‘Brave Stretch’ 2020: continuity and change for a sustainable future

| September 9, 2019 | 0 Comments


This year, ISASA marks two milestones: its founding 90 years ago and its development from the Independent Schools Council (ISC) to today’s ISASA.

During my first five years as executive director of ISASA, much of what has taken place has been spent on doing the work that is required to keep an organisation of this nature moving forward. Last year, we turned to recording what had been achieved, in the Five-Year Review. This year, the focus has shifted to the need to evaluate what has been accomplished and to reflect on how to proceed so as to further the goals and aspirations of membership. With this in mind, we are engaged in a strategic planning process. As we reflect on what has been achieved and what more is still possible, it has been interesting to find that much of what had been envisaged in Brave Stretch has been realised. Twentyone years ago, Brave Stretch was the strategic planning process that resulted in the formation of ISASA. The principles forged by Brave Stretch to respond to the demands of a democratic South Africa still seem to have relevance in all that ISASA continues to do and believe and aspire towards. Those in office in the organisation back in 1998 were courageous and bold in understanding that the status quo would be unable to meet the demands of the 21st century. Their response was an elegant proposal of nine principles to move the organisation forward – a brave stretch. Our forbearers arrived at three realisations: that the independent schooling sector’s health could not be divorced from the health and welfare of education as a whole; that this shared condition made innovation necessary, as ‘more of the same’ was not going to be enough; and that fortunately, the substantial expertise that existed in the sector could and should be leveraged for the national good. They asked three questions that defined the parameters of Brave Stretch:

• Who are we?

• What do we do?

• How do we do what we do?

In answering these questions, the ISC declared itself to be ‘a growing association of Southern African Independent schools and other related organisations’. The narrow criteria for membership had to be discarded. This growth was to be achieved by including members from other southern African countries and becoming more inclusive by extending membership criteria, without compromising core values, to allow applications from schools that were previously not considered for membership. The ISC declared its core function had to ‘ensure, enable and encourage world best educational practice amongst [its] member organisations, and at large’. So, best practice was to become the focus, quality education was to be benchmarked against international standards, and quality education could not be the preserve of the independent educational sector. It was imperative that quality independent education had to seek to extend its excellence to the entire educational system. Now that the ISC understood its who and what, it answered the doing portion by setting out nine principles of action.

Principle one

The first principle of Brave Stretch was that of ‘recognising and maintaining [ISC’s] strengths and achievements within the existing organisation’. This has been realised through regular ISASA, SAHISA and SABISA meetings, annual general meetings, strategic planning sessions and detailed reporting – for example, in quarterly executive director reports and in last year’s Five-Year Review.

Principle two

The second principle of ‘enhancing our influence in national education affairs’ has been achieved through ISASA’s regular and rigorous engagement with government, in the media and with other stakeholders. Furthermore, ISASA provides a range of documents and advice on regulations and governance to membership through its dedicated ISASA Policy Unit and the workshops of its Professional Development Programme.

Principle three

Principle three remains central to the work of ISASA, which is that we achieve our vision by ‘attracting new schools and organisations, by being more inclusive and by encouraging diversity’. There has certainly been progress in this regard, as evidenced by the dramatic increase in the diversity of schools in membership; expanded categories of membership; an aligned set of affinity groups (deputies, marketers, human resource managers); a vibrant corporate associate interface; and the promotion of school diversity through the ISASA toolkit and related workshops.

Principle four

‘Promoting partnerships, networking and interdependence while recognising the autonomy of members’ remains a focus today. ISASA is clear that it is not a governing body, and believes the autonomy of schools is one of the strengths of the sector. However, the association has always encouraged members to appreciate that individual school interests are best served by ensuring the well-being of the independent schooling sector as a whole.

Principle five

The delivery of ‘cost-effective innovations and timeous professional, research and organisational services to members’ constitutes the fifth principle. Through its numerous and highquality services across policy, advocacy, international contacts, best practice, professional development, vacancies advertising and individual school advice (on request), ISASA’s professional services remain without peer in southern Africa.

Principle six

ISASA holds that ‘establishing, maintaining and enhancing standards by providing appraisal, assessment and quality assurance procedures for global best practice benchmarks or targets for members’ is essential to the preservation of the sector’s reputation. Out of ISASA, the Independent Quality Assurance Agency (IQAA) was formed. Consequently, IQAA provides appraisal, assessment and quality assurance procedures for best practice. Out of a sound self-assessment instrument, which is comparable to international best practice, ISASA members can confidently declare that they are quality schools.

Principle seven

Central to the role of ISASA is to continually ‘identify, secure and develop educator and leadership resources for the industry’. Principle seven is addressed through the Leadership Development Programme, interactive conferences and workshops.

Principle eight

Principle eight outlines the importance of ‘preserving the legitimate interests and expectations of sectors or minorities’. ISASA supports, and continues to attract, a broad range of membership – from faith-based schools to those with alternate philosophical approaches and varied curricula. It also maintains collegial and collaborative relations with affinity groups, such as the deputies, marketers, human resource managers and the corporate associates.

Principle nine

Over 20 years ago, principle nine sought to safeguard the sustainability of the organisation by ‘providing representative, executive and administrative structures and resources that will ensure achievement of objectives and sustainable growth, both regionally and nationally’. ISASA continues to live this principle through its regional directors and regional committees, adequately staffed ISASA office and the prudent financial management that has resulted in the formation of the ISASA Trust. ISASA’s vision has remained firmly anchored to its proud history and tradition of excellence. It still strives to represent, promote and protect the common interests of the broader membership as the largest and most representative independent schools association in southern Africa, while empowering the independent schooling sector to continue to provide quality education. As we consider what the coming years will bring, we are mindful of the challenges we will need to address if we are to continue to thrive and deliver value to our diverse membership. Our next strategic plan must move ISASA forward to ensure it continues to offer relevant membership and reliable support where schools need it most. We must identify the values and traits we consider integral to addressing the challenges we face. As we undertake this next step, let it be a brave one; a courageous and optimistic stride that requires a stretch to achieve it. And, lest we think we did it all ourselves, let us remember the words of Sir Isaac Newton, who famously said, ‘If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.’ Everything that has been achieved in the past five years has been possible due to the strong vessel we inherited. This strength can be attributed to two main characteristics: quality and values. The success of ISASA can be traced to these factors, which were identified 21 years ago. Inclusiveness to serve a broader public purpose is what safeguards the independence of the sector and our member schools to pursue their distinctive missions. It is said, ‘We don’t inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children’. In much the same way, ISASA strives to protect, promote and augment quality independent education for its membership’s future pupils as much as for its current ones. There is a singular way that this can continue: by welcoming those independent schools that are of quality and are aligned with ISASA’s values.

Category: Spring 2019

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