During the meeting it became evident that the professional background, roles, profiles and tasks of school leaders vary considerably between countries. Following on from the meeting, a survey of the professional profile of head teachers was launched so as to understand the concept of leadership better in different countries. The aim was to shed light on how schools are currently managed in Europe in general and with regards to ICT and to identify the main areas of influence of head teachers across countries. 15 countries or regions and selected head teachers participated in the survey.
The survey is not meant to be comprehensive. It is based on expert input from national decision makers and head teachers, who have participated in peer exchange on the issue of professional profiles of head teachers. Representatives from Belgium [Flanders], Denmark, Estonia, Germany [Niedersachsen], Hungary, Ireland, Lithuania, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain [Catalonia], Sweden, Switzerland [Neuchâtel], UK [England, Northern Ireland] participated in the survey. They give a general overview of the status of head teachers in their country (majority of participants) or explain, due to decentralised responsibilities for education, the situation for a specific school and region (Germany and Switzerland). Countries or regions mentioned are therefore indicative. The examples serve as an illustration of what the roles of a head teacher can have but do not necessarily apply to other schools or other regions in these countries.
The survey investigated:
- The head teachers’ professional profile
- General roles of the head teacher
- Specific roles with regards to ICT
This article summarises the main conceptual findings of the survey by identifying those issues that have a direct impact on leadership in schools. Moreover, it shows how specific roles and responsibilities of head teachers are represented across European countries. An in-depth and detailed insight into the results of the survey relating to all aspects of the survey and giving all country details is available online and can be downloaded at http://insight.eun.org.
Head teachers` professional profile, their roles and functions are strongly rooted in the education system of each country. The identification of existing roles and responsibilities of head teachers shows areas that are highly represented and areas that are under represented across the different European countries surveyed. Moreover, certain aspects of these roles and functions influence the way schools are managed in general and with regards to ICT in particular.
The head teachers’ professional profile
Status and Recruitment Procedures
Head teachers’ professional profile, such as their professional status and recruitment procedures, have less direct implications on the way schools are managed, but will be mentioned briefly here to set the background. In most countries school principals are civil servants, employed by different authorities and recruited by a board. Only in a few countries, such as Belgium [Flanders], do head teachers employment conditions become more flexible with shorter contracts given.
The fact that most of the head teachers are recruited by a board consisting of stakeholders (parents, employing authorities, teachers, students) has the advantage of being a consultative process which involves the needs and expectations of various stakeholders reaching a consensus of interest of a broader educational community. The direct placement of head teachers and teachers by the administrative structure as in some education systems, might neglect the factor of consultation and multilevel interest in appointing the person.
There are two different cultures in terms of where head teachers are recruited from. In the larger group - consisting of UK, Catalonia, Switzerland, Slovenia, Estonia, and Portugal, head teachers are recruited preferably from within the school. In the other group (Denmark, Ireland, Germany, Northern Ireland) recruitment mostly takes place from other schools. In some cases, recruitment can be from both within or from other schools (Lithuania, Ireland, Hungary and Norway). Sweden is the only case where head teachers can also be recruited from other businesses.
Direct recruitment from within the schools, mostly from peers, can select people who have deeper insights into the specific situation of the school and its demands, and be a shorter and much less bureaucratic procedure. On the other hand, recruitment from other schools can bring outsiders as leaders to schools, which then have a much more objective approach. However, new head teachers need to first gain trust among the school community. Recruitment from outside the teaching profession as in Sweden can bring new skills and management styles to schools. However, this can not neglect the pedagogic background needed to lead a school.
Requirements and training for head teachers
Official requirements set to become a head teacher indicate what is formally expected from head teachers. With the exception of Sweden, where head teachers can be recruited from other professions, in all countries it is necessary to be a fully recognised and qualified teacher and have sufficient experience ranging from five to ten years.
One could imagine that training (and certification) required or offered to head teachers would be a crucial component to successfully fulfilling the professional requirements of being a head teacher. However, training for head teachers is not yet common practice in the majority of countries surveyed. Specific leadership training and /or a certification is only required in some countries (Slovenia, Estonia and Catalonia). Northern Ireland, Hungary and Lithuania foresee offering certification or specific training in the future. Training offers for future or performing head teachers already exist in Sweden, UK and Switzerland.
The lack of specific leadership training and requirements other than experience seems to suggest that intuitive leading prevails in the majority of countries.
General roles of the head teacher
The following roles for head teachers have been identified. They were analysed according to which extent they are part of head teachers` functions (= level of presence) in different European countries.
(See also the table below listing the areas as represented across countries).
Administrative, pedagogic or strategic (from high (administrative) to medium level of presence (pedagogic/ strategic))
Concerning the role of head teachers, there are two types of profile: one we might call the “balanced role” between the administrative, the pedagogical and the strategic (Germany, Portugal, Slovenia, Catalonia, Sweden, Northern Ireland with Lithuania moving towards a more strategic role) and the other where the head teacher would be confined to a more administrative role (in England, Estonia, Swiss [Primary schools] and Belgium [Flanders]. In some countries, like Ireland and Norway, the role is becoming increasingly administrative. There again, leadership roles are influenced by organisational or external factors, for example, increasing education legislation as in Ireland.
