Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Euro sceptics?

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Across Europe, the roles and responsibilities of education leaders are undergoing transformation. Many countries are looking with interest at models in the UK but, finds Dorothy Lepkowska, some changes are more welcome than others.

The role of educational leadership around Europe is changing. Models of heavy state and local government control are gradually losing their grip, replaced by greater autonomy and delegation of responsibility.

There are increased levels of collaboration between institutions, local communities and businesses and in the most progressive systems, moves towards executive headships involving more than one school.

If much of this sounds familiar, it is because large parts of Europe look towards England and the rest of the UK as a model, according to Ian Bauckham, chair of ASCL's International Committee and head of Bennett Memorial School in Kent.

"It is impossible to generalise, but it is certainly true to say that other countries tend to know what is happening here, and take a great deal of interest in our education system," he says.

"Few of us would know, for example, what the inspection bodies are called in other countries, but they have all heard of Ofsted - and have very strong views about what they think of it.

"English tends to be the lingua franca of the education world, so we find ourselves open to quite a lot of overseas scrutiny in this country, and many like what they see. Many of our European colleagues say they relish greater autonomy and delegation, though older, more experienced heads are worried by it because they are used to being more protected."

Here, we look at existing models of headship in five European countries.


The Spanish education The Spanish education system has had different models of leadership in the past 30 years. The role has evolved from an administrative position, where no teaching experience was required, to a pedagogical one, where candidates must be serving teachers.

Unusually for most European countries, headteachers in Spain are elected for a period of four years by a committee comprising members of the local education authority and representatives of the school.

Existing staff have priority for consideration and may be selected as candidates for the post but if none is found to be suitable, the vacancy may be opened up to external applicants.

The committee considers the candidates' qualities, and those selected must have completed a programme of specific training. Successful ones may be re-elected after their term of office ends if they are deemed to have carried out their duties and responsibilities well.

The headteacher leads the executive body of governance in the school, which includes the head of studies, the school administrator and others determined by the education authority. This structure makes the head legally responsible for the management of the school, though the role is determined by legislation, which leaves little room for autonomy.

Spanish heads generally have less freedom to employ and dismiss staff, manage budgets, authorise building works or modernisation than many of their European counterparts. However, there are now emerging models of greater autonomy in some parts of the country, depending on the political complexion of the local authority.

Heads can exercise considerable influence on teaching in their school, where they have the autonomy to develop the curriculum, and their appointment would have been dependent on a defined action plan. In that context they can review what is taught, how it is taught, and may develop new classroom approaches and promote different ways of evaluating student performance.

As such, therefore, headteachers can influence teachers' job satisfaction by asking them to adopt and use new and innovative teaching methods.

Heads are obliged to draft an annual plan for the school, which is evaluated and approved by the school council made up of the leadership team, teachers, parents and students, as well as a representative of the town council. This body is also responsible for evaluating the general running of the school.


The system of school leadership in the Netherlands is probably the most similar to that in the UK.

Secondary schools tend to be slightly larger - averaging around 1,500 pupils - and leadership is based on a hierarchical structure. The head will be responsible for the quality of education, for example, but is likely to have a deputy or assistant who looks after finance and resources and personnel matters. A middle management team is made up of departmental heads and other team leaders.

Heads are appointed by open selection and can expect to earn an annual salary of up to €84,000 a year. Vacancies are advertised in newspapers and both internal and external candidates are eligible to apply. Candidates are interviewed by a panel made up of members of the school board.

The head assumes ultimate responsibility for the whole school. This includes the school's education policy and quality assurance, and how the budget is spent.

Schools in the Netherlands have no fixed curriculum, so heads have some latitude over what is taught, shaping teaching and focusing on areas they want to give attention to.

Although the national government sets examination standards and attainment targets for the end of lower level secondary education, these are very broad. It also fixes the number of hours of teaching a pupil should receive every year, though schools can decide how many hours a week to devote to each subject.

As in the UK, the Netherlands has a system of inspection and schools find themselves competing for certain pupil profiles. The inspectorate publishes information about pupil attainment for each school but heads say that parents are more likely to choose a school for its ethos, its strengths in individual subject areas and where their child's friends are going.

