Case Studies

Old Mutual: Research Lays the Foundation for Leadership in Education

Old Mutual is committed to educational interventions that deepen leadership and governance within the context of basic education. The company’s strategic refocus of its flagship education project should provide even better outcomes for learners and teachers alike.

The Old Mutual Education Flagship Project (OMEFP), a multi-partner national initiative that set out to boost education at underperforming public high schools in South Africa, comes to an end in 2019. The seven-year project had two main objectives: to increase the number of grade 12 learners passing maths and science, and to build the management and leadership capacity of underperforming schools. The core focus of the project was to improve learner
outcomes by strengthening the leadership, management and teaching capabilities of these schools. It was envisaged that matric learners would be able to pursue tertiary education and would eventually be included in the broader economy.

 A strategic review of the project indicated that, by the end of 2018 over R265 million was invested with 225 000 learners at 327 schools across four provinces (the Eastern Cape, the Free State, Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal). However, return on investment proved difficult to measure in some respects. For example, the number of matric science and maths pass rates did not prove to be a suitable measure for the performance of leadership programmes.

As such, the pan-African investment and banking group has decided to change its focus in the next phase of the project, which is due to be rolled out between 2020 and 2024. The project will be redesigned to prioritise outcomes, rather than reach. In addition, monitoring and evaluation will receive more attention, along with what has materially changed as a result of the interventions.

Back to basics: Developing literacy and numeracy at foundation phase

The OMEFP represented a departure from the way in which Old Mutual previously thought about corporate social investment (CSI), being more strategic and coordinated in its approach. However, the Group recognises that there is room to improve and achieve more tangible results. Narrowing its
focus within the education sector will allow the company to target fewer beneficiaries but invest more heavily in each beneficiary selected.

According to Kanyisa Diamond, Senior Project Manager at the Old Mutual Foundation, the next phase of the project will continue to focus on learning and leadership, but will pursue an entirely new strategy, which will be announced soon. The aim is to fill some of the chronic gaps in the curriculum, as well as to
strengthen the institutional capacity of the public school system. It is well known that South African schoolchildren often fail to acquire numeracy and literacy skills, and learners entering grade one start from a low base. A Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) conducted in 2016 showed that 78% of grade four learners could not read for meaning in any language, and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study conducted in 2015 showed that 61% of grade five learners could not do basic mathematics. Approximately 45% of primary schools do not have a single learner who can read and make inferences, and 47% of high schools do not have a single child who can reach the intermediate benchmark in mathematics. Educationist Nic Spaull has referred to these schools as “cognitive wastelands”. It was therefore felt that focusing on mathematics and science for learners in grades 11
and 12 would be ignoring a more fundamental challenge: the lack of cognitive readiness among learners due to profound gaps in the curriculum.

Old Mutual will conduct a scoping exercise, the outcomes of which will inform the company’s future strategy along with the goals set out in the National Development Plan 2030 (NDP). For Old Mutual, it is important to align their strategy with that of the Department of Basic Education and that the strategy they employ is sustainable from a CSI perspective – it has a vision to collaborate with other funders and primarily with provincial education departments in order to scale up learning interventions. Diamond believes that this is vital in order to reach the educational goals set out in the NDP.

Investment into research on school leadership

Because leadership plays such a crucial role in influencing educational outcomes, it will remain an ongoing focus for Old Mutual. The company has invested heavily into research conducted by the Seed Educational Trust, on how leadership methodologies inform behaviours, decision-making and the functioning of schools. The research will inform Old Mutual’s strategy in the foreseeable future, particularly as quality leadership drives development in weaker schools.

Relying on psychological and organisational models that include Insights Discovery (a psychometric tool based on the psychology of Carl Jung), Transactional Analysis (a system of psychology based on childhood conditioning), the Competing Values framework (a way of understanding four organisational culture types), Spiral Dynamics (a data-based psychological approach to understanding worldviews), Theory U (a change-management method) and Force Field Analysis (a management technique that influences decision-making), the research seeks to identify the primary leadership styles of school and district leaders in 750 schools (Seed Educational Trust has run 35 leadership programmes since 2006).

The research sets out to understand organisational culture and the development of a new leadership culture that would support effective management and leadership in contexts with challenging and complex socioeconomic matters. It goes on to state that there is incongruence between personality and culture at school and district level across four provinces in South Africa. This results in leaders and managers working at cross purposes and in self-cancelling ways. The extent of the organisation working at odds with itself is so great that it calls for redefining what leadership is and renegotiating a cohesive leadership culture in an organisational redesign. The research suggests various ways of shifting bureaucratic and hierarchical approaches into more collaborative conversations by adopting a coaching and mentoring leadership style, especially where low levels of trust and ineffective teamwork have been identified. In this way, naturally caring educators, by personality, could create a congruently supportive learning environment, by organisational culture. Who they are will align with who they need to be at work.

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The importance of informal adult learning in leadership development programmes

The second piece of research conducted with the support of the Foundation examined the most effective and viable ways of developing teachers and school leaders in South African schools as well as the role that informal adult learning (including coaching and mentoring) could play in this regard.

The findings showed that with regard to coaching and mentorship, 73% of informal learning practitioners within South Africa’s basic education sector mostly regard themselves as coaches or mentors, with the other 27% regarding themselves as ‘thinking partners’ (14%), facilitators (18%) or supervisors of informal adult learning (9%). More than 50% have formal coaching or mentoring qualifications and 91% undertake a form of continuous professional development (CPD), but only 22% have more than ten years of experience at offering these services in schools and districts. This information has
implications for the education sector given that this is a sector that is highly complex and challenging to work in; experience therefore is a valuable commodity. Exploring how to change this outcome was one of the goals of the research papers funded by Old Mutual.

The biggest hurdle faced when rendering informal adult learning is motivation (77%), followed by resource constraints (63%) and complexity (37%). A systemic response is therefore vital. Using the six emotional leadership styles enumerated by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee, mapped onto John Heron’s Six Categories of Intervention, as well as Jon Kotter’s Eight-step Change Model, the researcher proposed various solutions, including
the creation of professional learning communities and the necessity for educators to have a philosophy of learning. By applying various instructional design models within the context of the basic education sector, Old Mutual’s research has laid the foundations in which future leadership programmes can be rooted. This aligns with Old Mutual’s aim to not only improve leadership within South African schools, but to create a model of governance that can be adopted beyond the classroom – that is, at circuit, district and provincial level.

It was suggested that a more enabling environment for coaching and mentoring can be created when the education system becomes more learner-centred, systemically integrated and underpinned by consistent reflective practice.

The veracity of the research is currently being tested on a major district-level intervention in the Eastern Cape.

Kanyisa Diamond
Senior Project Manager, Old Mutual Foundation
021 509 5012 | kdiamond@oldmutual>