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    It's not the Grade 12 results that determine a functional School

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    Every time I ask a school principal a question about the functionality of their school, I always get the grade 12 pass rate. I have also come to realize that even parents make the same mistake when they choose the school for their children, especially at high school level. This is a wrong approach and a wrong narrative punted by education officials, especially at the highest level. There is more to the functioning of a school.

    Few years ago when the education department in Gauteng used a program of Secondary School Improvement Plan (SSIP) it seemed like that was to be done for a few years to assist township schools to lift their results for the benefit of the African child. But has this process assisted to develop schools, not at all. Instead, it has created a dependent school system that cannot stand on its own. It has created a double teaching process that requires a grade 12 learner taught by two different teachers in order to succeed at the end of the grade 12 year. It has also created a longer extra administration for the township principal and SMT, as they have to comply with the tick sheet of the registers on a weekly basis. This process has proven to be ignore the rest of the grades behind in favour of the grade 12 learner.

    Many schools with acceptable grade 12 results have a very concerning Grade 8 - 11 results, which mostly go unnoticed and neglected. This misplaced focus is creating a challenge in the junior classes that always play catch-up when they reach grade 12 level. I have conducted a study amongst the consistently high performing “former model C schools” and realized that many if not all of them have never been part of this SSIP program and yet they achieve higher levels of grade 12 passes with quality results. With further probing, I found out that the difference between these schools and township schools is:

    • QUALITY OF LEADERSHIP AND GOVERNANCE: A well and competent leadership is the difference maker within the school setup. Complementing this team is another team of well-meaning and capacitated SGB which has the interest of the children at heart not just for the interim but for the long time after they exit the office. These two teams work together to ensure that there are enough programs which improve the quality of teaching, the quality of monitoring, fundraising and a well-oiled bank balance that goes beyond just maintaining the school but also ensuring that there is enough to use more resourceful staff to complement the work of the teachers. Quality leadership steers the ship well, ensuring that creative ideas to advance teaching and learning are sort and implemented successfully. 
    • BUDGET: The school with enough budget can take staff to strategic planning sessions to look at the functioning of the school at all levels every year to review the progress of the school. It is the budget that enables the school to use more teachers so that the school can be able to reduce the class sizes. When the school has enough budget, it's able to hire extra teachers to offer remedial classes even if they can be available twice a week at the level of Grade 8, 9, and 10 so that by the time the learners get to grade 12, they have received enough grounding in the critical subjects. Does the department have this amount to distribute to schools for this project? If we look at it now, it may tempt us to say they cannot afford it. But if we look at how much is being spent on these SSIP programs and other camps, perhaps the money can be raised and allocated to schools, even if it is at a small scale in the beginning. 

    The emergence of COVID-19 has helped expose some key challenges within the schooling system. Perhaps this is the opportunity to work towards reversing this “mistake” which is mainly exhausting the department of the funds which could be directed appropriately to the relevant grades and solve the major long-term problem sustainably. 

    In the beginning of this piece, I presented that the functionality of every school, with performing learners, needs to go beyond just the grade 12 results and focus on all grades. I have touched also on the importance of leadership in SGB and the SMT of the school as other determinants of the functionality of the school. One area highly exposed during this year of turmoil is the time tabling with observance to social distancing. It was very disturbing to realize that some learners in certain schools have gone to school only one week or two in a month, which raises serious questions of consistency. Again, the former “model C” schools have gone way ahead of the township schools as their learners continued to learn through technology while the township school learners were lounging at home enjoying the break which makes it difficult for them to catch-up with the learner from the other side who has been consistent with learning.

    Can the African Child afford the subjection to this kind of inequality forever? This is a question to be answered by all resuscitation leaders prepared to dare the status quo and look at things differently to bring the stability and functionality in the township school for the benefit of the marginalized and downtrodden communities. It is time for us as a country and leaders to look into changing things for the benefit of our future generations.

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