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All together now – a workable corporate social responsibility model

| September 11, 2010

Steuart Pennington – a Michaelhouse alumnus and former teacher at some well-respected independent schools, wanted to contribute to improving public schooling.

Pennington is CEO of South Africa – the Good News, a website dedicated to celebrating genuine South African socio-economic development. Tired of stories about the ongoing challenges in state schools, Pennington set out to learn as much as he could. His research led him to some disturbing discoveries. “I learned what many educationalists had known for some time: that 5% of our schools are truly world class, 15% have just enough to provide a good education, and 80% are dysfunctional.”

Understanding dysfunctionality

Pennington saw that many corporates simply didn’t understand the concept of social responsibility in schools in a practical way. He was also mindful of Minister for Basic Education Angie Motshekga’s call for the private sector to get more involved in education.

Having visited 50 or so urban, peri-urban and rural schools, Pennington also learned from the Joint Education Trust ( JET) that “topperforming schools receive most attention from donors and business organisations, threshold schools that function well enough are able to absorb additional resources and increase their output, so
receive some funding, but dysfunctional schools that make up 80% of schools in South Africa receive little support from the business or donor community”.

Pennington then probed deeper into the nature of this dysfunctionality. “I thought it might be useful to ask three key questions: does effective learning and teaching take place in the school (the instructional aspect), does the school have the resources it needs to enable a learning environment (the infrastructural aspect), and how well is
the school managed (the regulatory aspect)?

“It became clear to me that we need to get corporate resources into poor schools. I then developed a process that could be used to develop a simple baseline evaluation tool from the three perspectives mentioned above – the process takes one day and can be used by a person who does not necessarily have a background in education – and formed TogetherSchools (TS), a Section 21 company. We use both quantitative and qualitative techniques to help corporate assess what schools need.”

First interviews, then an analysis

Corporates can contact TS (the evaluation of over 50 schools has already been done with organisations like Volkswagen, Joe Public advertising agency, the David Rattray Foundation and Deloitte and Touche) should they want to make a difference at a school, adds TS manager and previous Head of Redhill School, Lynn Rivett-Carnac.

Alternatively, a school may alert TS to a glaring problem. The first step is to interview, in separate groups, the Principal and Deputy Principal, the staff, the learners and finally the school governing body. “We ask each group a similar set of questions, and of course we get very different answers. We might ask, at a very poor school, if you had R1 000 and you wanted to improve something at school, what would you do first?

A comprehensive, easy-to-use quantitative analysis follows the interviews. “When I worked in the corporate sector, I developed ‘best practice’ evaluation techniques using three ‘levels’. If we are evaluating, say, school toilets, level 1 would mean that the toilets are broken, level 2 that they are dirty but functional, and level 3 that they are pristine. Our evaluation methodology, using these levels, measures physical infrastructure (11 measures), environmental standards (eight measures), learning (22 measures) and operations (10 measures),” Pennington explains.

With some training, the process can be completed in a morning by a team of two or three people, says Rivett-Carnac, and provides data for the compilation of a list of short-, medium- and long-term needs. The emphasis is on whole school improvement. “If a company wants to get involved with the improvement of Maths or Science at a school, they need to understand that there are usually more basic and pressing issues requiring attention if there’s to be any chance at all for success in any area at any level,” she points out.

“You can’t achieve results in a school that’s not safe, where facilities are unhygienic, or where nutrition is poor. It’s that simple,” remarks Pennington.

IQAA another kind of model

TS’s analysis is not intended to catch every deep-seated problem that may have become part of a school’s ‘hidden curriculum’. “There are thousands of dysfunctional
schools in the country, so our priority at TS is to create a model that will give a quick overall picture of the state of a school, and can be easily used by people who are not education specialists. We teach people how to use the model, and then we hand it over. The skills transfer is critical, because that makes it scalable.” Rivett-Carnac is no stranger to school quality assurance. She’s also involved with training teachers to use the Independent Quality Assurance Agency (IQAA) model in their own schools. “The IQAA model has its origin in the efforts of ISASA, and its major operation is based on the independent school sector. IQAA is, however, available to provide quality
assurance of any school. The average expected level of functionality at an independent school is at a level of 2½, using Pennington’s grading system. But the IQAA model would never work in a lot of the schools we visit, because there aren’t enough passionate, motivated, engaged teachers available to manage this internally-driven process.”

Pennington takes the point further.

“We wanted to create a model that indicated a baseline for functionality. It just doesn’t occur to a lot of companies that kids might be so hungry that they faint in class, or the hygiene reasons why so many girls don’t come to school when they’re menstruating. “The intent to help is there, but it’s no good, for example, just recycling a
container-load of computers to a school that doesn’t have access to a consistent electricity supply.”

Corporates usually also can’t solve the quality of classroom instruction. “We are not here to do the important work of the Department of Education or of nongovernmental
organisations. We show a corporate how to assess a school’s needs. Then they can see that ‘It’s a one here, and a two here, and if you push that one to a two, you’re going to improve the environment for these students’. And we say, in a year’s time, let’s visit the school again to repeat the process, because corporates also want to see results.”

One of the biggest problems with corporate social responsibility in the South African education sector, says Pennington, is that millions has been wasted on unevaluated education projects. TS goes as far as asking corporates not to give money to schools. “It encourages corruption and invites the development of a complete sense of dependency on the source of the cash. It’s far better to give money to a local feeding scheme or to the local computer company, on the understanding that they will use it to maintain the local school’s network or server,” adds Rivett-Carnac.

Once a potential match has been made, TS facilitates a ‘contract’ between the school and the company and provides a range of tools to the corporate; including a costing exercise, an advisory service and the introduction of best-of-breed suppliers (whether NGOs or companies) to implement the changes required over a particular time. The investment should result in improved performance and results.

The TS model could enrich independent schools’ outreach work Both Rivett-Carnac and Pennington think the TS model could be useful to independent schools. “Most of these schools have well-developed outreach programmes, and partnerships with schools in need. We could train the outreach staff to share the TS model with their partner schools, and perhaps Grade 12 students could be taught to help with the evaluations and follow-up assessments.”
TS recently facilitated another good match between an Alrode South pipemanufacturing company called Rare, linking it to Capricorn Technical High
School. Says Rivett-Carnac: “It’s a poor school, ill-equipped, often vandalised and unable to offer adequate technical training. Rare needs young matriculants
who know how to weld and wire up electrical boards properly.” Pennington reckons the ‘each one teach one’ approach means the TS model could have been used in over 200 schools by now. “We’re just trying to help restore dignity to schools, and to change the thinking around how companies and schools should work together,” he says simply.

Contact Steuart Pennington at Tel: + 27 (11) 463 5713, Fax: 086 669 8052, Email: Connect Lynn Rivett-Carnac at


Category: Spring 2010 Edition

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