School categorisation learner performance : the power of ethos.
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South African schools and, indeed, across the world, are categorised according to several dimensions. For example, schools within South Africa are categorised, amongst others, in terms of quintile rankings, geography, fee paying and non-fee paying, performing and non-performing schools. These categories are often used in reporting of the outcomes of schools within a country, but very little focus on how these categories influence teaching and learning with the school that accounts for its learner performance. This study takes this vantage point and explores the relationship between school categorisation, school ethos, teaching and learning and learner performance. Through a case study of two schools of different quintile rankings and working within the confines of an interpretivist paradigm, the study attempted to explore the school ethos as experienced by the school leadership and teachers. The examination was conducted by means of observations and interviews. Through a process of purposive sampling the principal, one head of department (HOD) and three level one educators each from two primary schools were chosen. The data was generated with the use of semi- structured interviews and observation. The data gathered was reviewed, coded and organized into themes and sub-themes. Content analysis was used to analyse the data. The research finding emanating from the data showed that school ethos influences what happens within schools. The study also confirmed that poverty, impacts negatively on academic performance. In addressing the needs of the learners from impoverished communities, schools also pay attention to the socio-economic needs of the learners with a view to providing holistic education. The impact of such holistic education is on the ability to deliver the planned curriculum. The teachers are not able to deliver the curriculum as planned, rather they focus on the curriculum as lived within an inclusive ethos, and this focus on the curriculum influences how teaching and learning takes place which ultimately reflects on the learner performances. On the other hand, the study found that in a school where the focus was on teaching the curriculum as planned, the ethos of the school is defined by functionality. Adherence to the school curriculum influenced how the school functioned, how teaching and learning unfolded and how such management processes influenced learner performance in schools. The study, therefore, revealed that school ethos influences teaching and learning within a school and can account for why the learners perform the way they do. The findings of the study has implications for school leaders and the community to understand the nature and role of schools in their communities with a view to providing relevant education to their learners that takes into consideration the realities of their socio-economic situations and align their educational needs with the schools’ focus, that which is guided by its ethos. The study introduced a school-community ecology conceptual model that can be used to guide what happens within schools in terms of teaching, learning, learner performance and school categorisations.