- An Equal Education Law Centre report says when assessing underperforming schools, academic performance overshadows concerns over other issues like school safety.
- The report suggests school governing bodies should be given the power to hold underperforming schools accountable.
- It also recommends a holistic approach to underperforming schools to ensure black and coloured pupils are not left behind.
Shortage of study material, poverty and violence are some adverse conditions plaguing South African schools.
While these conditions have dire consequences on the performance of teachers and pupils, they are hardly considered when looking into ways to support underperforming schools.
This according to research by the Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) into underperforming schools in the country.
The report stated at least “80% of schools are dysfunctional, and most of these schools serve black and coloured learners”.
The researchers said despite improvements, deep inequalities continue in the education system. They cited data from the General Household Survey that indicated the percentage of youths who completed Grade 12 was approximately 44.9% in 2009 and 53.8% in 2018.
“This shows an overall increase, but a deeper look into these statistics shows that there is still much to do in terms of empowering and advancing black and coloured youths.
“The completion rates of African and coloured youths were at 51.6 and 52.5%, respectively, whereas for Indian and white youths, the rates were 81.9 and 81.1%, respectively.
“It is hard to applaud a general increase in stats when on a deeper level, the exclusionary effects of apartheid still exist on a bigger scale than one would expect in a post-apartheid South Africa.”
When dealing with underperforming schools, the EELC argued, the department concentrated on academic performance, neglecting other socioeconomic factors.
Schools are classified as underperforming if their matric exam pass rate is below 65% and produce less than 30% of bachelor and diploma passes.
The criteria do not mention other issues like violence and bad school management.
“Failure to meet the standards prescribed by the National Curriculum Statement is one of the three criteria for underperformance…; the other two being breakdown in school management and threats to safety.
The report said the focus on academic performance also extended to the annual reports principals must prepare. These reports only focus on academic performance and use of school resources, ignoring external factors.
The EELC said the heads of department (HOD) should be more involved in developing a School Improvement Plan. Currently, their role is only to review the plan and make recommendations.
“The provincial education departments have noted that, in practice, support from the HOD in developing the School Improvement Plan is very limited.
“Further, it is for the principal to implement the plan, albeit with the support of the HOD, and report back at the end of the year.
“While there is value in the school being able to develop and own the School Improvement Plan, the existing regulatory framework fails to recognise that the school principal and leadership team are often part of the problem and may lack the will or capacity to turn the situation around. The HOD should be more closely involved from the outset to guarantee meaningful change.”
The EELC recommended parents and school governing bodies be given powers to hold underperforming schools accountable.
“School governing bodies should be trained and capacitated to provide effective oversight. Parents should be supplied with expanded school reports detailing how the school is performing according to set criteria, such as enrolment numbers and teacher turnover, both in absolute terms and in comparison with other schools in the district.
“As it stands, the regulatory framework for school underperformance is failing to secure quality education for all learners. It must be reformed to facilitate a holistic approach to school performance. Otherwise, black and coloured learners in poor and rural communities will continue to be left behind.”
The organisation argued the department needed to have a “clear-sighted, reflective, tailored and holistic approach to improving school functionality. In this way, the transformative vision of the Constitution can be realised, and truly equal education achieved”.