School identity and learner performance: a school leadership perspective on their relationships.
Memela, Godfrey Khululekani Sihle.
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School identity construction and learner performance continue to be of great concern in the South African education system. As the head of school management, the principal’s leadership influences the identity of the school and the academic performance of learners. This study explored the relationship between school identity construction and learner performance from a school leadership perspective. Since the advent of democracy, the South African education landscape has been plagued by poor learner performance. While the reasons are as diverse as the nation itself, the adverse effects of poor learner performance on the school system or the quality of education cannot be over emphasised. Some have argued that there are two education systems in South Africa, one being amongst the best in the world (quintile four and five schools) and the others being amongst the worst (quintiles one and two). This study explored the phenomenon of school identity construction from school principals’ perspectives from quintiles one schools which are considered to be amongst the poorest of them all. This exploration has been done in eight chapters. It unearthed a dearth of information on the perspectives of the principal on school identity construction and the effect of school categorisation on learner performance. As a result, this study explores school identity construction and learner performance as it relates to the leadership of the secondary school principals. To achieve this, this study was guided by one critical question and three sub-questions. The critical question was: How does the school principal account for its learner performance within the context of its quintile school categorisation and its school identity? The sub-questions were as follows: 1. How does the principal account for its learner performance since assuming school leadership responsibilities? 2. What engagements did the school principal embark upon to change the school’s image and identity? 3. What were the outcomes of school initiatives embarked upon by the school principal to change the identity of the school? To answer these questions, the researcher employed the qualitative approach to research, which created the platform for details which otherwise would be untapped. To enhance the search for rich and in-depth data, a case study design was used, and it accorded the researcher the opportunity to further probe into the nooks and crannies of how school principals’ account for their learners’ performance within the context of its quintile school categorisation and identity. To get the qualitative data required, data were generated using different approaches; narratives interviews (lived stories), observations and artifacts. Four school principals from rural high school participated in the study. Their schools were also observed and the artifacts in the school were also studied. These participants were sampled using purposive sampling. To make sense of the data, the interpretive paradigm, as well as trait, behavioural and situational leadership theories, were employed as the paradigm and theoretical framework, respectively. While the interpretive paradigm gave a general direction to the study, the leadership theories informed the analyses of the data. To this effect, grounded analysis was used for the actual analysis process. Using grounded analysis, the data generated was broken down into smaller units, and these units were then combined to form sub-themes, and the sub-themes were further merged to form different themes. These themes and sub-themes were then weaved together into the socio-ecological theory of school change. From the findings, it was clear that the relationship between learner performance and school identity categorisation centred around three key themes; complex nature of learner performance, school identity construction, and pathways to school transformation. The study recommends, amongst other things, that the rudiments of school categorisation be redefined to ensure that they do not set schools up for failure. It further recommends that the Department of Basic Education create both room and resources to cater for these challenges to ensure that principals can build or maintain the performance of the schools they find themselves in, for, without such resources, leaders would not be able to drive performance in their school the way it should go.