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The role of management and leadership in addressing learner discipline : a case of three secondary schools in Pinetown Education District.

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The preponderance of articles, debates and academic discourses highlighting the increase in frequency and severity of learner indiscipline in South African schools and internationally has prompted the study. The international conventions on the child, insurgence of various organisations on school discipline and violence, and National Education Ministers’ concerns raised, is indicative of the seriousness of ‘school discipline’. Since school leaders are responsible for all things ‘school’, the debates around the role school leaders play on learner discipline is valid and relevant. There is a dearth of literature linking the role of school leaders with learner discipline and this is my focus. This dictated my core research question which was: What role does the school’s management team (SMT) and other educator leaders play in learner discipline at schools in different contexts? The sub-questions centred on their experiences, perceptions, understandings and manner in handling learner-related discipline problems. Challenges of schools in the three contexts made the last sub-question. The adoption of the interpretivist philosophical stand determined the qualitative research design with its incumbent methods of research. This research involved a multiple case study documenting discipline challenges in three South African school contexts namely a township, sub-urban, and rural school. The case studies were purposively chosen from one town in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), South Africa, to closely typify the classifications above. The participants focused on were the principals, deputies and HODs. To add validity and trustworthiness, other stakeholders, teachers, RCL and other learners were also made relevant participants. The literature review was guided by the two fold nature of the study that is, school discipline and educational management and leadership and hence delved into these fields. The study was based on the twofold theoretical frameworks of positive discipline and whole school discipline on one hand and transformational and distributed leadership on the other. The postulation that school leaders are largely involved in the focus on academic challenges and in the daily ‘nuts and bolts’ of the school day and that they fail to lead and manage learner discipline was founded. Their difficulty to adjust to state changes in education with the numerous academic path changes was founded. The changes post-1996 to leadership bringing decentralised governance (SGB), management (SMT), collegiality in managing and the democratisation of the discipline process did affect discipline at the schools – often to its determent. The banning of corporal punishment and the adjustment to alternatives to corporal punishment (ATCP) was a challenge to both teachers and the SMT. While the leaders lead in different contexts their own visions, beliefs, psycho-socio makeup and knowledge affected, to a large extent, their capacity to lead in a transformational stance. While the school contexts brought its challenges the above factors affecting leaders play a vital influence in the levels of successful outcome on discipline. The above also influences the pulse of the school as it was found that principals were still the lead persons in all school contexts. The professionalism of teachers influences greatly the level of classroom discipline. The strategies, interventions, structures and tweaking of DoE discipline policy for better discipline was largely the influence of the upper SMT led by the principal. The HODs fell short in leading and developing strategies for better discipline. Teacher leadership was found to be restricted due to either ‘closed distributed leadership’ or ‘subtle distributed leadership’. The knowledge of discipline theories and model were lacking among teachers and SMT to the determent of discipline. The serious offender left the SMT baffled resulting in the ‘chuck them out syndrome’ with such learners being subversively removed from school so as not to contaminate ‘my school’. The township and rural school SES context contributed to the development of the ‘absentee parent syndrome’ where parents simply were lost to their children’s schooling. It also exhibited deviance bordering on criminality with violence and cannabis usage. The sub-urban school SMT had to manage a questioning middle-class parent community. In sum, contexts affect discipline but the SMT and teacher knowledge and professionalism, use of WSD (Whole School Discipline) and PDP (Positive Discipline Practices) with transformational and distributed leadership and making functional the RCL is vital for better school discipline. An astute adaption of DoE discipline policy by the SMT is recommended with solid functional structures of discipline. This coupled with PDP and WSD is recommended for boosting teacher morale and improving discipline. The thesis in summary finds that the principals’ leadership of school discipline, influenced by their vision, drives, psycho-socio make-up, histories and knowledge, is constantly in fluid juxta-positioning and synergy-making with the parent community, bouncing in and out of policy as the practicality of the situation arose.


Doctor of Philosophy in Education Studies. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Edgewood 2015.


School discipline -- South Africa -- Pinetown., Educational leadership -- South Africa -- Pinetown., School management and organization -- South Africa -- Pinetown., Theses -- Education., Pinetown Education District.