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Leadership impact on performance of primary schools

Published:Sunday | April 1, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Esther Tyson, Contributor

IN LAST month's column, I reviewed the reports prepared by the National Education Inspectorate (NEI) that are published on the Ministry of Education's website. Currently, only reports of those schools inspected in 2010 have been published. These reports are very informative and give an overview of what is happening in the schools inspected.

Twenty-three of the reports are on primary and all-age schools. Of the 23 schools, only one was determined to be performing at the level of good, nine were satisfactory and 13 were unsatisfactory. The NEI has five levels of judgements: Level 1 - Failing, quality is low; Level 2 - Unsatisfactory, quality not yet at the level acceptable for school in Jamaica; Level 3 - Satisfactory, the minimum level of acceptability required for Jamaica; Level 4 - Good, the expected level for every school in Jamaica; Level 5 - Exceptionally high quality of performance or provision.

If out of 23 schools catering to primary education, some situated in the rural areas of St Andrew and Portland, others in inner-city communities and two in the Habour View community, only one is considered to be performing at the expected level for every school in Jamaica, then it begs the question of what is being done to bring the other 22 schools up to the level of 'good'. It was heartening to see the school that was deemed good. It is the Shirley Castle Primary School in rural Portland. It is a small school with 36 students and three teachers. The size is not the only factor for its success since there is a school that is performing below par with 18 students and three teachers.

An analysis of the summary of the judgements on the unsatisfactory and even some satisfactory schools reflects common features. Last month, I reviewed the impact of teaching on students' performance. This month, I will look at the impact of governance and leadership on the performance of the reported schools; this will include the boards of management and the principals.

significant observation

The most significant observation that I made in assessing leadership and governance in the 10 schools deemed satisfactory to good is that they all have strong principals. These principals sometimes are supported by boards that are committed to the school, but in some cases there is little mention of the board. These are some extracts which reflect the judgements on the principals and school boards:

Leadership and management are satisfactory. The school benefits from a committed principal and has an effective school board with a hard-working chairman. The board is holding the school increasingly accountable for its performance.

The school is satisfactorily led by a confident principal who provides a strong sense of direction to the school, and an active board that has a positive influence on the work and development of the school.

The principal provides strong leadership and all staff are committed both to the school and to further improvement. Overall, teaching and learning are satisfactory. The principal's firm, focused and inspirational leadership motivates the staff to meet the students' instructional needs and make good progress. The inexperienced board provides limited advice for the development of the school but supports the programmes implemented by the principal.

There are three factors seen in these assessments which determine whether a school performs positively - a strong, committed principal, an effective school board, and a culture of accountability. Unfortunately, in some of the schools that are judged to be unsatisfactory, while there might be some committed principals, there are usually non-performing or weak school boards, or a lack of communication of the vision from the principal to the staff. In many cases, the principals, although being well-intentioned, do not hold the staff accountable for students' performance, nor do they provide strong instructional leadership. There is no evidence of a school performing unsatisfactorily where there is a culture of accountability and robust instructional leadership. The following extracts reflect this:

unsatisfactory management

The leadership and management of the school are insufficiently rigorous in focusing school improvements on student achievement. The principal holds teachers accountable for the quality of their teaching in a limited manner. Leadership and management are unsatisfactory. The acting principal is a dedicated professional who has the care and welfare of all students at heart. However, there is little evidence that teachers are held to account, or that actions from the school development plan are followed through or monitored by the board. Consequently, the school is not moving forward and students are not developing as they should, either academically or personally.

The leadership and management of the school are unsatisfactory. The principal has made several improvements focusing on the students' well-being. However, insufficient attention is given to improving learning and students' attainment. Teachers do not receive effective guidance as to how to improve their teaching skills and their students' learning.

This important factor that determines the health of our education system must be addressed with haste. The practice of persons being appointed to school boards without receiving training in their responsibilities need to become a practice of the past. Even though school board members serve voluntarily, they must be selected carefully to ensure that they will add value to the schools that they serve. The National College of Leadership, as a part of the Transformation in Education, needs to be established post-haste so that principals in our schools can receive the training that they need to ably equip them to lead the schools with efficiency. The days of teachers simply moving up the ladder from classroom teacher to vice-principal to principal have must be put behind us. The job requires a strong character and specific training to develop the needed competencies.

Michael Fullan in The Moral Imperative of School Leadership (2003) makes the point that: "Leading schools ... requires principals with the courage and capacity to build new cultures based on trusting relationships and a culture of disciplined inquiry and action. That school leaders with these characteristics are in short supply is the point."

For Jamaica's educational system to improve, we must find a way to develop such leaders. This is our imperative.

Esther Tyson is an education advocate. Send comments to