Policy Papers and Research

Trialogue research found that companies spent the largest portion of their education budget on bursaries, scholarships and university chairs (26%) in 2020, followed by learner development initiatives (24%), much in line with previous years. By contrast, the least supported areas were school governance, leadership and functionality (4%), whole school development (3%) and special needs interventions (2%). This despite the fact that school leadership is second only to teaching in terms of the impact it has on student learning. [Read more on Trialogue's research into CSI in Education]

The following policy papers and research provide some insight into the South African Standard for Principalship and interventions that help to make principals better leaders.

Relevant Acts and Policies

  • The South African Schools Act, No 84 of 1996

    This Act, promulgated in 1996, recognised that a new national system for schools was needed to redress past injustices, support the rights of learners, educators and parents, and set out the duties and responsibilities of the State. It provides for a uniform system for the organisation, governance and funding of schools and amends and repeals certain laws relating to schools.

  • Policy on the South African Standard for Principalship

    The 2015 policy paper by the Department of Basic Education, entitled ‘Policy on the South African Standard for Principalship: Enhancing the Professional Image and Competences of School Principals’, fully defines the role of school principals and the key aspects of professionalism, image and competencies required. It also serves as a policy to address professional leadership and management development needs in South Africa.

South African Research

  • The role of informal adult learning in developing teachers and leaders

    The 2019 research paper ‘Developing teachers and leaders in South African schools & districts: The role of informal adult learning (including coaching and mentoring)’, funded by Old Mutual and conducted under the auspices of SEED Educational Trust, looks at the popularity of informal adult learning applications, but questions to what extent they are helping schools. The research investigates the purpose of these interventions, and asks whether they are serving their purpose or not. School education is found to be complex, with no one factor isolated for treatment to bring about improvement – and a number of interventions may need to be employed to generate momentum. The paper’s recommendation is that adult learning should be fully grappled with before funders resort to coaching and mentoring.

  • The role of leadership style within organisational culture and context

    The 2019 research paper ‘Towards more effective leadership development for teaching and learning in schools: The role of leadership style within the organisational culture and context’, funded by Old Mutual and conducted under the auspices of SEED Educational Trust, explores educators’ perceptions of their leadership approach and organisational culture, as well as the value of considering both when designing processes to change teaching and learning in a sustainable way. It ponders the role of leadership ‘personality’ and organisational culture in leadership development (LD) design in challenged educational systems. It ultimately finds that the interrelated elements of personality, culture and behaviour form the force field within which leadership change can be fostered or hindered in education. Awareness of the relationships between these elements, and how to both influence and are influenced within this ‘web’, enables good choices and leadership decision-making. The research further points out that a systemic leadership learning approach can result in improved teaching, improved learner performance and quality education.


    Watch Alison Newby, the researcher at SEED Educational Trust who authored this paper, discuss how she believes that education is over-managed but under-led, and recommends that leadership development should be part of our core agenda. She says it is easy to teach skills but not attitudes and values – this is why relationship building is so vital (the process takes time and requires a certain amount of trust). 

  • Making a difference with transformational and instructional strategies

    The 2016 paper ‘The Impact of Leadership on Student Outcomes: How Successful School Leaders Use Transformational and Instructional Strategies to Make a Difference’ shows how successful leaders combine the often dichotomised practices of transformational and instructional leadership in different ways to ultimately improve learner outcomes. Schools that can sustain effectiveness in the long term can do so not because of a principal’s leadership style but because the principal has been able to understand and diagnose a school’s needs, and can apply clearly articulated and organisationally shared educational values, which are progressively embedded in the school’s work, culture, and achievements.

  • How can improvement in education quality be measured?

    A 2011 report prepared for BRIDGE South Africa and ARK UK, entitled ‘Researching the Need: School Leadership and Quality of Education in South Africa’, examines projects that have provided education and training for school principals and members of Senior Management Teams in South Africa schools. It questions whether they have successfully imparted skills to individuals and affected the quality of education delivered while asking if such improvement can indeed be measured. There has been little evaluation in South Africa pointing to a correlation between success in leadership courses with success in schools, with anecdotal evidence relied upon.

