School climate is often overlooked as a factor to explain the underperformance of learners underscored in reports on the Annual National Assessment (ANA). The purpose of this article is to explore how school management teams (SMTs) in primary schools fulfil their roles and responsibilities to establish and promote a sustainable teaching and learning climate through participatory decision-making.
Creating a favourable teaching and learning climate is essential, as academic performance in primary schools is currently not at an acceptable standard. According to Bronfenbrenner’s (1994) ecological model, the teaching and learning climate is developed through interaction between the relevant role players (principal, teachers and learners) and the immediate environment. The level of effectiveness of the SMT to create and promote a favourable teaching and learning climate depends on frequent interaction between these role players and the environment over time.
SMTs follow the international trend of decentralised decision-making through school-based management models. More relevant decisions can be made because decision-making is brought closer to the problem at school level. The quality of teaching and learning can thus possibly be improved. According to Du Plessis (2020), a form of decentralisation is applicable, although key aspects of power are still centralised (in the Department of Basic Education) insofar as the curriculum content and outcomes are concerned. The Policy on the South African Standard for Principalship (Government Gazette 18 March 2016) highlights participatory leadership that is aligned with the school management model. Although the Personnel Administration Measures (PAM) document (Department of Basic Education 2016) outlines staff job descriptions, there is currently no legislation on the composition of SMTs, nor for post level 1 teachers to play an official or major role in management and decision-making. Post level 1 teachers should, however, also participate in management and decision-making to improve teaching and learning. Some of the problems that must be addressed through school-based management models are a new division of labour and the establishment of duty statements for SMT members (of which post level 1 teachers must be part).
Underperformance may be addressed by, amongst others, empowering SMTs through a school management model of participatory management. As part of a team approach and participatory management, the SMT creates a professional learning community so as to achieve the objectives of the national education department (as mentioned in the introduction to this article) by continually sharing and questioning their practices, being critical, working collaboratively, and being inclusive and learning-oriented with the aim of expanding staff capacity.
A qualitative approach and interpretivist paradigm were applied. Five primary schools were purposefully selected. Individual interviews were conducted with the principal, deputy principal and head of department of each school. Focus group interviews were conducted with six post level 1 teachers per school.
Although decentralisation is an attempt to increase the efficiency of school management, the current study has shown that the academic results at four of the five participating schools were not acceptable. Schools in the Western Cape write an annual systemic test. The results of all schools have been available annually since the first systemic test was written and give a good indication of the acceptability of results by the end of 2030.
The role and responsibilities of the SMT within a school-based management model should be expanded in order to involve all role players in decision-making. It is problematic if members’ own role, functions and responsibilities are not communicated to them, because SMT members cannot individually take the responsibility to address the school’s needs. The relationships that develop during interaction between the SMT and teachers at the micro-level are overlooked as a factor that either positively or negatively influences the academic performance of learners. The nature of these relationships thus either promotes or harms the school climate.
The need for teamwork was confirmed from the data, which indicates that all the role players in the school context should be given the opportunity to play a role in decision-making. To encourage the participation of post level 1 teachers in an expanded SMT and decision-making in a school-based management model would require that the roles and responsibilities of these teachers be developed and expanded. It was found that, to achieve effective change, a heightened focus on skills and abilities is important so as to make effective decisions as a team and not as individuals.
The following recommendations are made: First, the SMT should ensure improved interaction between the team and teachers through their practice – for example, by appointing subject and grade heads according to the school’s needs and ensuring that their meetings take place in collaboration with the SMT, as this is not the practice at all schools. Second, a clear definition is needed of the role, functions and responsibilities of subject and grade heads (post level 1 teachers) who should function as part of the extended SMT. These definitions should be developed as sources and established according to the needs of each school.
The PAM document gives a general job description for post level 1 teachers. A clear definition is needed for each school’s specific needs with a view to improving results. The data revealed that teachers were not fulfilling their roles and responsibilities because they had not received a clear definition from their SMT. All members of the extended SMT (including post level 1 teachers in management positions) should function as a team, and not as a loose composite group, in order to establish and promote a healthy teaching and learning climate. An indication of names does not guarantee teamwork, as was revealed in the interviews. An effective team needs guidelines. This is the difference between a team and a loose composite group of staff members with no vision and mission. All role players in the school context should be involved. There is room for fostering micro-level interaction between the SMT and post level 1 teachers. This could expand the capacity of the SMT and make them more effective.
Keywords: division of work; participatory decision-making; school climate; school management team; sustainability; teaching and learning climate; teamwork