Proposal to put headteachers on contracts sparks debate

David Mulinde Ssenyondwa the Chairperson of Nakaseke Headteachers’ Association and Kizza Emmanuel Kintu the Chairperson of UNATU sensitising pupils on teachers' day. Photo URN

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According to the NPA, once implemented, this could help increase accountability for school heads and create a clear system for determining rewards and sanctions

There is a raging debate in the education sector on the proposal to place head teachers and their deputies in government primary and secondary schools on contracts. This is one of the proposals that the National Planning Authority submitted to the Education Policy Review Commission recently.

According to the NPA, once implemented, this could help increase accountability for school heads and create a clear system for determining rewards and sanctions. “Transfer all head teachers from the traditional public service terms to contract staff terms where renewal shall be dependent on school improvement on key indicators including teacher and pupil attendance, time on curriculum-related task, and learner proficiency in gateway subjects,” the proposal reads in part.     

Currently, head teachers, like other civil servants, are permanent and pensionable. They serve from the time of appointment until retirement.  However, some education experts suggest that placing head teachers on contracts may improve their efficiency and lead to changes in individual school performance and the overall sector.   

William Bwambale, the Chairperson of Headteachers in Wakiso District, believes that contracts can have a significant impact on improving education in Uganda. Bwambale states that contracts have several advantages, such as establishing clear expectations and consequences for performance, which can make headteachers more accountable for their actions and decisions.        Patrick Kaboyo, an education expert supports the proposal to contract head teachers and their deputies. He argues that the current permanent and pensionable status has contributed to decreased outcomes as those in charge of schools have failed to fulfill their responsibilities well aware that even if they perform poorly, there will be no consequences.       

According to Kaboyo, the current terms for head teachers in public service make them too comfortable compared to their counterparts in the private sector who understand that they must meet specific targets or risk dismissal.

Godfrey Bwabye, a private school operator in Mukono, says that many public servants tend to play the I don’t care card because of the permeant and pensionable clause. Bwabye agrees with Kaboyo noting that much of the better performance in private schools is due to the fact that one’s job is tagged on specific targets and achievements.     

Harriet Nabisubi, the Headteacher for Ngandu Community Primary School also supports the proposal of introducing contracts, saying that currently the authorities transfer head teachers whose leadership has failed to improve a given school but they end up messing their new duty stations.    

But David Mulinde Ssenyondwa, the Chairperson of Nakaseke Universal Primary Schools Head Teachers’ Association, believes that contracts alone without addressing other factors may not improve the performance of head teachers.

He cites inadequate resources for Universal Primary Education (UPE) students, poor infrastructure, and low parental involvement as some of the key challenges in government schools that must be addressed if there is to be improved performance.         

Filbert Baguma, the General Secretary of the Uganda National Teacher Union shares similar sentiments, saying that the proposed contracts may not solve the challenges of performing as expected.

Baguma points out that headteachers have specific performance targets, which were overly seen as punitive to headteachers alone, leading to objections and a subsequent amendment to include other stakeholders, such as the school management committee, district education officer, and the government.  

According to Baguma, the situation has not improved even with these changes. He believes that placing headteachers on contracts may not address the issue unless other challenges that are leading to poor outcomes are also addressed. 

As Baguma highlights, in 2006, during Namirembe Bitamazire's tenure as Education Minister, the government introduced a system requiring all headteachers to sign annual performance agreements committing them to meet government expectations. 

At the time, the Minister argued that many students were not achieving the desired learning proficiency in literacy and numeracy due to headteacher slackness, absenteeism, and lack of commitment. The Minister believed that the new assessment guidelines and tracking of headteacher performance would create a fairer and verifiable system.    

Baguma emphasizes that until the current system is thoroughly reviewed to understand why it has not produced results introducing a new method will not solve any problem.

“This is the problem that exists where when one initiative fails, another is launched, then another is introduced before properly assessing the failures of the previous initiatives. In the end, the symptoms of the challenges are treated instead of addressing the root causes. Unless the root causes of poor performance are addressed, simply switching to contracts is unlikely to bring about meaningful change,” he stated.      Meanwhile, the National Planning Authority has proposed revamping the current management structure of schools. They suggest that the government create and implement a cluster school management system. 

Under this proposal, the authority suggests that instead of having a separate management committee or board of governors for each school, six schools or more would be grouped together and governed by a single board.  

Furthermore, the National Planning Authority (NPA) suggests that the ministry should establish a policy guideline to adopt a practice of close supervision, support, and nurturing for persistently poorly performing schools. This would involve putting these schools under the guidance of the headteacher of the nearest effective school.   

Emmanuel Kintu Kizza, the UNATU Chairperson-Nakaseke branch says that the cluster school management committees won’t create an impact but instead lead to bureaucracy in decision-making.  "The Cluster management committees may have powers but lack facilitation to monitor each school as required. Let the government facilitate existing School Management Committees to monitor schools on weekly basis and plan for them accordingly,” Kizza said.    

Kizza also asked the government to facilitate the District Inspector of Schools to be able to monitor headteachers and provide them with necessary guidance for improvement of their performance. But, Robert Kazibwe Kirya the UNATU Chairperson of Nakasongola agreed with the NPA proposal on twinning schools saying it will help to share skills and other materials for good performance of learners in the selected schools.    

"Twinning is a good idea because it will also benefit poor schools and uplift them. But I join other headteachers to reject NPA proposals on SMCs and contracts because those are not necessary now to improve the education sector,” Kazibwe said.