Situational leadership: the Principals Management Development Programme

| November 14, 2012 | 0 Comments

Founder of the J&J Development Projects Trust,1 Jay Naidoo, says that “fixing the education challenges starts with the most important person in the school – the principal”.

Arecent article for South Africa: The Good News,2 revealed just how central the role of the principal is in a school. Journalist Nadia Rossouw told the story of Phumzile Langa, head at Khanyisa Secondary School in Montebello, in a far-flung corner of Ndwedwe in KwaZulu- Natal. Langa’s story mirrors many others in the education sector. A teacher for many years, she found herself in a leadership role in this public school with a dismal matric pass rate. The school’s location in a rural setting was also a distinct disadvantage. Like countless others around the country, it’s located in a community strained by high levels of illiteracy and poverty.

Langa herself drives a total of 180 km to work and back each day to preside over a staff of only 10 teachers (of that number, only six are permanent appointments), who must instruct 315 students. She can never be sure that staff members – who are frequently underqualified – will stick around for the long haul. On top of that, she faces the challenge of stretching a limited budget as far as possible.

Undeterred by challenges

However, Langa hasn’t allowed circumstances to defeat her. In four-and-a-half years, she has racked up an impressive set of achievements, including raising the pass rate to 70% and designing workable management systems, which has meant a dramatic improvement in the effectiveness of the school management team and increased involvement of the school governing body and the parents. Langa also organised a system to monitor absenteeism and compliance with school rules, and set up extra tuition sessions and structured revision programmes for Grade 12 pupils. Showing great foresight, she set up a system whereby these students can rent rooms with local community members to enable them to be near to school to attend extra classes.

In this moving story, Rossouw explains that Langa has come to understand other key leadership qualities. She makes sure she has daily contact time with learners, and stresses an open-door policy to address problems as they arise.

The PMDP upgrades management skills

Langa was one of 50 school principals selected to take part in the 2009 pilot of an eight-month development programme to equip school principals with management practices that correlate directly with effective school performance and assessment outcomes.

The Principals Management Development Programme (PMDP) is run jointly by a consortium of three organisations in KwaZulu-Natal – the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), multinational professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers and organisational performance improvement company Performance Solutions Africa (PSA). The programme has incorporated these management practices in a way that facilitates a rapid and practical upgrade of management skills for school principals.

The PMDP is a response to research undertaken by the Department of Basic Education (DBE), which, in its Strategic Plan for 2010-2013, set out six key objectives aimed at addressing critical education challenges. One of these objectives is ‘Developing School Leadership’, recognising “the key role that principals play in the functionality of schools in order to create the conditions through which quality learning and teaching can take place”.3

Good principal = good school

Following the successful pilot of the PMDP programme in 2009 – participating schools achieved an average improvement in their matric results of 12.3% against a provincial improvement of 3.5% – provincial education authorities, in conjunction with the consortium, extended the programme to more than 1 200 schools over a three-year period. Says Barbara Njapha, who manages the programme, the PMDP was born of the premise that “good principal = good school”. “We aligned corporate sector development training in basic management competencies with DBE requirements,” she specifies.

Njapha is keen to explain the nuts and bolts further. “What differentiates the PMDP from other programmes is that it combines workshop training with focused coaching and mentoring. It involves a set of tools that can be used by the principal and the management team to improve delivery of quality teaching and learning.

“Each module is delivered at a ‘college’ (a ward-based venue), which brings together school principals and their DBE ward or circuit education managers as core participants. The training takes place outside normal working hours and runs for an eight-hour period. This is followed by approximately two hours of individual coaching per principal per module at participants’ schools.

“Our programme is also unique in that it is co-funded by the DBE together with the Anglo American Chairman’s Fund, J&J Development Projects Trust, the Development Bank of Southern Africa and other private funders. “Its content has also been registered as a non-credit-bearing short course and is quality assured by UKZN.”

Grooming ‘situational leadership’

The content comprises six core, interlinked modules that align closely with international models for school principalship best practice: Direction and Planning, Curriculum Management, People Management, School Governance, Resource Acquisition and Management, and Financial Management. The programme includes baseline and summative assessments of principals and their schools, and requires that 24 outcomes across the six modules be applied in the school environment and signed off in order for principals to secure accreditation.

An external evaluation undertaken by Helene Perold and Associates4 in June 2011 drew the following conclusions:

  • Through the programme, the PMDP is grooming ‘situational leadership’ – turning school principals into leaders and managers who not only run their schools as organisations, but who are also influential within their communities and broader society.
  • The PMDP has demonstrated that it combines strategic vision with operational efficacy and has successfully engaged in some of the most difficult and intractable contexts of poverty and underdevelopment, with surprising results.
  • The PMDP has thus succeeded in overcoming barriers to the training of principals that many other programmes could not solve, and is able to deliver its programme at a scale none of the others have managed to reach.

Proof is in the principals

‘The proof is in the pudding’ goes the old saying. In this case, it’s in the principals. Says the head of Bhamu High School in Empangeni, “PMDP helped me to know what is expected of me as a manager.” At adjacent Nqumizwe High School, the head acknowledges that “we shared management and leadership experiences with the coach. The school management team will now be able to exercise authority without confrontations.” In the Sisonke district, a programme participant gave the following feedback: “This project has impacted positively on whole school planning. The aspect of staff recognition has revived the working spirit among the staff members and the swot analysis, curriculum tracker and operational plan were eye openers. We have now come to realise the importance of some policies, such as school safety and security.” From Lubisana Primary in the Ilembe district came the following telling remarks: “Initially I thought the programme was meant to expose the principals who are not performing their duties, but I’ve realised that it is not like that. I am proud of my role at school because of this programme. Before, I was not aware that communication is the key to all activities. Now the atmosphere has changed at my school.”

Making a difference

It’s comments like these, says Njapha, that let her and programme partners know that the PMDP is on the right track, and that their plans to deliver the initiative national are apposite. They also reveal how many principals are floundering without the most necessary knowledge, skills or support. At the most recent PMDP awards ceremony, for example, the head of Sibusisiwe Comprehensive High School in the Umlazi district, who participated in the 2010 programme roll-out, said in his acceptance speech: “[Our school] was without some of the necessary policy documents to guide and regulate day-to-day activities. Now, after attending the PMDP course, our school has an amended Code of Conduct for Learners, a customised Code of Ethics for Educators and a School Development Plan that speaks to the infrastructural and academic growth path for the school. This programme can make a difference. It has made one to me and our school.”


1. See, for example, programme-2011/.

2. Rossouw, N. (2012) ‘Education: is there any light at the end of the tunnel?’ Available at: archive/education_is_there_any_light_at_the_end_of_the_tunnel_.html.

3. See, for example,

4. Helene Perold and Associates is a Johannesburg-based consultancy specialising in project management, writing, publishing, research and strategic communication.

Category: Featured Articles, Summer 2012

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