Again the research is clear, says Dr Beverly L. Hall, Superintendent of Atlanta Public schools, “If principals do not provide instructional leadership, schools won’t perform.
Today’s principals cannot get caught up in the minutia of building operations and logistics”. This means that school principals must get their priorities right and ensure that they spend a lot of time on instruction regardless of the many challenges seeking their attention. Schools are confronted with many issues and at times could find themselves preoccupied with peripheral matters. The core business is instruction. Now and then school principals must watch the triangular relationship between the teacher, learner and content.
Focusing on anything else amounts to tinkering on the surface. However, to successfully wrestle with the culture of academic underachievement, presently bedevilling our secondary schools, principals would nonetheless, benefit from external support. Regional Principal Education Officers (PEOs) with oversight of schools have a pivotal role to play, both in supporting individual principals and in disseminating good practice.
To its credit, our education system continues to attach a high premium on strengthening oversight in order to address the declining achievement levels in schools.
To this end, more and more education officers and inspectors are working closely with schools.
Whereas there has been a significant rise over the years in the frequency of external visits, unfortunately there has not been any corresponding improvement in student learning outcomes. Clearly the school visits are not fully achieving the purpose for which they were intended. There is every reason to suspect that the school visits could have assumed the character of box ticking compliance exercises which at the end of the day do not enhance the rigour of instruction in the classroom.
It is against this backdrop that Professor Jaap Kuiper, in his study on low achievement levels in our secondary schools, hit the nail on the head when he identified weak external oversight as one of the major challenges bedevilling our education system.
He noted with concern that the Regional officers or ministry officials appear once examination results are out, and only then ask the schools to explain the low level of the results. Kuiper is actually saying regional officers must model, guide, support and sustain good practice and not make once off visits. In their assignments, PEOs should seek inspiration and guidance from the 1996 World Bank study, which came up with the Craig and Heneveld model of school effectiveness.
The study identified about four factors that could ensure attainment of good student outcomes.
These are supporting inputs, enabling conditions, school climate and teaching and learning process. Using the Craig and Heneveld model oversight, institutions can set themselves the following supporting functions:
1 Supporting inputs
1.2 Ensure that all principals and teachers are familiar with relevant curriculum developments, including both prescribed skills and knowledge, and their modes of assessment (developing instructional leadership)
1.3 Monitor utilisation of teachers within individual schools (appropriate deployment - ensuring that the right teachers are in the right seats on the bus)
1.4 Participate in in-service training activities for teachers in their region/sub-sector (continuing professional development of serving teachers and induction of freshers)
1.5 Monitor utilisation of teaching-learning materials at school level
1.6 Monitor utilisation of physical facilities at school level
2 Enabling conditions tasks
2.1 Deliver leadership training and induction courses for school principals (in collaboration with central officials, as necessary)
2.2 Identify in-service training needs in collaboration with school principals
2.3 Monitor utilisation of resources in individual schools and raise issues with principals
2.4 Monitor selected classrooms during school visits and raise issues with principals
3 School climate tasks
3.3.1 Monitor learner behaviour during school visits, raising issues with school principals
3.3.2 Monitor staff professional behaviour during school visits, raising issues with school principal
4 Teaching-learning process tasks
4.1 & 2 Monitor selected lessons during school visits and raise issues with school principals
4.3 Monitor selected learner homework records during school visits and raise issues with school principals
4.4.1 Monitor assessment of the work of selected learners during school visits and raise issues with school principals
4.4.2 Monitor, as necessary, selected teachers’ assessment records during school visits
It is hoped that post COVID-19 if external bodies can execute their oversight functions with distinction coupled with strong school internal governance and rigorous teaching practices, our schools can transition to high performing centres.