SA Journal of Education, Vol 43, No 3 (2023)

More than a principal: Ubuntu at the heart of successful school leadership in the Western Cape

Michael Kramer


School leadership matters. After teachers and teaching, school leadership is the most important determinant of learner achievement in school. Despite this, there is still uncertainty regarding what successful school leadership is and what successful school leaders do in non-Western contexts. In this mixed methods study I explored successful high school leadership in South Africa. Specifically, a questionnaire was administered to 38 principals from academically high-achieving schools from a range of socioeconomic contexts throughout the Western Cape, and 14 principals were interviewed. An integrated analysis reveals the paradox of uniqueness and universality of successful school leadership in South Africa, outlining that while there is no single best approach, various similarities exist between successful school leaders and established international literature. I found that successful principals adapt to their context, amalgamate transformational, instructional and distributed leadership styles, set direction, develop people, constantly realign the school with teaching and learning, and, importantly, strive to make a difference in the lives of others. It is about leading with Ubuntu. By highlighting these characteristics and practices, I offer theoretical, practical and personal advice to current and aspiring school leaders, academics and policy makers.

ORCiD iD of author:
Michael Kramer -

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