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Updated: Jul 15, 2021

On Friday 30th November, we sat down with representatives of the Senior Management Teams (SMTs) from 6 local senior schools to discuss the first round of results from “5 Essentials” Surveys conducted with learners and teachers this year.

“The 5Essentials is a research-based and practice-proven school improvement system that provides data and insight into schools’ organizational strengths and areas of opportunity across the five essential factors for school improvement: Effective Leaders, Collaborative Teachers, Involved Families, Supportive Environment, and Ambitious Instruction.”

Grounded in 25 years of research data from the United States of America (USA), the 5 Essentials results suggest that schools scoring strongly in at least 3 of these five areas are 10 times more likely to retain teachers, improve learner attendance and results each year, and graduate students into tertiary study.

The reality is that relatively little research focuses particularly on rural schools in South Africa. As part of his PhD, Executive Director Craig Paxton explored the potential of the 5 Essentials System as a research approach and school improvement framework here in the rural Eastern Cape.

While rural South African schools are deeply impacted by specific historical and contextual factors, Craig still found a strong correlation between learner results and the 5 Essential Supports. He felt hopeful that, adapted to our setting, this could be a useful tool for the schools we work with. To take this forward, a small amount of funding was secured for an initial survey roll out.

“What we’ve done for the first time this year is to work with the University of Chicago, who by the way have produced more Nobel Peace Prize laureates than any other university in the world so we’re in good company!” Craig said while welcoming SMT members to the results meeting on 30th November. “Thank you for allowing us into your schools to collect this data.”

This is actually the first time the 5 Essential Surveys are being piloted outside of the US. While exciting, this is also reason to view the results with some circumspection. “The most important thing is to look into what the survey is telling you about your school,” Craig said, noting that because they were developed in a different context, it will take time to find out how the surveys are best interpreted here. “The idea is to take the information in the website and make it practical and useful for you.”

Our focus for the first conversation was to go deeper into what each Support area means and how it can be broken down into specific actions like communicating strategic visions for the school to teachers, or asking learners to explain their solution to a classmate. This required first becoming accustomed to the 5 Essentials data website, which gives a lot of detail on results in each area by showing the statistics gathered for specific questions.

SMTs had the opportunity to sit together and consider their responses to results: what was surprising, encouraging, expected, or frustrating? From there, they were asked to identify 3 supports they’d like to delve into and explore these sections of their site results together with an Axium facilitator.

Our final session for the day saw SMTs working on 2019’s school improvement plans using the site to help come up with strategies for building strength in the selected areas.

We were encouraged by this first session together and look forward to continuing to work with these results over time. Real power will lie in consecutive years’ worth of survey results to chart change over time. This must be accompanied by deepening our engagement with the tools that accompany the survey (tools for making improvements in various areas) so as to better analyse the results and plan accordingly.

Deepest gratitude to the educators who made time available at this point in the year. Thank you for your ongoing partnership!

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