Heads are also expected to liaise with parents through a statutory participation board - a group comprising teachers, pupils and parents. Where there is a problem with a pupil, for example, with behaviour or attainment, a team leader will be expected to deal with this, though serious problems will require the involvement of the headteacher.

Annette Kerkstra, a policy adviser for VO-raad, the council for secondary education in the Netherlands, says: "School leaders worry about workload, levels of finance, how much autonomy they should have and the quality of teaching staff. Increasingly, we are debating the school's obligations towards society, and how far they should be expected to solve social problems."


School leadership in Norway is in a state of flux. Increasingly, headteachers are being given delegated responsibilities, for example to recruit staff, and manage the curriculum and budget. At the same time, however, they are required to be more and more accountable for school outcomes, such as pupil attainment.

Recruiting headteachers in Norway is becoming more and more difficult and the job is perceived as less attractive than it might once have been, largely as a result of the changes.

Solveig Dahl, a headteacher and president of the Norwegian School Leader Association, says that the resources and support available to headteachers to handle reforms "do not follow the new tasks and responsibilities".

Unlike the UK, heads in Norway tend to not become embroiled in competition for pupils or staff, and national tests in English, Norwegian and maths - part of the national quality assessment system - are used to personalise and tailor learning, rather than being the basis for league tables.

Dahl says: "We try to develop systems that make ranking schools and classes as difficult as possible. But some local authorities and politicians want a system of ranking because they believe that competition promotes improvement."

Vacancies for headships are advertised and there is an open selection process, involving an interview with a panel of representatives from the municipality or county authority - which is technically the owner of the school - and the headteachers' union.

Heads are responsible for budgets, employing and dismissing staff, as well as their professional development, and pupil outcomes. They are also expected to maintain regular contact with the regional government, to implement national reforms and curricula in full, and ensure that schools sustain links with their local communities.

Depending on the size of the school, the headteacher can expect to have a number of deputies and assistants, though this may depend on the local organisation of schools in a municipality. Large schools can have up to 12 deputies, while smaller schools might have just one assistant head. Heads are not expected to assume teaching duties, but tend to do so in smaller schools.

Salaries are dependent on the size of the school, the local school structure and the politics of the municipality, and a head's pay is often negotiated individually. Typically however, it will range from €56,000 to €85,000. Headteachers' unions are working towards negotiating a structure for salaries and working conditions. "The current salary scales don't reflect the responsibility and the importance of the job," says Dahl.

As in many countries, school leaders are concerned about long working hours, a heavy workload, and a lack of leadership training and support which can make increased responsibilities and accountability very demanding.


Headteachers in Austria are classed as civil servants, either of the federal government - in the case of academic secondary and secondary vocational schools - or of the province, if working in primary, general secondary or special schools. Typically, teachers and heads remain in one school throughout their careers, a trend which tends to hamper recruitment and leads to low staff turn-over.

Recruiting heads is a cumbersome exercise. When a vacancy arises, teachers from the school are usually invited to apply for the post and a school committee screens the applicants through interviews and presentations before choosing a shortlist of three, ranking them in the desired order.

The shortlist is then handed to the regional school board, who may change this order, but cannot add any further names to the list. The final decision is made by the regional education authority, which consults with teachers' unions, the local community and inspectors before making an appointment. The Ministry of Education then approves this choice.

New heads serve a four-year probationary period during which they have to undergo management courses.

Historically, the role of headteachers in Austria has been to implement laws and directives from above, manage the budget, monitor the curriculum and work with teachers on their professional development.
However, these duties are changing due to deregulation and the shift towards greater autonomy. The introduction of national standards and tests means heads will have increased responsibilities for pedagogy and teaching.

Despite greater freedoms, the discretion of heads remains limited. They do not hire or fire staff, for example, although they may advise on the choice of candidates for interview, and they must consult on most decisions taken on behalf of the school with stakeholders, including teachers, parents, students and the community.

