By Lebogang Montjane
This article is dedicated to the late Sandile Ndaba, director: Policy and Government Relations for the Independent Schools Association of Southern Africa (ISASA).
His passing on 19 September 2015 is a great loss to ISASA. As an independent-minded person, during his career Sandile had served both government and civil society organisations for the advancement of quality education for South Africa’s children. In government, he was a teacher with the Department of Basic Education and then later served as a senior civil servant at the Council for Quality Assurance in General and Further Education and Training (Umalusi). After leaving Umalusi, he was later appointed by the Minister of Basic Education to serve on the council of Umalusi. Within civil society organisations, he worked with the Catholic Institute of Education (CIE) and later in his career, he joined ISASA from Umalusi. His work at ISASA resulted in him being a treasured board member of the Independent Examinations Board (IEB) and the Independent Quality Assurance Agency (IQAA), as well as the previous and present chair of the National Alliance of Independent Schools Associations (NAISA).
Sandile’s skills illustrated at Umalusi conference
Due to this breadth of experience, Sandile was an exceptional contributor to the thinking and strategic direction that the independent schooling sector has taken. He had an incisive mind that was able to encapsulate the salient points of an argument, whilst identifying the weaknesses of what was presented to him. Having considered various views, he would then deliver a persuasive interpretation of why his summation, with augmented reasons, should be the direction the decision should go. This ability is well illustrated in the paper he delivered at the Umalusi Independent Schools Conference on 22 August 2015. An edited version of this paper can be found on page 14 of this magazine.
It was arguably one of the best, if not the most impressive, paper at the Umalusi conference, in which Sandile critiqued the present independent schools’ regulatory framework as administered by Umalusi. On the first day of the conference, I argued that the present policy erred towards an inspectorate rather than quality assurance. Characteristically, when Sandile delivered his paper the next day, I marvelled at how superbly he articulated our shared perspective.
Quality Standards NEASC
At the same conference, Cameron Staples, president and chief executive officer of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), explained how NEASC (founded in 1885 and the oldest regional accrediting association in the United States) has developed an accreditation system that measures quality rather than merely inspecting its member schools. NEASC’s premise for accreditation is that schools must be recognised for their quality and that they should have a climate of self-renewal and reflection, as well as criteria for a standards base. They should also understand their mission and goals, whilst constantly implementing a school improvement process.
Since their accreditation is self-driven, prior to a school commencing the accreditation process NEASC enquires through an internal self-study and external peer review process, whether a school is:
- committed to improvement
- ready to conduct a self-study
- has the resources to conduct a self-study
- understands the self-study process.
In order to ascertain whether a school is of quality, through a volunteer peer review team that focuses on the school’s strategic plan, an institution’s pedagogical practices are observed, commendations and recommendations are offered and follow-up visits are made, in keeping with the concept of a cyclical structure.
Staples juxtaposed the NEASC accreditation process with an inspectorate model. He stated that when schools are inspected annually rather than appraised, teachers are evaluated and government-paid inspectors assign summative ratings based on the school as it presently ‘is’, rather than an institution’s reassessment being undertaken on a cyclical basis. On this continuum, the Umalusi Policy and Criteria for Quality Assurance, Accreditation and Monitoring of Independent Schools and Private Assessment Bodies (Accreditation Policy),1 as currently conceived, would fall within the inspectorate sphere.
Cyclical self-study serves us better
According to this schema, the philosophical approach adopted by IQAA is more aligned to the accreditation system of NEASC, since its process is school-driven, with schools having to ascertain whether they are equipped to undergo a self-study of their institution to probe whether they are meeting, failing or exceeding their institutional missions. Although IQAA does not have peer reviewers, it makes use of mentors who assist schools to critically evaluate themselves, allocating praise where earned and highlighting areas for self-improvement.
More importantly, the IQAA quality assurance process occurs every six years with no interim reporting, making it cyclical in nature. A self-evaluative system is far more likely to instil a culture of self-improvement than one which awaits for its score from an external authority. As educators, we know that the best students are those who take ownership and responsibility for their learning. Pupils who primarily or solely rely on instructors for their education are limited to that teachers’ knowledge. Likewise with schools, if the evaluative system is not self-driven, then it will not encourage striving for constant improvement, but will tend rather to try begrudgingly meet whatever expectation is externally imposed. ISASA membership is an acknowledgement of a school’s quality and the IQAA periodic chance for deep reflection is an opportunity to confirm whether your institution’s quality endures.
Umalusi uses inspectorate model
Comparatively, Umalusi’s Accreditation Policy claims to be a seven-year cycle, whilst in effect it requires continuous monitoring since those “[C]ompliant independent schools are accredited to offer a qualification on the General and Further Education and Training Sub-framework of qualifications and the related curriculum/programme for a period of seven years and are subject to biennial monitoring to ensure improvement and maintenance of standards”.
In comparison with the NEASC framework, this is a continuous monitoring system commensurate with an inspectorate. Although the Umalusi accreditation system charges a fee, the people who come and inspect independent schools are paid by this government agency. In terms of a snapshot assessment, the Umalusi evaluation system imposes institutional policy templates, which are often generated for the purpose of an Umalusi evaluation. On a recent visit to an ISASA member school, a person was lauded to me for her ability to generate Umalusi policies. It therefore seems that the Umalusi accreditation process is seen as a separate undertaking to a school’s teaching and learning objectives. This is not dissimilar to cramming for an examination, only to forget the material immediately after it is completed. A further indicator that the Umalusi Accreditation Policy is part of an inspectorate spectrum is the fact that its instrument allocates marks to each criteria under scrutiny.
Salient advice from Sandile Ndaba
At the Umalusi Independent Schools conference, it was intimated that the Accreditation Policy would be placed under review. The hope of ISASA is that Umalusi does amend its Accreditation Policy, with the aim of endeavouring foremost to recognise those schools that regularly illustrate that they are institutions of quality. It is crucial that those independent schools which volunteer to perform self-evaluative studies on a periodic basis, through agencies such as IQAA, be recognised for their commitment to binding their schools to ongoing improvements. If this were to occur, then Umalusi would have heeded the salient advice of its former employee and council member, Sandile Ndaba.
1. See: http://www.umalusi.org.za/list.php?type=Policies.
2. See: http://www.umalusi.org.za/docs/policy/2013/schools_bodies.pdf.
Category: Summer 2015