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Key competencies principals need to ensure good educational outcomes
Author: Corporate Communication & Marketing / Korporatiewe Kommunikasie & Bemarking [Alec Basson]
Published: 30/05/2023

​Almost three decades into South Africa's democracy, the school system continues to be plagued by unequal learning opportunities. A combined approach of equitable allocation of resources and effective school leadership that transforms these resources into educational outcomes is required to improve the country's school system and ensure all learners receive quality education.

​This is according to Jaco Janse van Vuuren from Credens People Solutions and Dr Francois van der Bank from the Department of Industrial Psychology at Stellenbosch University.  

In a study published recently in the South African Journal of Industrial Psychology, they developed a behavioural competency framework for school principals. The researchers wanted to identify and understand the behaviours displayed by school principals who have succeeded against the odds and managed to turn around failing schools. For this, they interviewed principals in the Western Cape with good track records.

The researchers say that even though past studies highlight school leadership and management to be pivotal in the establishment and maintenance of well-performing schools, little is known about the behavioural competencies required by school principals.

“Much of the research on school leadership focuses on job experience, qualifications or other attributes believed to be predictive of success, rather than on accurate, contextualised descriptions of the required behaviour or competencies. Also, work on school leadership success does not sufficiently account for the various intermediate outcomes such as teaching capacity, quality of instruction, learner engagement and parent-community ties that are instrumental to academic achievement."

They add that the force that ultimately drives school success is the quality of its leadership.

Key competencies

Based on their literature review and interviews with school principals, the researchers identified the following 11 key competencies needed to ensure good educational outcomes: creating a school vision and setting strategic direction; setting goals and expectations; developing school staff; influencing staff and communicating with them; resourcing strategically; leading with compassion; maintaining a learner-centred learning environment; making decisions; managing self; managing teaching and learning; and leading across school boundaries.

According to the researchers, effective principals are able to screen and analyse the internal school environment (staff capacity, the school culture, the school management team, the quality of instruction, infrastructure and financial resources) as well as the external school environment (educational trends, the macroeconomic landscape, political realities, and technological advances) and to formulate a challenging school vision and subsequent strategies to realise that vision.

“Effective principals set and communicate strategically aligned and challenging academic goals and expectations to teaching and other staff in such a way that there is clarity and consensus about these goals.

“They take a personal interest in the development of teachers by initiating formal and informal learning opportunities, as well as empowering school staff to solve problems independently and creatively. They build strong teams and parent-community ties through an inspiring vision, effective communication, and the ability to engage in critical discussion and debate, while being uncompromising on quality of instruction.    

“Successful principals are also able to align the selection, allocation, and optimisation of resources with teaching and learning."

The researchers add that successful principals show an understanding and concern for the aspirations, needs and feelings of teachers and learners when managing school relations, including effectively handling interpersonal and group conflicts.

“They can reduce external pressures and interruptions and nurture an environment that establishes physical and psychological safety, order and discipline, and inclusivity and unity.

“They focus on effective decision-making in the interest of the school vision through consulting, demonstrating decisiveness and hardiness, adaptability, dedication and resilience, building trust, and being innovative during the decision-making process.

“They also manage, monitor, and reward the elements of teaching and learning by assessing and evaluating organisational effectiveness, the curriculum, as well as teacher and learner performance."

The researchers say the competencies they have identified provide a blueprint to guide human resource management interventions aimed at establishing effective school leadership.

“The National Development Plan can draw upon the findings of our study to include a concrete set of observable and measurable competencies in its policy for the appointment, development, and succession management of school principals and other school leadership positions, including deputy headmasters and heads of departments.

“The Department of Education, public and private schools, as well as other private educational institutions can increase the return on their investments in people by aligning their assessments for selection, development, and succession management with the school principals' competencies.

The researchers conclude that these institutions can use the competency framework to evaluate their performance with respect to educational outcomes and the demonstration of leadership competence.

  • Source: Janse van Vuuren, J., & Van der Bank, F. (2023). The development of a behavioural competency framework for school principals. SA Journal of Industrial Psychology/SA Tydskrif vir Bedryfsielkunde, 49(0): doi: org/10.4102/sajip.v49i0.2050.

​Photo by WOKANDAPIX from Pixabay.