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Editorial: Test the testers

Western Cape education MEC Debbie Schäfer strongly believes great schools do not exist without great leaders, emphasising the crucial role of a strong and accountable school leadership team. The MEC has also spoken of the need for shortlisted candidates for principal posts to be subjected to a competency test as a means of ensuring the most suitable candidate is appointed. Her education department has been the only one in the country to implement the test successfully.

Higher education institutions have repeatedly pointed fingers at the basic education sector for producing learners who battle to cope at tertiary level. It is well documented that dysfunctional schools lie at the heart of this problem. Weak principals who don’t have a clue about curriculum management or how to manage their teachers, among other things, are largely to blame for the dismal matric results their schools produce with alarming regularity.

Educationists across the world say a principal’s poor leadership is one of the main causes of his or her school’s chronic underperformance. Bad management often leads to poor learner discipline and a lack of commitment and passion from teachers. That is precisely why the department of basic education should be applauded for insisting that, nationally, aspirant principals write the test. These assessments, according to the department, will be used to measure educators’ leadership knowledge, competence and expertise. The assessment will not be the only criterion used to appoint principals, but will form part of a comprehensive system of support.

It is shocking that, over the past financial year, 93% of candidates appointed as principals in eight provinces did not write the test, because provincial departments did not set the tests. If we are serious about wanting our children to have a well-rounded, holistic education at school, we need to make sure we appoint strong, imaginative principals to lead schools. Giving them a competency test will help achieve this.

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