Hiring staff (medium level of presence)
Leadership can take many forms at school and the tasks of the head teacher define the leadership style. In countries such as the UK, Sweden or Norway, head teachers take an active part when it comes to hiring staff. They can, in some way, choose their ‘team’ and hire personnel according to specific needs or pedagogic options they have.
Whereas in other countries, where teachers are ‘placed’ (Germany, Slovenia) the role of the head teacher is very different in that they are dealing with characters and teacher’s profile which might not correspond to their type of leadership.
Organisation of teacher training (medium to low level of presence)
Teacher training is a good way to assess leadership in schools. In some countries the head teacher is directly involved and responsible for the training policy of the teaching staff (Belgium [Flanders], Sweden, UK [Northern Ireland]). Depending on which type of training is focussed on, the head teacher would have an indirect influence on crucial pedagogical choices within the schools.
However, in some countries, training is not the head teacher’s responsibility and much more left to the individual teacher (e.g. Germany). Teachers themselves choose whether or not to engage in training.
Influence on school curricula (medium level of presence)
In all countries surveyed, head teachers are bound to implement national curricula set out by a higher authority (regional or national curricula). The room for manoeuvre in implementing national targets set out by the government is a strong factor in establishing the style of pedagogical leadership in the school.
Leadership in the curricula can also, in some countries, be found in the capacity of the head teachers to influence the shape of the national curricula. This is especially the case in countries with goal-oriented curriculum which requires consultation at the local level.
Relation to parents (high level of presence)
All countries represented in the survey mentioned the specific relation between the head teacher and the parents. This is a very important and positive aspect of the role of the head teachers to dissolve the rigid separation between home and school. ICT can be a major and positive driver in that process either as a point of discussion or as a new means of communication.
Specific roles with regards to ICT
Developing and leading a whole school strategy for ICT (medium level of presence)
Head teachers are involved in developing a whole school strategy for ICT use at school in eight countries, but to different extents. In some countries the decisional or advisory role of the ICT coordinator is crucial in that process. However, not every school has an ICT coordinator. In e-confident schools the head teacher has a key role in developing a whole school strategy.
Allocation of (ICT) budgets (high level of presence)
An important factor in how far ICT can be developed in a school is the power head teachers have to allocate budgets for ICT. In all countries, except Denmark and Switzerland [primary], the head teacher allocates budget related to ICT and this mostly from a general budget. Therefore the importance the head teacher gives to ICT is an important factor in allocating the budget.
Appointment of ICT coordinator (medium level of presence)
The head teacher appoints the ICT coordinator in twelve countries UK [England], Denmark, Sweden, Hungary, Spain [Catalonia], Lithuania, Switzerland [secondary], Ireland, Slovenia, Estonia, Germany [Niedersachsen] and Norway.
Approval of ICT decisions (high level of presence)
Concerning the approval of ICT decisions the role of the head teacher is very important, but levels of involvement differ. Day-to-day decisions are made at a teacher or ICT coordinator level, whereas for big decisions or where budget is involved the head teachers’ approval is needed. Here again much depends on the head teacher’s commitment towards ICT issues.
Table 1: Head teachers’ responsibilities as mentioned by countries
There are a number of responsibility areas of head teachers that have a high level of presence in the countries surveyed, such as the relations to parents, the allocation of school and ICT budgets, the approval of ICT decisions or the appointment of the ICT coordinator. In all countries head teachers deal with administrative matters.
In all these areas it seems crucial that the head teacher is able to use this given power by making the right decisions. Therefore, targeted leadership training to foster general management capacities in these specific areas but also commitment towards ICT as a tool for school development seems to be essential and needs to be strengthened for most of the countries surveyed. In general, administrative procedures should be facilitated to make them more efficient freeing time for strategic and pedagogical influence, especially in countries where the head teacher solely deals with administrative issues.
The same is true for the areas of medium level of presence (ICT strategy for the schools, curricula, pedagogic and strategic roles) which, on the one hand, should be better exploited but also are areas where the head teacher needs to be empowered. If there is more room for manoeuvre in curricula, for example, the head teacher can implement strategic goals on a more practical level. Strategic roles of head teachers need to be strengthened in almost half of the countries surveyed.
There are a few areas of low presence across the countries surveyed that are really important and where head teachers must be empowered if effective integration of ICT in schools is not to be hindered.
The most important area in this respect is the organisation of teacher training and the support of the ICT co-ordinator. Head teachers need to take a more proactive and supportive role in that process. If, as the survey shows, the head teacher is involved in the development of a whole strategy for ICT use in schools but mostly delegates the work to the ICT co-ordinator, he or she also needs to ensure the conditions to meet the objectives set.
Moreover, in some countries the head teacher could have more say in the hiring of staff as a means of team-building in schools.
In general, roles of the head teachers can be very diverse across Europe, but one of the biggest factors for leadership is the size and type of schools. Whether the head teacher operates in primary or secondary education, in large or small schools, will dramatically influence its leadership. Whilst this was not the main question of the survey, it became clear from the majority of responses on a more general level.
To conclude, leadership in schools not only concerns head teachers. There are many other people in a school who can take a leadership role such as teacher or group leaders or ICT co-ordinators, whose role should not be underestimated. They can influence decisions, formulate goals and make sure that decisions are implemented. As such, they have an equally important role in the development of a school.
Download the full survey analysis [pdf]
Keywords: school management
Last changed: Friday, 29 May 2009