School ethos as influenced by school categorisation : perspectives of school principals and teachers from five schools in uMgungundlovu District.
Several attempts have been made to understand the nature and quality of school education over the two past decades in response to the continuing poor performance of learners in public schools within South Africa. These attempts include a curriculum focus, school leadership and management focus, policy focus, teacher development focus, infrastructure focus and resource focus. Despite interventions in these areas, little improvement has been noted in the learner performance. In this study the researcher brings another perspective to the understanding of school or learner performance, that of the influence of school ethos to school categorisations. School categorisation within our education system seems to be quite ingrained with categorisation in terms of, amongst others funding (quintile rankings); user fees (fee-paying and no-fee paying); geography (rural, urban, township); poverty (feeding scheme); performance (national strategy for learner attainment and non- national strategy for learner attainment). Given this synopsis the question is asked: How does school categorisation influence school ethos and what are the implications of this on leadership, teaching and learning in public schools? Conceptualised within interpretivism and employing a qualitative, case study approach, this study explored the perspectives, experiences and practices of school principals and teachers at five schools about school ethos and its influenced on school categorisation and implications for this on school leadership, teaching and learning practices at researched schools. One education district in KwaZulu-Natal, namely: uMgungundlovu was conveniently selected for the study. Data generation methods which were used were semi-structured interviews, observations and document review. All ethical issues were observed. This study found that only school principals of the study schools were able to respond to the understandings of school categorisation as classification, clustering, grouping and demarcation of schooling system for the purpose of allocating funding. The findings on school ethos suggest that the participants understand what is meant to by school ethos, but in some schools the practise was incompatible with their knowledge. The findings also suggest that there were challenges regarding how schools were categorised and the impact of this on the school finances where most of the school funds were used to pay high amounts of utility bills and schools were left with less money to sustain their functionality. Furthermore, the fees charging schools had challenges in that fees were not paid even by those parents who supposed to pay which also impacted on the schools budgets. The findings also showed that the biggest, impediment, in running the schools was the autocratic and top-down approach the Department of Education applied to schools.
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