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Principals get training

UCT Graduate School of Business is training principals to be better leaders and managers
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Poor education is at the root of many South African ills. One way to turn it around is to train school leaders to manage their resources to produce better outcomes – one man has made it his mission to do just that.

South Africa produces just a handful of matric maths and science graduates each year. Of the approximately one million children who enter the school system annually, only about 24 000 will write these subjects at higher grade level. Of these, about 14 000 will pass – and only 3 000 will be black.

This equation makes hiring young black talent extremely challenging in sectors such as engineering.

It is a situation that prompted Rick Haw, co-founder and former chief executive of Haw & Inglis, a Cape-based civil engineering company specialising in road construction and rehabilitation, to dig deeper into the reasons for the poor turnout of high school learners qualified to embark on engineering degrees.

“My research highlighted the problem of poor management and leadership as one of the major causes of poor performing schools. There are many examples of schools being very successful, even with poor facilities and infrastructure, because of the inspiring managerial and leadership qualities of the school principal,” he says.

Haw is particularly cognisant of the effects of management practices since doing his MBA at the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business (GSB) in 1975.

“I believe my MBA changed the way I managed and dealt with people. When I graduated as a civil engineer, I thought most problems could be fixed with a simple mathematically based engineering solution.

"The MBA taught me that many of the solutions to the problems associated with establishing a successful business are brought about by an understanding of individuals,” he says.

With this in mind, Haw approached the GSB to investigate the possibility of developing a course for school principals, which could help them achieve similar benefits.

The result is an innovative new programme that has been tailored to the needs of school managers and is intensely practical and focused on human relations.

Running for the first time this November, it will educate an initial intake of school principals using strategies modelled on the GSB’s world-class adult teaching and learning techniques.

To raise capital, Haw established the Principals Academy Trust, and his proposal has attracted the financial backing of a bank, private individuals and foundations to sponsor 20 delegates per year to participate in the programme.

More than double this number have applied for the inaugural intake, however, and more funding will be required to enlarge the programme, says Linda Buckley, director of Executive Education at the GSB.

“We are hugely excited at the interest we have received in this initiative,” she says, adding that it is the result of extensive collaboration between the school and the education system.

“We have taken a lot of time and care to ensure that what we have designed is what school managers and principals need to help them succeed,” Buckley says. “We all have a vested interest in making sure that this helps strengthen the education system in the country.”

The Executive Management Programme for School Leaders is modular and runs over 18 months. The first residential module covers personal mastery and managing complexity; the second module focuses on business acumen and includes topics on finance, technology, data management and the educational regulatory environment.

The third module is about managing people, teams and change, and includes topics on negotiation, mediation and developing staff.

“Managing a school in South Africa is a massive job and probably far more complex than running a business with a similar number of employees and clients. Many schools have 30 to 40 teaching staff, 900 to 1 200 pupils changing each year, 1 000 to 2 000 parents, a governing body, and teachers unions – and this all requires massive human relations skills,” says Haw.

The final module is for the presentation of the principals’ technical reports and action learning projects. Principals will be charged with designing a ‘relevant African school for the 21st century’.

Principals are expected to undertake at least one community project between each module and to attend school and community sessions on a rotational basis, which will involve visits to the schools of their course colleagues and discussions about their policies and practices.

Throughout the course, scholars will receive ongoing mentoring and coaching.

“Support as well as opportunities for the practical application of the learning is key to the success of this programme,” says Buckley.

“We see this programme as an opportunity for principals to master the leadership and management skills they need to excel as school leaders, irrespective of the context in which they work.

“We are very interested in evaluating the outcomes of this programme in the school environments where the learning is being applied, as the quality of education in this country affects us all,” she adds.

Haw says he hopes the programme will go some way toward creating centres of excellence for learning and help to turn schools into happy and sought-after places of learning, respected by the staff and the learners and the surrounding community and the country, by creating more skilled matriculants who are ready and able to go on to make a positive contribution to the economy.

“I strongly believe that the majority of South Africa's problems are due to a lack of education. I was fortunate to have attended and been educated by South Africa's best institutions and I feel a responsibility to give back," he says.

"An investment such as this, which can change the way one person manages and leads a school, turning it into a centre of excellence, can change the lives of thousands of people – not only the teaching staff and pupils but the parent body, the governing body and the whole surrounding community.”

For more information about the Executive Management Programme for School Leaders at the GSB, please contact Robyn Nefdt, Executive Education, UCT Graduate School of Business

Tel: (021) 406 1374
Fax: (021) 406 1462

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