District-level policy and practice for supporting instructional leadership by school principals in South Africa
Chuta, Vusumzi Hertzog
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Instructional leadership, as an approach to improve learning outcomes, has a long history dating back to the 19th century, when it involved an inspection system in countries such as England and Australia. Later, in the 1950s and 1960s, the focus was on how people in leadership positions can influence or improve learners’ scholastic performance. South Africa was not excluded from this trend. Leadership that helps to improve learner performance initially referred to school principals, but today the interest is in the way leaders at the level of districts support instructional leadership to improve learning outcomes. Instructional leadership has become even more important due to poor learning outcomes that persist despite ongoing supervision of schools by districts. The question being answered by this study is, what are the district-level policies and practices for supporting instructional leadership by school principals in South Africa? The design adopted for the study was a mixed methods sequential explanatory case study of three South African education districts. The data collection process involved a questionnaire survey consisting of closed questions, which was complemented by the use of one-on-one interview discussions held with the participants who responded to the questionnaires (school principals and district officials). The analysis of data followed a thematic approach, and involved codes being clustered into code families, or superordinate themes, which formed the basis of the discussion of the research findings. Among the key findings of this study is that there is confusion regarding the existence and knowledge of the district vision, to the extent that district officials communicated various messages on instructional matters to schools. Few district officials are knowledgeable about policies that support instructional leadership, and attempts to establish systems to coordinate and regulate instructional programmes have generally failed. Existing structures that support instructional leadership are not well coordinated; hence, schools receive conflicting messages, resulting in duplication of roles and support to schools. Instructional leadership practices for supporting instruction, if they exist at all, are not well planned and fully known by district officials directly assigned to support instructional leadership by school principals. Individuals serving in structures meant to support instructional leadership by school principals lack capacity and knowledge of the kind of practices and policies needed to support school principals. Regarding the structures that support instructional leadership by school principals, the study established that those serving in these structures lacked specialised knowledge and skills to support instructional leadership by school principals. Among the key recommendations of this study is that districts should be equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge on instructional leadership, so that staff are able to interpret policies and develop practices that support school principals to improve learning. In the wake of ever-changing demands on education districts to improve learner performance, there is a great need for regular refresher courses that are specially designed to support district officials designated to support instructional leadership by school principals. There should be intensification of recruitment and selection programmes, especially for district-based officials, so that they can support instructional leadership by school principals. Further research, specifically on the role and impact district directors and chief education specialists have on instructional leadership by school principals, is recommended with a view of suggesting realignment of recruitment and selection processes for both positions, with the ultimate goal of improving teaching and learning.