  • Collaboration to improve learners’ education

    Research undertaken in 2016 by the University of the Witwatersrand’s School of Governance and BRIDGE, entitled ‘Teachers, Parents and School Leaders Working Together to Improve Learners’ Education: Deep dive executive summary’, looks into school leadership and teacher-and-parent relationships to achieve positive education outcomes for learners. It investigates practical steps that can be taken to improve collaborative relationships in school communities and ultimately improve the quality of basic education.

  • Leadership for Learning Programme (LLP) develops instructional learning

    The Leadership for Learning Programme (LLP), a leadership development programme based on a partnership between two unspecified universities, set out to develop instructional leadership over three years (2010-2012). It was based on a system-wide approach targeting leadership development at the district level of the school system. A 2015 study investigating this change strategy found that education systems moving towards system-wide change could reduce isolation in work practices and establish a District Co-ordinating Committee comprising representatives from the district office, principals, teachers and unions. Such a committee could strive to better understand the complex challenges facing schools and engage in problem-solving strategies. The study also recommended instituting an Annual Leadership Development Forum for principals and district officials, premised on collective capacity-building. This would generate greater emotional commitment and technical expertise towards system-wide change than could be gained by developing individuals. 

  • Primary school principals as instructional leaders

    A 2016 study entitled ‘Towards a leadership programme for primary school principals as instructional leaders’ set out to explore primary school principals’ instructional leadership. It argues that robust training and development in instructional leadership practices is necessary to support school leaders. Five principals who completed the Advanced Certificate in Education: School Leadership and Management (ACESLM) were interviewed, with findings indicating that not all the principals were fully conversant with their roles and responsibilities as instructional leaders. They mainly interpreted their functions to be purely managerial and to be leaders and administrators of schools. The authors’ conclusion is that ACESLM as a leadership development programme needs to be redesigned to include greater focus on instructional leadership. 

  • Systemic school improvement interventions

    The 2013 JET Education Services book Systemic School Improvement Interventions in South Africa: Some Practical Lessons From Development Practitioners records the experiences of JET practitioners involved in school improvement. It focuses on the systemic improvement test programmes implemented in Mthawelanga circuit in the Eastern Cape and Retladirela circuit in the North West Province. It captures the models and approaches that the two projects adopted, narrates the experiences the project staff encountered in pursuing the partnerships to improve the educational outcomes in the two circuits, sheds light on what works and what does not work in school improvement, confirms and dispels assumptions about the conditions in South African schools and districts, and offers some recommendations on the school improvement journey. It captures the experience of working with school improvement theory, funders, unions, government officials, school teachers, school communities and learners.

International Research

  • Guiding Principles for policy development in education

    A 2018 European paper, ‘Teachers and school leaders in schools as learning organisations: Guiding principles for policy development in school education’ (produced by the ET2020 Working Group on Schools) is structured around a set of nine Guiding Principles for policies to support teachers and school leaders in schools as learning organisations. It takes a broad perspective on the governance of school education systems, taking into account not only structures but also relationships, capacity, culture and accountability.

  • Improving School Leadership Volume 1: Policy and Practice and Volume 2: Case Studies on System Leadership

    This book, published as two companion volumes by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), sets out to explain why school leadership has become a key policy priority. It investigates school leadership around the world, with the participation of 22 countries. In Volume 1, it outlines the policy levers that contribute towards improving school leadership and school outcomes. In Volume 2, it sets out five case studies that provide examples of innovative practices focusing on system-wide school improvement.

  • School leadership and management styles

    This chapter from the 2009 OECD publication Creating Effective Teaching and Learning Environments: First Results from TALIS investigates the use of instructional and administrative leadership styles within schools, concluding that an effective principal uses elements of both styles.