Principals Academy Trust

Principals Academy Trust aims to enhance learner outcomes and school functionality by improving school leadership. Principals are trained using a business school style, high quality executive management program, coupled with on-going mentoring and coaching by experienced principals.
2012South Africa

CEI Plus Status

Program Results Status
Monitoring and Evaluation Reporting

Location Data

Western Cape Cape Town Peri-Urban, Rural, Urban

School leadership has been identified as a key issue in the education crisis in South Africa. The Principals Academy Trust believes that embedding values and improving overall school functionality has a direct impact on the learners’ experience and performance. The organization offers training and mentoring to principals from primary and secondary schools in low socio-economic areas mostly in Cape Town.

The recruitment of the principals is intensive. The Principals Academy Trust liaises with district officials for referrals and the school governing bodies are also consulted. The principals who have been in post for around 3-4 years are ideal candidates. Applicants write a letter of motivation and there is an interview process assessing their willingness and resilience to become involved in this intensive program. Another criterion is that the schools need to be at a stage where they can take on the change management process; therefore a minimum standard of school functionality must be met. The Principals Academy Trust received 44 applications in its first round, 24 were accepted and 2 withdrew from the program. The schools are based in areas like Khayelitsha, Nyanga, Mossel Bay, Mitchell’s Plain, and Phillipi.

The Principals Academy Trust has two distinct phases: a 15-month course and up to 2 years of mentoring in the principal’s school. Some of the training is held at the University of Cape Town (Graduate School of Business) where principals experience business school style executive management training. The second mentoring phase is designed to embed the learning through mentoring and coaching using experienced principals with a history of success.

The 15-month course was designed jointly by the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business and the Principals Academy Trust. The University has developed the accredited course content which fits into its Post Graduate Diploma in Management Practice framework. A number of stakeholders were consulted to design the content, including ex-principals, education consultants, and officials from the Western Cape Education Department. The course covers three main themes including: ‘personal mastery and managing complexity,' ‘building business acumen,’ and ‘managing people, teams and change.’ Learning is experiential: principals must produce a position paper focusing on a specific issue their school is facing and a group project asks principals to design interventions for a 21st African School of Excellence. The residential aspect, where principals stay on campus for their theory modules, is integral to the project, as it offers the principals the opportunity to clear their heads and focus entirely on the training.

There are four week-long modules, which run during the school holidays. The course is delivered using a student-centred participatory approach including group work, reflective writing, and a strong focus on building emotional intelligence and soft skills. Another integral component of the program is systemic thinking. Training in systemic thinking aims to help principals think differently about planning and problem solving and to not only function in crisis management mode. The course helps principals think about the root causes of problems, as well as the risks and unintended consequences of proposed mitigation. 

The Principals Academy Trust acknowledges that the principals will need on-going support following the course, as the socio-economic conditions within which their schools operate are an added pressure that puts the positive transformation of their schools at risk. This is where the mentoring and coaching phase comes in to support principals. This involves fortnightly sessions at the schools. The principals find this valuable, as it is a chance to ‘download’ and feel that they are being listened to. The mentors, who have extensive experience as principals themselves, help troubleshoot and offer guidance including pragmatic suggestions. They also offer workshops for the entire school staff on values, planning, and curriculum issues; in these workshops the staff can problem solve as a collective unit.  

There are plans to start creating clusters of schools in several geographic areas, including feeder crèches, that would form an informal network of schools where principals can support each other and continue to learn from and share experiences with each other after the formal coursework. Having feeder schools (creche and primary) and secondary schools in these networks will help with the transition of learners between pre-school, primary and secondary as it will foster communication between schools that feed into and draw from one another.  Plans also include partnering these clusters with non-state programs that can offer various support to the cluster.

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