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The dynamics of child vulnerability in a selected South African primary school: focus on leadership and management.

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Educators and school managers provide key insights on child vulnerability which are derived from their experiences in the school setting. A more robust understanding of the phenomenon of child vulnerability is necessary to direct school-based intervention and to achieve quality education. Bronfenbrenner’s Bio-ecological Systems’ Theory (1979), Abraham Maslow’s Theory of Human Motivation which outlines The Hierarchy of Human Needs (Maslow, 1943), and the Transformational Leadership Model (Burns, 1978) provided a lens to understand the nature and extent of child vulnerability, how it manifested in the school, why it is understood and experienced in the way that it is and what can be learnt from this. The study employed a qualitative, interpretive approach, adopting a single case-study in its methodology. Ethical principles were observed throughout the data-generation process. Trustworthiness of findings was ensured since data was generated through semi-structured, individual face-to-face interviews and two focus-group discussions. Seventeen participants comprising Level one educators, School Based Support Team and School Management Team members were included. Research was conducted in one public primary school in KwaZulu- Natal. Data was analysed and arranged thematically. Insights gained from this study reflect the complexity of the phenomenon of child vulnerability. The South African education system is undergirded by a strong legislative framework, yet fraught with systemic challenges reflecting deficiencies at multiple levels and a lack of collaboration between schools and communities. The quality of education remains poor despite improved access. Challenges that emerged were primarily attributed by educators to unfavourable circumstances within the home. Overwhelmed educators expressed frustration at the lack of support and the circumstances they face. School-based contributors to vulnerability are often overlooked yet are significant. A transformational leadership approach to achieve quality education is required to improve educator role perception and facilitate capacitation of educators to address vulnerability in the school context. Universal staff capacitation for screening, identification, assessment and support of vulnerable learners is necessary to achieve inclusive education. Close school community collaboration to confront harrowing realities inflicted by poverty and deprivation facing children is needed. Finally, this study suggested that school-community collaboration at multiple levels is imperative to address child vulnerability for any intervention to be effective, transformative and sustainable.


Doctoral Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.