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