How to invest in School Leadership

Leadership skills can be developed and enhanced in a number of ways, most commonly through workshops, training and mentorship programmes, with many organisations providing both training and mentorship.

The idea of professionalising the role of school principal only emerged after 2007 when the Department of Education set out to introduce professional training in management and leadership for principals. This was followed by the introduction of the Advanced Certificate in Education (ACE) for school leadership and management. It has been argued that the training programme places more emphasis on management than on leadership, which has led to a review of the programme and the publication of a Policy on the South African Standard for Principals.

Examples of intervention models

Training: Dept of Education and Tertiary Programmes

Department of Education: Advanced Certificate: Education (School Management and Leadership)

This programme is intended to empower school leaders to lead and manage schools effectively, and it mainly targeted at School Management Team members aspiring to principalship. It enables educators by helping them to develop the skills, knowledge and values needed to lead effectively within a school system.

University of Johannesburg: The Education Leadership Initiative

A joint project of the Department of Education Management at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) and the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE), the initiative focuses on building school leadership capacity to raise the professional standards for South African school leaders, national and provincial education officials, and other education stakeholders. The three-year initiative will strengthen school and district support and improve the core functions of teaching and learning at schools. It has been designed to complement the current ACE programme of UJ, providing a continuum of learning and leadership development opportunities.

Cape Peninsula University of Technology: BEd Honours: Educational Management and Leadership

This part-time qualification is the first postgraduate degree in education. It aims to prepare students for research-based postgraduate study by developing research capacity in the methodology and techniques in students’ areas of specialisation in education.

University of the Free State: Education Management and Leadership

UFS offers a Bachelor of Education (BEd), PGCE, PGDip, Honours, Masters and PhD programmes. These undergraduate and postgraduate courses offer a broad-based view of education management and leadership through the explicit and focused study of specific concepts and issues in the field.

UCT Graduate School of Business: Management Development Programme

The University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business, in partnership with Capitec Bank and The Principals Academy (a Section 18(a) Trust), is offering a programme to boost the skills of principals, based on the premise that good leaders create good schools. The successful programme is now in its 8th year and approximately 24 principals are taken in each year. In Cape Town, applications are done through the Principals Academy.

The Principals Academy is also involved in mentorship, which involves retired school principals supporting current school principals. These retired principals play an integral part in coaching principals, since they have excellent track records as heads of high-performing schools.

MANCOSA: Postgraduate Diploma in Educational Management

This one-year specialised programme has been designed to meet the needs of educational managers in a changing climate. The distance learning programme imparts relevant skills based on the latest strategic thinking in educational leadership and management.

Regent Business School: Postgraduate Diploma in Educational Management and Leadership

This one-year postgraduate qualification is intended to improve the practice of management and leadership in the educational sector.


Training: NPO Programmes

 Ark: South Africa Instructional Leadership Institute

Ark offers a school leadership development programme designed to train effective school principals to create meaningful change in South Africa’s most disadvantaged schools. The programme focuses on instructional leadership, which prioritises quality teaching and learning.

Siyawela: Leadership & Management

Siyawela offers a number of programmes to drive effective school leadership, including:

  • Curriculum Leadership and Management. This programme helps principals and teachers to manage the delivery of the curriculum. Two short learning programmes include: Subject Head Roles and Responsibilities (which aims to build the capacity of heads of department and subject heads) and Curriculum and Instructional Leadership (which aims to support deputy principals and phase heads by teaching them how to structure their schools’ teaching and learning process).
  • Leadership Matters. This two-year programme directed at primary schools helps school management teams create a culture of learning within schools, focusing on leadership, development and support, as well as personal growth.
  • Principals and SMT Leadership Development. This programme aims to develop and strengthen the leadership of high-school principals and school management teams, to ensure a sustained improvement in learner achievement. The programme also helps the Department of Basic Education to develop an effective, standardised approach to training high-school principals in South Africa. The mentorship component of this programme uses mentorship to improve team work and leadership, influencing attitude, morale and behaviour.

Seed Educational Trust: School Leadership Programme

Partnered by the University of Stellenbosch Business School Executive Development (USB-ED), Seed’s goal is to make schools facing socioeconomic challenges more resilient by improving their organisational health. The programme started in 2006 and was initially run in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and Limpopo.

These stressed and challenged schools are ill-equipped to offer the type of leadership required. Seed aims to build long-term sustainability into the systems within and around schools so they can function independently of NGO support after three years. This includes the formation of Communities of Practice for school principals and School Governing Body Chairpersons and leadership forums for key leaders.

