Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

Improving South African School Effectiveness through Distributed Leadership: A Study of Gender

Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

Improving South African School Effectiveness through Distributed Leadership: A Study of Gender

Article excerpt


According to Southworth (2014), successful and effective school leaders make use of a number of organisational structures and systems such as process planning, target setting, communication and monitoring. In the school context, leaders are dependent on the existence of appropriately supportive policies. Taken together, the appropriate policies and the learning, teaching and assessment systems they support make a difference to the quality of teaching and learning in the classroom and therefore to the quality, outcomes and effectiveness in a school. Spillane (2008: 25) argues in this regard that leadership happens in a variety of ways through the school and is centred on the interaction between people. Depending on the particular leadership task, school leaders' knowledge and expertise may be best explored at the group or collective level rather than at the individual leader's level (Triegaardt, 2014).

Spillane and Diamond (2007: 7) argue that a number of individuals working together in formal or informal positions in schools can play a collective leadership role when stating: Both people in formally designated positions and those without any such designations can take responsibility for leading and managing the school. There is also some evidence that an emphasis on trusting other stakeholders can become a collective school property in the same way as collective efficacy and an emphasis on academic achievement (cf. Hoy, Sweetland & Smith, 2007; Triegaardt, 2014; Botha, 2015).

The idea of distributed leadership is not a blueprint for practice: rather, it is a framework that enables teachers to focus on diagnostic work and at the same time it is a guide that can help stakeholders more generally improve on their own practice and outcomes (Triegaardt, 2014). School management systems based on the concept of distributed leadership are therefore essentially about practice and its improvement, while they provide a framework both for diagnosis and design. Crucially, all stakeholders become key agents in this decentralised framework of school-based management (Spillane, 2008; Marishane & Botha, 2012).

It is widely believed that the roles and tasks of the school principal are now so complex and demanding that it is unrealistic to think that any one person could discharge them without the assistance of a considerable number of colleagues among teaching and supporting staff (Martin, 2006; Marishane & Botha, 2012). Vice-principals or assistant-principals as well as heads of department (HoDs) are appointed in leadership roles in schools to support principals in a distributed capacity (Triegaardt, 2014). The effective involvement of all stakeholders in the running of a school allows the principal to focus on his or her own leadership task. This aspect is referred to as distributed leadership where leadership is shared among all management positions in the school context.

Purpose of study and problem statement

In the South African context, before the 1980s females were not likely to be appointed as school principals or even other school leaders, with the traditional all-girls' schools the exception in this regard. Only in more recent years has the situation improved and are females been promoted to leadership positions in schools. But even today, female principals in South African schools make up less than 30% of the total number of school principals, despite the fact that females make up almost 60% of the total South African population (cf. Botha, 2013; Triegaardt, 2014; Botha, 2015).

The current lack of females in leadership positions in South African schools continues to be a real concern that is continuously being researched by various postgraduate students as well as researchers in the field. Therefore the purpose of this current study is to evaluate the extent to which distributed leadership and collaborative decision-making can contribute to school effectiveness, what the role of male and female leaders are in this regard and how these respective roles differs between the genders. …

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