The aim of the study is to understand resilience and exceptionalism in high-functioning township and rural primary schools in South Africa. Previous research has shown that a large part of the explanation behind these schools' success is the leadership and management practices of teachers and particularly principals. Despite this near universal acceptance of the pivotal role of school leadership and management (SLM) for student achievement, accurate quantitative indicators of these practices remain elusive. Put simply, we do not currently have appropriate questionnaires that can accurately capture the school leadership and management practices among schools in challenging contexts in developing countries. One of the reasons for this is that these instruments are designed primarily with a developed-country-context in mind and do not account for possibilities that are prevalent in developing countries and typical in challenging contexts.
Our previous research on schools in poor contexts in South Africa showed that deeper insights were obtained by a comparison between paired sets of schools with similar demographic and locational features, one performing poorly and the other performing strongly. This matched-pair approach is discussed briefly below. The proposed inter-disciplinary matched-pair analysis is, to the best of our knowledge, the first of its kind in either developing or developed countries.
The current research uses 30 matched-pairs (matching 30 exceptional schools and 30 typical schools) because this provides the stark relief needed to identify which practices are driving the difference between the high performing schools and the average/low-performing schools in rural areas and townships in South Africa. The research will involve five stages: (1) Use population-wide assessment data to identify 30 exceptional primary schools (and their 30 matched pairs) in townships and rural areas in South Africa, (2) Conduct an in-depth study of 12 of the schools (6 exceptional and 6 matched typical) (3) Using the insights gained from Stage 2 develop new, more accurate and more context-specific measures of school leadership and management and pilot these in a different set of 18 schools (9 matched-pairs); (4) After finalising the new questionnaire this will be administered to all 60 schools to capture the SLM practices and behaviours of all matched pairs. In addition the team will administer background questionnaires to staff and students and monitor the Annual National Assessments in each of the 60 schools, (5) The final stage will involve validating the SLM measures identified in Stage 2, developed in Stage 3 and captured in Stage 4. The aim here is to use rigorous quantitative analysis to determine whether or not these new measures of SLM practices and behaviours are systematically related and specifically their predictive or explanatory power.