A qualitative inquiry into the role of the principal and deputy principal in decision making processes in three rural schools in KwaZulu-Natal.
Decision making is a key function of leadership. During Apartheid rule in South Africa, decision making in schools was determined at the national level. A principal’s role was to implement those decisions. Post 1994, decision making has been decentralised and more participation and involvement of teachers, heads of department, deputy principals, principals and parents is encouraged in schools. The purpose of this study was to find out more about the role that the principal and deputy principal of a school play in decision making in a school, particularly rural schools, in this, the democratic era in which we all now live. To achieve this aim, this research was conducted in the Umzimkulu district in KwaZulu-Natal in three schools, all in deep rural areas but selected for their accessibility to the school at which I work which is also situated in a remote rural area. From each school three participants were selected i.e. the principal, deputy principal and one Post Level one educator. This study was conducted within the interpretive paradigm and was qualitative in nature. Thus, to collect data, semi-structured interviews were the primary source. However, observations of one staff meeting per school were also conducted, and document analysis of minute books from previous staff meetings was undertaken to ensure an important level of trustworthiness of the data. No attempt has been made to generalise the findings as the participants were very few, but as under-resourced schools in remote areas constitute the majority of schools in this country, I believe that the study is warranted and that the findings have relevance for more schools than those in which the research was conducted. The theoretical framework for this study is that of distributed leadership which considers the expertise of all stakeholders i.e. teachers, heads of department, deputy principals, principals, parents and learners, within a school, irrespective of the formal position or role they hold. This theory is characterised as a form of collective leadership in which all the stakeholders work together and learn from one another. This ensures participation of all the stakeholders in decision making. The key findings of the study are that: a) there is variation in the degree to which principals and deputy principals share decision making; b) that educators are given greater opportunities to make autonomous decisions in extra mural activities and mundane aspects of school life, than they are around key policy areas; c) that hierarchical structures are still noticeable in all 3 schools in the study; and d) that the three most significant barriers to distributed leadership, v at least in the schools in this study, are: (i) the traditional belief that says the principal is ‘the boss’ of the school; (ii) the lack of trust by a principal in her/his staff to make and carry out decisions responsibly; and (iii) the sense of accountability a principal holds in terms of constructing her/himself as the only one who will be cross-questioned by the departmental officials if something goes wrong in the school.