This will improve resilience in schools, improve matric results, and help schools to retain educators.

David Newby, Managing Trustee of the Seed Educational Trust, says he looks for two things once leaders have graduated from the programme. “The lead indicator is the greater organisation health of schools, but the ultimate prize is improved learner results,” he says. He uses tools to track organisational health – in 70% of the schools, steady improvement has been noted, with similar but variable learner performance. Building a resilient school system means that even if leaders and teachers leave, the school can absorb shocks more readily and the impact will be less severe.

Columba Youth Leadership Programme

The purpose of this three-year programme is to transform the culture of schools, focusing on leadership development and youth engagement. The aim is to strengthen schools and make youth more employable. The programme has graduated 8 773 principals, educators and learners from 223 schools across seven provinces.

Partners for Possibility

Partners for Possibility’s vision is to provide quality education for all children in South Africa by 2025. Since 2010, Symphonia for South Africa has supported and developed school principals, partnering them with business leaders in a co-learning partnership. These change agents mentor the principals to help to equip them with the skills and knowledge they require to lead change and mobilise communities. They provide practical hands-on support to principals using proven interventions like mentorship and skills upliftment.


Siyawela’s School Self-Evaluation and School Improvement Plan

The Department of Education requires every school to conduct an annual School Self-Evaluation (SSE) to obtain an honest assessment of their school’s performance. The results are used to develop a School Improvement Plan (SIP), setting out the school’s key challenges and potential remedies. Through a series of workshops, Siyawela helps primary and high schools to determine their strengths and area that could use some improvement.

Macmillan Education: School Management Workshops

Macmillan offers a variety of workshops aimed at school leaders and School Governing Bodies (SGBs). These short, SACE PD Points-accredited workshops cover topics that include conflict management, professional ethics, diversity management, disciplinary problems, curriculum planning and management, and more.

Educator Training: Connecting Leaders

Connecting Leaders is a comprehensive educator training programme that was launched by Change the World Trust in 2010. The programme was designed to equip educators with leadership expertise and practical training, improve their access to online resources, provide classroom management and positive discipline workshops and mentorship, and provide quality basic IT training. More than 20 schools in Gauteng have completed the programme to date.

Partners for Possibility: School Leadership Forums (SLFs)

These workshops, talks and panel discussions for principals and members of school communities provide practical solutions to problems faced in the education sector. The SLFs are unique in that they also invite the School Governing Bodies, School Management Teams and teachers to engage and network. The SLF initiative evolved through a partnership between the University of the Western Cape’s Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences (EMS), the University of Johannesburg, Symphonia for South Africa (SSA) and MySchool MyVillage MyPlanet, with support from the South African Principals Association (SAPA).

Edufundi: Lead Like a Champion Workshops

The core focus of these workshops is instructional leadership, which supports teaching and learning processes. Principals and School Management Teams (SMT) often forget about the business of teaching and learning because they are too caught up in managing resources and completing administration tasks. Support and guidance can help them to support principals and SMTs.

Recommended Resources

  • Principal training interventions - finding the right fit

    The Old Mutual Education Flagship Project (OMEFP), launched in 2013, committed to investing R350m over seven years in under-resourced schools. Part of the intervention invested in research on how leadership methodologies inform behaviours, decision-making and the functioning of schools. Read more in this article by Kanyisa Diamond, Senior Project Manager at Old Mutual South Africa.
  • How to establish leadership capability in schools

    Watch Kanyisa Diamond, Senior Project Manager, Old Mutual South Africa discussing how to establish leadership capability in schools. She explains that if a proposed intervention does not involve leadership directly, it is best to seek a partner for collaboration. If it does involve leadership, understand the broader context before proceeding – for example, principals in quintile 1-3 or rural schools will face different issues to principals in quintile 4-5 schools.


  • Education experts weigh in on interventions

    Trialogue partnered with Old Mutual and education experts Professor Mary Metcalfe, David Newby and Dr Allistair Witten to explore the complexities of leadership and management in the education sector. They recommend these key questions be asked prior to developing a leadership intervention:

    • “Am I entering the education space seeking systemic change or trying to improve the lives of a few children?”
    • “What will the long-term impact of this intervention be?”
    • “What needs to be done with the system to receive or sustain this intervention?”
    • “What will happen if we withdraw from a project?”
    • “What are the enabling conditions required at the level of the classroom, the organisational level of the school, and the administrative and institutional level of the district?” 
      Click here for more.
  • School Leadership CSI Forum

    In 2017, Trialogue held a CSI Forum on School Leadership and Management. Read the key learnings from companies investing in these interventions.