Prof Johan Beckmann from the Department of Education Management and Policy Studies and his mentee, Dr Keshni Bipath from the Department of Early Childhood Education, have successfully highlighted research regarding South African school leadership in the chapter they contributed to the book A decade of research on school principals – cases from 24 countries (edited by Ärlestig, Day and Johansson),
which deals with the challenges faced by school principals in 24 countries. Their chapter focuses on South African public school principals and the uncompromising desire to improve the quality of education.
Prof Beckmann and Dr Bipath describe research that was conducted over the past 10 years, highlighting the struggle of principals striving to make their schools functional, despite the challenging contexts and the many promises and expectations that have to be met. Decentralisation of governance to the school level in the form of school governing bodies was a brave move, but may have contributed to widening the gap between the rich and poor.
In addition to their traditional leadership and management roles, principals are now expected to foster staff development, parent involvement, community support and learner growth. As a result, it has become increasingly difficult to develop principals and provide them with the necessary knowledge, skills, values and attitudes. They also deal with how South African school principals endeavour to create a functional culture in the unpromising context within which they find themselves and in which teacher unions seem to play a very disruptive role.