The Old Mutual Education Flagship Project (OMEFP), a multi-partner national initiative that set out to boost education at under-performing public secondary schools in South Africa, has come to an end. The seven-year programme had two main objectives: to increase the number of Grade 12 learners passing maths and science, and to build the management and leadership capacity of under-performing schools. The core focus of the project was to improve learner outcomes by strengthening the leadership, management and teaching capabilities of these schools. It was envisaged that matric learners would be able to pursue tertiary education and would eventually be included in the broader economy.
A strategic review of the project indicates that over R265 million to date was invested and 225 000 learners at 327 schools in four provinces were reached (the Eastern Cape, the Free State, Limpopo and KwaZulu- Natal). While significant progress was made as a result of this investment, return on investment proved difficult to measure in some respects.
As such, Old Mutual has decided to change its focus during the next phase of the project, which is due to be rolled out between 2020 and 2024. The programme will be redesigned to prioritise outcomes rather than reach, and monitoring and evaluation will receive more attention.
Addressing weaknesses in the public-school system
It is well known that South African school children often fail to acquire numeracy and literacy skills, and learners entering Grade 1 start from a low base. Research conducted in 2016 (PIRLS 2016) showed that 78% of Grade 4 learners could not read for meaning in any language, and 2015 research showed that 61% of Grade 5 learners could not do basic mathematics (TIMSS-N 2015). The aim is to fill chronic gaps in the curriculum, as well as strengthen the institutional capacity of the public-school system.
Old Mutual will conduct a scoping exercise, the outcomes of which will inform the company’s future strategy along with the goals set out in the National Development Plan 2030 (NDP), as well as collaborate with the respective Provincial Departments Of Education in order to scale up learning interventions.
Effective leadership development
Because leadership plays such a crucial role in influencing educational outcomes, it will remain an ongoing focus for Old Mutual. The company has invested heavily in research into how leadership methodologies inform behaviours and decision making central to instructional leadership, conducted under the auspices of the Seed Educational Trust.
This research will inform Old Mutual’s strategy in the foreseeable future. The research has identified dominant leadership styles of school and district leaders in 750 schools around the country. It sets out to understand organisational culture and the development of a new leadership culture that would support effective management and leadership in contexts with challenging and complex socio economic matters, and will recommend remedies for various challenges, such as embracing collaborative behaviour where low levels of trust and ineffective teamwork have been identified.
The second piece of research funded looked at the most effective ways of developing teachers and school leaders in South African Schools and the role coaching and mentoring plays in this regard. The findings show that 73% of practitioners plying their trade in South Africa’s basic education sector mostly regard themselves as coaches or mentors. This is divided equally between those who consider themselves coaches and those who consider themselves mentors at 36.5% respectively. The other 27% of practitioners regard themselves as being ‘thinking partners’ (14%), facilitators, whether learning process facilitators, or simply facilitators (18%).
Most of the practitioners have experience in excess of 10 years in the fields of coaching and mentoring and have some form of professional qualification. However, only 22% of these have more than 10 years’ experience at offering these services in schools and districts. This information has implications for the education sector given that this is a sector that is highly complex and challenging to work in, experience therefore is a valuable commodity.
The research aligns with Old Mutual’s aim of not only improving leadership within South African schools, but to create a model of governance that can be adopted beyond the classroom – that is, at circuit, district and provincial level.