Skills course just what principals need

South Africa produces just a handful of matric maths and science graduates each year.

Of the approximately one million children who enter the school system annually, only about 24,000 will write these subjects at higher grade level. Of these about 14,000 will pass - and just 3,000 will be black.

This makes hiring young black talent extremely challenging in sectors such as engineering.

It is a situation that prompted Rick Haw, co-founder and former CEO of Haw & Inglis, a Cape civil engineering company specialising in road construction and rehabilitation, to dig deeper into the reasons for the poor turnout of high school pupils qualified to embark on engineering degrees.

"My research highlighted the problem of poor management and leadership as one of the major causes of schools that perform poorly.

"There are many examples of schools being successful, even with poor facilities, because of the inspiring managerial and leadership qualities of the school principal."

With this in mind, Haw approached the University of Cape Town's Graduate School of Business to investigate the possibility of developing a course for school principals that could help them achieve similar success. The result is an innovative programme that has been tailored to the needs of school managers and is intensely practical and focused on human relations.

The programme, which ran for the first time last month, will educate an initial intake of school principals using strategies modelled on the graduate school's world-class adult teaching and learning techniques.

To raise capital, Haw established the Principals Academy Trust and his proposal has attracted the financial backing of a bank, private individuals and foundations to sponsor 20 delegates a year to take part in the programme.

More than double this number applied for the inaugural intake.

However, more funding will be required to enlarge the programme, says Linda Buckley, director of executive education at the graduate school.

"We are hugely excited at the interest we have received in this initiative," Buckley says.

"We have taken a lot of time and care to ensure that what we have designed is what school managers and principals need to help them succeed," she says.

"We all have a vested interest in making sure this helps strengthen the education system in the country."

The Executive Management Programme for School Leaders is modular and runs over 18 months. The modules cover topics varying from personal mastery and business acumen to managing people.

"Managing a school in South Africa is a massive job and probably far more complex than running a business with a similar number of employees and clients. This all requires massive human relations skills," says Haw.

Principals are expected to undertake at least one community project between each module and to attend school and community sessions on a rotational basis.