Nothing is impossible. Change is possible even for the chronically low achieving schools. Transformation is possible when schools are clear about the choices they should make, knowing what matters more and what matters less.
Not all issues confronting schools should be a priority. Schools should make deliberate efforts to place their bets on the one thing that can yield a profound impact. Schools should know where to place their smart bets. In any school there is always an array of issues competing for attention. Absence of a good strategy or smart choices is when schools try hard to be seen to be actively addressing anything coming their way and giving all issues on the table equal attention and treatment. This is a recipe for disaster and a clear sign of lack of focus.
Rachel E. Curtis and Elizabeth A. City have left no doubt as to where a school should place its bets, if transformation is to come. “Transformation is possible when all forces from the kindergarten teacher to board members come together and commit to making the education of children the number one priority. The number priority above power struggles, political whims or practitioner or parental excuses.” Turf wars can be very disruptive. Where there is no clarity of purpose turf wars can assume prominence over matters of the classroom. Schools are littered with many examples of power struggles, which inhibit good learning and blow away chances of change. Power struggles come in different forms.
The most common form of power struggle is internal where there could be a tug of war between the school principal and deputy principal or top management and middle managers. If not managed, internal power struggles can derail a school and frustrate the core business of teaching and learning.
There are also instances where the tussle for power can come from external sources. For example, from parents, community and political leadership. A school is not an ivory tower and therefore cannot completely insulate itself from external pressures. All schools relish and desire community participation in their affairs. However, community participation can be unsettling and disruptive if it amounts to interference in the life of schools. School principals deserve some modicum of respect.
They should be accorded the space to carry out their professional duties without undue influence. I have personally lost count of the many instances where parents confront school principals over the decision to have their children repeat a grade. A decision to cause a child to repeat a grade is anchored on professional judgement based on evidence and not the whims of school principals. Of course all parents would want to see their children progressing from one grade to another but they must also pay attention to professional advice on whether progression would be in the interests of the learner or not. At times a power struggle can ensue between the school principal and external oversight bodies. Public schools by their very nature are not autonomous. Their actions are subject to public scrutiny and review by external oversight institutions.
Oversight institutions have the power to overturn decisions taken by school principals. When this happens sometimes principals feel disempowered or belittled. It is important to cultivate and nurture good relations between the school, regional office and the central ministry. There should be a clear-cut decentralisation policy defining what powers a school can have and the powers that oversight institutions. Elected leaders can pose a challenge to school leaders. In their attempts to be seen to be truly fighting for their constituencies, politicians can make demands, which undermine and erode the authority of school principals. Politicians are normally busy at the beginning of the year lobbying for their people and seeking to influence placement of learners. While it is within their right to be seen to be advocating for the rights of their electorates, they should always be mindful of the fact that school principals are gate keepers responsible for the maintenance of standards.
As standard bearers, principals know what is best for the schools. At the end of the day school principals should be accorded the space and freedom to carry out their duties with minimal or no interference.
Efforts should be made to devolve as many powers as possible to schools. The central ministry should endeavour to focus on policy matters and transfer all powers over operational matters to schools.
There is need to do away with micro management.
Hand holding underachieving schools is desirable but care should be exercised to avoid a complete take over. Micro management stifles innovation, creativity and problem solving. For their supplies, schools are generally dependent on the central ministry and regions. There is no harm in transferring procurement powers to schools. Schools know what’s best for learners and giving them control over finances and procurement can do the system a world of good. Central procurement where the central ministry is doing procurement for all schools has proved to be a long-winded and protracted process. This is the reason why essential supplies do not reach schools on time. So empowering school principals by giving them the tools to carry out their work and devolving powers to schools would facilitate the transformation process.