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Evaluation of the extended Zenex Literacy Project (HoD Support)



This is a summary of the evaluation findings of the Zenex Literacy (ZenLit) Head of Department (HoD) intervention that was implemented for one year (2018-2019). The intervention was intended to consolidate and embed the three-year literacy intervention implemented by the Zenex Foundation from 2015-2017, by strengthening the ability of the HoDs to support literacy practices in the schools. The evaluation was aimed at understanding the impact of the fourth year project, more specifically, the effects of instructional leadership practice. 

Name of Evaluation Service Provider : JET Education Services (JET)

Duration of Project: May 2018 – May 2019

Where was the project based: KwaZulu-Natal, Western Cape and Eastern Cape


From 2015-2017, the Zenex Foundation undertook a literacy intervention – the Zenex Literacy (ZenLit) Project – which was implemented in 21 schools across three provinces: KwaZulu-Natal (rural, isiZulu and English); Eastern Cape (peri-urban, isiXhosa and English), and Western Cape (urban township, English). The project offered coaching and training to Foundation Phase teachers and HoDs to enhance their skills in the teaching of literacy, of which reading forms part. The objective was to create expert reading teachers. Simultaneous to their development in the teaching of reading, HoDs were supported to enhance their instructional leadership competencies.

One of the key recommendations of the evaluation study of the three-year ZenLit Project, conducted by the Evaluation Research Agency (ERA), was that a fourth year be added to the project which would focus on strengthening the HoD component. HoDs themselves identified that they needed further support to consolidate their newly acquired skills.

Activities undertaken in the fourth year included in-depth coaching of HoDs in consolidating literacy practices; coaching and training HoDs in coaching methodology and building their leadership skills. The project also focused on supporting leadership practices among principals and deputy principals through Communities of Practice (CoPs).

Evaluation Focus

In order to understand the complex role of the HoD and to establish the impact of their instructional leadership, an evaluative case study design was chosen. This involved collecting both qualitative and quantitative data to enrich the understanding of the project impact. Three data collection methods were applied, namely, i) Interviews with principals, HoDs and teachers; ii) Observations of lessons, phase meetings and classroom resources, and iii) Analysis of class exercise books, Department of Basic Education (DBE) learner workbooks, lesson plans and teachers’ weekly plans.

Six schools – two schools from each province – were selected as the sites for the evaluation. These schools were chosen on the basis that they demonstrated sufficient uptake of the first phase of the project.

Key Evaluation Findings

  • The project was implemented with high fidelity. There was an average of 89% attendance at training, with active participation by HoDs in the training sessions. However, the design, the training and coaching dosage had to be adapted to the circumstances and context of the province.
  • HoDs demonstrated improvement in their ability to support and strengthen teachers in literacy. Improvements in HoDs reflected fundamental changes in school routines and relationships. There was evidence that HoDs were able to conduct phase meetings that were inclusive and created a positive learning environment. However, despite newly instituted routines, the meeting decisions were not based on evidence. Thus options to remediate were at best, superficial, or did not go far or deep enough to ensure curriculum coverage. HoDs also did not use real learner data to solve problems.

Classroom observations by HoDs remained a challenge with teachers not allowing peer observation outside of the DBE mandated Integrated Quality Management System (IQMS). This indicated that the trust levels were improving very slowly between teachers and HoDs.

The evaluators believe that the training and coaching dosage for HoDs may have been too light to achieve the goal of institutionalising literacy practices in the school. The project expectation that the HoDs play the role of sustaining the new instructional practice may have been unrealistic, given the insufficient time at their disposal to act as instructional leaders for their teachers and low level of foundation skills of the teachers. The issues related to quality are likely to happen over time as change takes time.

  • Teachers in the Foundation Phase across all three provinces showed better classroom management routines and reflective teaching practice. Teachers in the project showed improvement in pedagogical and content knowledge; good lesson preparation, and strong engagement with learners in the form of constructive and corrective feedback in the classroom. However, most teachers struggled with time management, learner assessment and pitching at the right cognitive level of learners in a class.
  • Coaching is an enabling factor in the embedding of literacy practices and routines in schools (see Literature review of coaching in education: From ‘Knowing to Doing’)Coaching is an important technique to impart knowledge and skills to teachers. The evaluators found that coaching was important in creating a positive work environment, which improved relationships where learning could take place.

The coaching approach adopted by the ZenLit Project was a combination of content specific (literacy and pedagogical skills) and general professional development (attitudes, beliefs and leadership/management styles) coaching. Both the ERA and JET studies point to coaching methodology as an enabling factor supporting an improvement of planning, classroom management and implementation of reading strategies beyond choral repetition


The role of HoDs and their potential to serve as change levers in the system is of critical importance in the search for sustainable and contextually relevant solutions where there are few Subject Advisors to support teachers. This evaluation provides important insights into understanding the conditions under which HoDs can be most effective. The challenge of time to adequately provide support for teachers remains an issue for all HoDs, given that most HoDs are full time teachers. This report offers a valuable contribution to influencing important debates and policy regarding the potential for HoDs to be allowed time for supporting teachers, particularly in supporting reading in the Foundation Phase.

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