National Qualification for Transformative School Leadership and Management

In 2017, Saide was awarded the tender by the Department of Basic Education (DBE) to develop the practice-based, learning programme course materials for the Advanced Diploma in School Leadership and Management (Adv. Dip: SLM) that is an NQF level 7 qualification.

Saide’s Maryla Bialobrzeska reports on the overall approach that informed the design and the development of the Adv. Dip: SLM programme course materials and provides a brief overview of the planned implementation process.

The Advanced Diploma in School Leadership and Management (Adv. Dip: SLM) represents a new and exciting national initiative in the professional development of practising and aspirant school principals.

Saide finalised the course materials in early 2019 and submitted them to the Department of Basic Education (DBE) for final review and quality assurance. An external review task team lead by Professor Herman J van Vuuren, Deputy Dean of Education, North West University, was commissioned by the DBE to review the materials.

The review findings were presented in August 2019 highlighting that the end product is evidence of a tailor-made South African school leadership and management programme developed by knowledgeable, experienced and informed education experts (practitioners and theorists). “Made by us, for us!”

The overall aim of the Adv. Dip: SLM qualification is to empower School Management Teams (SMTs) to develop skills, knowledge and values needed to lead and manage schools, as complex learning organisations, effectively and to contribute to improving the implementation of quality learning and teaching in schools.

The key focus of the Adv. Dip: SLM programme is to facilitate real transformation in the quality of education in South African mainstream[1] or public ordinary schools, positive transformation that is grounded in the recognition of the challenges of particular contexts and in the values underpinning the South African Constitution.

It is intended that the Adv. Dip: SLM programme students will develop a deep and systemic understanding of current thinking, practice, theory and methodology in the area of school leadership and management.

The seven modules that comprise this qualification focus on relevant areas of educational leadership and management specialisation and not on general educational subjects or fundamentals, as had been the case with, the now discontinued ACE (SL) qualification.

When compared with the ACE (SL), the Adv. Dip (SLM) provides a strong statement about the knowledge base required by school principals. It also places significant emphasis on the development of methods of enquiry. This includes the requirement that a research project/investigation/action research project be undertaken by students on this programme.

Emphasis is also made on ethics (including research ethics); professional practices; and on the management of own learning and accountability is also evident in the Adv. Dip: SLM. This requires the development of appropriate high-level academic literacy skills which have been carefully embedded in the design of the programme course materials.

Pursuant of this aim, evidence of changed practice over the duration of the Adv. Dip: SLM programme is central to the successful completion of this qualification. It is for this reason that the preparation of a professional portfolio of evidence and the implementation of a workplace project is a compulsory requirement of this programme.

Programme participants will be required to provide evidence of their ability to apply basic action, research methods in their school context and to use the results of this research to make evidence-based decisions and to implement changed practices.

As part of the action-research cycle, the students will evaluate the impact of changed practices and to make amendments as indicated by the findings. Participants will need to understand that it is not acceptable to simply pay lip service to the ideas presented in the course.

Participants will develop school polices and guidelines that are not implemented in practice or to adopt a minimal compliance stance. Instead, a deliberate attempt is made to encourage critical reflection on current practices, planning for improvement, action based on informed understandings and monitoring and evaluation that is carefully considered and responsive.

The assessment tasks set and compiled into a professional portfolio by each participant, must yield evidence that the school in which the participant is located, has changed for the better in ways that reflect a commitment to, and practice of, transformative leadership. In this process, critical issues such as gender equality, socio-cultural and economic relevance, inclusivity, HIV and AIDS, and improved and improving learner performance should be squarely addressed.

Content focus

The course modules of the this programme are based on the key interdependent areas defined in the DBE Policy on the South African Standard for Principalship (SASP) (DBE, 2015). These constitute the core purpose of the principal in any SA context. They include,

  • Leading and managing teaching and learning in the school;
  • Leading and managing extra-curricular and co-curricular activities;
  • Leading and managing people and change;
  • Leading and managing the school as an organization;
  • Working with and for the wider community; and
  • Working within and for the school system.

In addition to the six focus areas listed above (each, the focus of one course module) a seventh module, the Professional Portfolio and Workplace Project module, serves to integrate work across the entire programme by providing guidance on how each programme participant should prepare their professional portfolio comprising evidence of practice based activities and tasks undertaken in relation to the six core modules.

In this module, information on how programme participants should go about identifying, designing, researching and presenting their practical Workplace Project is also provided. This is a mandatory component of the Adv. Dip: SLM which may be deemed to serve as examination equivalent. However, the final assessment strategy is left to the discretion of each implementing HEI.

Conceptual approach

Aligned to the SASP (DBE, 2015) requirements, the following key concepts and premises are privileged in the Adv. Dip: SLM course materials:

  • The distinction between leadership and management is explored and asserted. While these two concepts are inter-related, they are distinctive. Christie, states that leadership, is about the vision of something better, it requires initiative that results in change and even disruption being brought about. While, management is an organisational concept: it relates to structures and processes by which organisations meet their goals and central purposes (Christie, 2010).
  • Nic Spaull (undated) and Bram Fleish (2008) refer to the 20:80 divide in the SA schooling system, with the majority of schools (approximately 80%) being located in poor communities, not well-provisioned, and attended by black learners. These mainstream schools (as referenced by Christie et al) are the focus of the Adv. Dip: SLM.
  • Leadership as a social justice practice is one of the important areas that is systematically engaged in this programme. School leadership that translates visions into socially and educationally just actions by dealing with diversity and marginalisation is a key focus. Unequal power relationships based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability, language or religion, all values espoused in the South African Constitution and Bill of Rights, are explicitly challenged.
  • An emphasis on transformative or purposeful moral leadership is promoted. This begins with questions of social justice and democracy which are rooted in the SA Constitution. Students on the programme are encouraged to critique inequitable practices and to analyse current conditions and decide how best to change them.
  • Distributed leadership rather than delegation: The SASP, highlights the role of the principal as enabler of leadership in others (DBE, 2015) Spillan’s (2017) “principal plus” concept of leadership is evoked here, it acknowledges that multiple individuals are involved in leading and managing schools. This approach signifies a paradigm shift from the what of school leadership and management to the how of school leadership, an approach that is interwoven throughout all the course modules.


The overall implementation features of this programme include, that:

  • It is materials based – all HEIs are provided with the same set of course materials.
  • All the programme course modules are to be made available under an open license, thus making all the educational resources freely available.
  • It is offered part-time over 24 months, applying a blended learning approach of self-directed or independent learning combined with learning and mediation during contact sessions at the HEI.
  • It promotes reflection by programme students through the use of a Learning Journal.
  • It requires the establishment of, and learning through Communities of Practice (CoPs) in both the HEI and in school-based settings.
  • Is site-based using mentoring and coaching processes.
  • It promotes a competence/evidence-based approach centred on the development of a Professional Portfolio and Work Place Project


[1] The term ‘mainstream’ is used in the Ministerial Committee Report, Christie, P., Butler, D., Potterton, M., 2007 Schools that Work. Pretoria Department of Education.