Schools are under increasing pressure to achieve academic success, and school principals are constantly working to establish a positive climate within their schools. Schools with a positive climate are characterised by teachers and learners who care about and respect one another and commit themselves to the school and the broader community. The school climate, culture and community directly reflect leadership. The relationships created, the structures supported, and the decisions made all have an impact on the whole school. Strong relationships in schools lie at the heart of school climate, and effective leadership by the principal is critical to the climate of the school. The school principal is responsible for establishing a positive organisational climate in the school through effective leadership. The climate of the school can be improved through interventions, such as the improvement of parental and community involvement, the implementation of character education, and the promotion of fundamental moral values in learners, as well as the prevention of violence and the provision of a safe environment for both learners and teachers. The relationships between people are the centre point of the work of school leaders and teachers; therefore, school leadership must be a moral activity in its nature and focus. Leadership is increasingly linked to values, as leaders are required to base their actions on clear personal and professional values. The exercise of authority and power always involves ethical challenges, and this internal system of moral values in every individual necessitates the inclusion of morality in any leadership concept that presupposes a dual relationship between leaders and followers. The school principal is regarded as an agent who should initiate, facilitate and implement change. In addition, the principal is also a moral agent who has to base his or her decisions on principles; who should take into account the welfare of others in his or her decisions; who must base his or her decisions on the most complete information; and who must be aware that his or her moral judgements are prescriptive. Leaders who can be regarded as moral leaders use the power and authority of their position for the benefit of all stakeholders and refrain from abusing their power. The exercising of leadership is a moral task, and school leaders and staff create caring and respectful behaviour. Good leadership should, therefore, include both technical skills and moral abilities. It is not sufficient for leaders to be effective but unethical. Leaders should not only achieve the expected goals, but should also ensure that their actions are not illegal and that they do not ignore the expected moral standards. The school principal is the main role player in a school; the school climate originates from the principal, and the school climate is the moral feeling that is derived from the values the principal professes and brings into being. The rituals and traditions in schools give life to the values that the leader advocates and become the basis on which the climate, culture and society are grounded.
A qualitative study was used to determine the contribution of the school principal in establishing moral values to promote a positive school climate in well-performing schools. Two faith-based independent schools (one Christian and one Jewish) and one ordinary public school were purposefully selected in two provinces to participate in the investigation. Individual semi-structured interviews were conducted with four participants, including the principals, at each school. The investigation found that good relationships existed in the schools. Viewed from the moral leadership model perspective, the values (professional and personal) of the leader play a role in the way things are done within the school. It also appears from the leadership styles of the principals that there is much love for others and for the work. Also, the leadership provides good support, and a culture of caring prevails in these schools. The principals of these schools aim to create joyful environments which enable quality education. The love and caring for one another and for the work that can be detected in these schools influence the way things are done in the school. The teachers at these three schools experience a sense of community within their schools. The teachers at the two faith-based schools feel at home and refer to their school community as a family. These schools also strive to put the interests of others first. However, it may be challenging for faith-based schools to treat people of other religions as equals. There are generally high levels of respect and trust among the learners and the staff at all three these schools, and there are deliberate efforts to establish moral values within the schools in order to make a positive contribution to the climate of these schools. The direction which the leader offers in promoting moral values will determine to what extent teachers will further enhance these values and how they will interact with the learners. The staff of the three schools regard themselves as good role models and people with integrity, good character and high moral values. Although they do not regard themselves as being perfect, they expect high moral conduct from one another. The religious foundations of the schools drive the strong moral values within the schools, and this again positively influences the school climate and reflects directly on the leadership of the principal. The values he or she advocates form the basis on which the climate is grounded. It is notable that the principals in these well-performing schools follow an open-door policy, where they are very accessible to the staff. An open-door policy has the potential to encourage healthy discussions between the staff and the principal, which can improve the work environment. From the study, recommendations are made for school principals and for further research.
Keywords: moral leadership; school climate; well-performing schools