Headteachers' relationships with their staff can also be complex. While the head is their supervisor, teachers enjoy independence in the classroom in terms of how they teach. They may be monitored and mentored by heads as part of their professional development but teachers are not evaluated by them. As a result, heads have no say in setting teachers' pay or offering bonuses, though they may recommend these to higher authorities.

In the past five years, a Leadership Academy has been set up in Austria to train heads to become more autonomous, to take greater initiative and to support headteachers in managing the changes imposed on them by government reforms.


Although geographically close to the UK, the school leadership system in the Republic of Ireland is perhaps further from the British model than many other countries. Principals in the Republic of Ireland consider themselves to be among the most heavily legislated in Europe, heavily legislated in Europe, as a result of various types of regulation relating to education, employment, equality and health and safety to which they are required to adhere.

Principals receive a modest allowance on top of their teacher's salary. Vacancies for principal jobs in Ireland have to be advertised nationally, and a selection board of five people is assembled to shortlist and interview. The panel will look closely at the candidate's willingness to support the ethos of the school, as well as their teaching and interpersonal skills.

However, there is little mobility in schools in Ireland and many principals are promoted internally. Teachers also gain promotion through their seniority with the school. As a result of this culture, teaching staff tend to be appointed to and retire from the same school.

It means the principal is viewed by colleagues and the school community more as the lead teacher than as a leader, and the role embodies the concept of 'first among equals'.

To that end, he or she is expected to act as a role model for the school and to see the bigger picture of what is required of everyone. They are responsible for managing the curriculum, pupil attainment and assessing and recording pupil progress. They are expected to promote a culture of learning by providing support, adequate facilities and resources.

However, they have limited capacity for discretionary spending as school budgets - as well as staffing allocations and the curriculum - are dictated by central government.

Clive Byrne, a former principal and now director of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals, says that heads still carry out a lot of tasks which in English schools have been delegated to other leaders. "A lot of the job is taken up with administrative tasks and insufficient time is devoted to learning," he says.

"Administrative workload is a big issue and appropriate support and more effective middlemanagement structures would make the job more do-able."


In Slovenia heads are appointed for a five-year fixed term, which may be extended if the candidate is considered to be doing a good job.

Headteachers - known as directors in secondary schools - are appointed and dismissed by a nine-member School Council, divided equally between parent, teacher and community representatives. The council seeks the opinions of other stakeholders, including local people and the Ministry of Education, in making an appointment.

An eligible candidate must have been a teacher for at least five years and must either have completed a headship qualification or be working towards it. Training and certification for heads is provided through the National School for Leadership in Education.

The headteacher is accountable to the School Council, and must submit an annual school plan, a financial plan and report, and a report detailing the working of the school generally. He or she must consult extensively with the council on all relevant matters.

Despite this, Slovenian heads enjoy a considerable degree of autonomy, albeit within a legal framework. They are able to select their staff, decide how budgets are spent in terms of materials and resources, and can design parts of the curriculum.

They also ensure that quality assurance is met, and are expected to foster a spirit of cooperation with their local communities. Heads are responsible for drawing up school timetables and allocating teaching time to staff, though they may delegate this to an assistant or deputy head.

Heads have significant responsibilities in terms of their teachers' professional development. They must observe lessons, evaluate teachers work and give feedback. There are no guidelines related to this process at the national level, but the inspection regime requires it.

Heads themselves decide what constitutes a good lesson but the criteria they use is usually guided by manuals and books, rather than a national framework. Their observations may lead to teachers being promoted.

In their role as promoting teaching and learning, they tend to be held up as role models and traditional values which they regard as 'right' in teaching are strongly promoted within their school. However, they are not yet held entirely accountable for student performance.

Heads are also expected to collaborate with other schools, local communities and businesses in forming partnerships and consortia.

In recent years, the role of headteachers in Slovenia has become increasingly managerial and less about instructional leadership. A report from the OECD found that these tensions have yet to be resolved at a national level, and it is up to individual headteachers to deal with these as best they can.

Further reading...

For further models of school leadership in Europe, and a report on Improving School Leadership, go to the OECD website at www.oecd.org

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