October 7, 2016

Partnership Schools

This project is focused on testing an innovative model for improving schooling through public/private partnerships, using three key levers for change: flexible management, accountability and capability in underperforming schools.

Funding partners: Zenex Foundation; First Rand Empowerment Fund; Omidyar; Michael & Susan Dell Foundation; Millennium Trust; Technical Support from ARK (UK)

Fund manager:  DG Murray Trust

Duration of Project: 2016 – 2020

School Operating Partners: Western Cape: Two Oceans, Mellon Educate

Programme: Systemic Programme

Where is the Project based: Western Cape and Gauteng      


Zenex Foundation participated with the Funder Group since November 2012 to explore a model of Public-Private-Partnerships in South African education. The Foundation supports:

  • Funding School Operating Partners to manage five schools each in Gauteng and Western Cape.
  • Funding Project Support services for technical support to the School Operating Partners as well as continued advocacy and engagement at a national level for policy change.

South Africa’s National Development Plan positions education as one of its five priorities, and calls for national collaboration in achieving its goals. Drawing on both local and international experience, the Partnership Schools Project proposes a collaborative programme between government, donors and non-profit School Operating Partners to achieve a system-wide improvement in the quality of public schools serving children from poor communities. Partnership Schools are a mechanism for leveraging significant change in school performance and educational outcomes.

Challenges to be addressed

The results of the Annual National Assessments and the National Senior Certificate show that South Africa has an essentially bifurcated public education system, with a sharp quality divide between public schools generally serving the richest 20% of children and the rest. There are some notable exceptions, where well-managed public schools serving poor communities produce quality education. These exceptions demonstrate that significant improvements can be brought about, even in poorer communities, when the school functions well. There are no quick fixes. We know change is needed and it requires, among other things, fundamental shifts to the way education is delivered.

Details of project implementation

The strategies that will be employed by the School Operating Partners in the two provinces are as follows:

  • Improved accountability: Put in place contractual agreements between operating partners, schools and provincial education departments that include performance targets. Signed contractual agreements between funders and operating partners and provincial education departments will include setting of performance targets. The operators will engage all stakeholders around child focused outcomes. These outcomes will be informed by clear performance targets and the operators will create platforms for reporting on them transparently and in public to the school community.
  • Improved efficiency: The operators will be challenged to create a programme funding model at school level that is sustainable and can be scaled up. The idea is that the pilot will test a high initial investment that will be tapering over the medium term. In addition, Partnership Schools will facilitate the growth of operating partner networks for cost efficiencies over multiple school sites. This will help with sharing resources and costs in a central system as it pertains to HR, finance and administration as an example. The project will facilitate collaboration between operators to ensure network growth and sharing of practice.
  • Improved quality of governance: The operators will bring in additional capacity and expertise to ensure high quality professional governing bodies that are well functioning and focused on supporting the school to improve educational outcomes. The operators will facilitate the processes necessary to develop team work and integration between the School Governing Body (SGB) and School Management Teams (SMT). The governing body will be responsible for ensuring that all aspects of school functionality defined in the whole school evaluation framework are in place and assessed regularly in order to plan and take appropriate corrective action as and when necessary. This includes ensuring that budgets are aligned with educational priorities. The operators will provide support to ensure optimising funding streams of the school towards quality education provisions through ensuring fundraising and providing support for developing management systems that will achieve cost efficiency.
  • Improved management capacity in public schools: The operators will provide hands-on coaching support to the principal and school management team to deliver the curriculum. This will involve support for curriculum coverage, analysis of results and strategies for improvement. The operators will engage in developing a spirit of teamwork and common purpose between the School Management Teams and teachers. In addition, support for implementing education management systems and processes in school to sustain effective and efficient school operation over long term will be provided. The operators will also facilitate networking and building a community of leadership and management practice.
  • Improved quality of teaching and learning: The operators will ensure monitoring, buy-in and processes for analysing teacher and learner attendance. This is with the view to ensure maximum participation in educating learners and spending time on task. Assistant teachers will also be employed to support struggling learners. Teachers will be coached and mentored to assess learning needs and implement appropriate remedial strategies. The operators will provide the necessary tools for assessing learners learning needs. Performance targets will be set using baseline assessments of each class. The mentorship will also involve teacher support in lesson planning, classroom pedagogy and management. Phase workshops will be held on teaching methodologies and curriculum specific content.
  • Additional School level support: This will involve a premium (PSI) payment from donors at R1000 per learner for:
    • SGB posts: Schools will be able to recruit and directly appoint teachers who have specific expertise or are highly skilled. This is a key flexibility point for SOPs to decide what capacity they need in the school (SGB posts will likely take up the majority of the PSI premium.)
    • Educational materials: Schools can invest in resources most needed in their context. This might be uniforms, resources for specific remedial activities, phonics curriculum for the Foundation Phase, etc.
    • Overheads: For example, extra costs for transport and some general running costs.
    • Meals: Schools may provide extra meals if they are running a longer school day, or for children attending after-school classes.

Implementation in Western Cape

The pilot will involve new and transition public schools. A different model (and associated terms and conditions) has been developed for each, but the hope is that the two models will converge over time.

In the Transition School Type, the operating partner occupies a majority position on the School Governing Body. 
The existing educator posts remain unchanged; as vacancies arise, they will be filled with cash transfer to operating partners.

In the New School Type, the School Operating Partners forms an interim SGB which converts to a majority position on final SGB.   The Western Cape Education Department determines post entitlement based on enrolment and provides equivalent in cash transfer payments directly to school (so that all posts are filled and maintained as SGB posts from the beginning).

Implementation in Gauteng

“Schools of specialisation” is one of GDE’s five change levers. The five special areas of focus are Mathematics, Science and ICT; engineering; commerce and entrepreneurship; sports; and performing and creative arts. The funder group is interested primarily in Mathematics, Science and ICT special schools.

Through this change lever, the school operating partners would be matched with schools and tasked with driving up quality of management and teaching to deliver better outcomes for learners.

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