Power to the principals, says education minister

Minister of Education Naledi Pandor wishes to introduce legislation next year giving school principals more power and authority, she said on Monday.

School governing bodies have become “very powerful” and principals do not play a big enough role, she told the seventh International Convention of School Principals in Cape Town.

Pandor told more than 1 000 delegates that school principals would play a greater leadership role and be remunerated accordingly.

“When we developed new education legislation in the post-election period in 1995, we gave a great deal of attention to democratisation and very little attention to policies and practices that are related to our biggest challenge—the promotion of quality learning and teaching.”

Providing a historical perspective to the challenges faced by the education system, Pandor said the current emphasis on the school governing body rather than the school leadership is to blame for the continuing difficulties.

“The motives of the different parents were not the same. The one wanted to establish influence, while the other wanted to continue traditional privilege in the context of legitimate authority,” she said.

Powerful governing bodies were created as an instrument for “taking the nation to school”, she said, but argued that while school governing bodies have done an exceptional job in many cases, they usually focus only on their respective institutions and not on problems of the community at large.

“Despite the excellent examples, quality teaching and learning remains an elusive objective for most of our schools and communities.”

She said certain township principals are spearheading a new educational revolution where schools are not only being used to teach children but also to uplift the education levels of an entire community.

Pandor said the planned moves, which are not cut and dried, should not be seen as an attempt to erode the powers of school governing bodies but rather to balance them with the increased authority of school principals.

“They [principals] should act in partnership and not under the direction of school management,” she said.

The minister acknowledged this policy will not be happily accepted at all schools, saying she has already been threatened with court action by some “very powerful people in South Africa” if she insists on pushing the changes through.

But she said South Africans require schools that address the real issues confronting the country—ongoing racism, an inadequate curriculum, failure in many schools, gender-based violence and educators who have not grasped their potential for promoting and entrenching a fundamental departure from the apartheid design of education.

“The intention of the policy was to link school and community and to give life to the principles of change and transformation that are the heart of our Constitution,” she said.—Sapa

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