Building a better future, one school principal at a time

School principals in disadvantaged communities face a Herculean task. They grapple with gangsterism, drugs, children coming to school hungry, absentee staff and pupils – the list is overwhelming. Yet they strive to run successful schools and keep their staff motivated to deliver quality education. Many of them do so without any formal leadership or management training.

The Principals Academy Trust, a non-profit organisation founded in 2012, is changing this by offering much needed support to school principals in under-resourced areas in the Western Cape. In partnership with the UCT Graduate School of Business (GSB), Capitec, other corporates and private funds and supported by the Western Cape Department of Education, the Academy has collaboratively designed and developed a unique leadership development programme that seeks to give these principals the support they lack – so that they can run more successful schools that nurture the country’s future talent more effectively.

Bruce Probyn, retired principal of Herschel Girls School and a member of the Academy, explains “you can’t imagine the conditions these principals have to teach under. They have to be massively resilient to handle these problems, to keep going, and to motivate their staff to see the potential in each pupil, without the resources and amenities available at model-C and private schools”.

Probyn is one of eight ex-principals at the Academy who now fill mentoring roles. He stresses that the key to the Academy’s success lies in getting ex-principals to support current principals. He says, “we’ve all sat in that chair, and because of that the principals open up to us. We form very open, honest relationships. We use principals who have run schools of excellence to become coaches and mentors and to share their knowledge and experience.

“We certainly do not tell anyone how to run their schools, we offer a supportive relationship.”

Now in its sixth year, the highly successful Principals Management Development Programme is run at the GSB during school holidays, as this is the only time the principals are able to attend. And this year, the GSB has announced that it will offer the programme at cost – to enable it to expand its reach and impact.

Kumeshnee West, Director of Executive Education at the GSB, explains why the GSB thinks it important to intervene at this level. “The Principals Management Development Programme aligns with our mission to develop leaders for this country and this continent. Principals directly impact the development of our future leaders.

“Through the management and leadership skills developed on this programme, principals are able to lead and manage their schools more effectively, manage their resources more effectively and create innovative solutions to the educational and societal problems they face.

“Because we believe so strongly in this programme and have seen the impact it is having – we have decided to remove the profit margin so that we can ensure that more principals can access its phenomenal content. I believe that this decision gives substance to our commitment to leadership development,” she says.

The programme consists of up to 16 days of contact time per year and strengthens leadership capabilities through systems thinking, personal mastery and financial management.

“The GSB puts a lot of emphasis on personal mastery and changing the way people think about themselves and their schools,” Probyn says. He believes that “once you have a change of culture within a school, it has a ripple effect. Motivated principals with good leadership skills can build reciprocal respect. Once you have reciprocal respect the results fall into place.”

And the programme has shown results. Every school on the programme has seen an increase in the number of students who wrote National Senior Certificate exams, the number of students who passed the exams, and the number of Bachelor level passes. School principals have been the driving force behind this change.

Issued by:Rothko on behalf of the UCT Graduate School of Business