The Headmaster- A Strong Link in School Governance

Olof Johansson Elisabet Nihlfors

There is currently a lack of trust between headmasters and politicians. Principals consider that local politicians do not have sufficient competency while politicians do not have any confidence in the capacity of the headmasters and their competency at developing the school. These are the conclusions in the research report, Headmaster – A Strong Link in School Governance, that has been produced at the request of the SNS Educational Commission. The authors of the report are Olof Johansson, Professor of Political Science at Umeå University and Elisabet Nihlfors, Associate Professor (Docent) of Pedagogy at Uppsala University.

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The report presents a unique study among headmasters and local politicians in the responsible committees all over Sweden.

Some results from the study:

Among the headmasters, 43 per cent consider that the politicians on the educational committee do not have sufficient competency to develop the school, while barely one third of the responsible politicians on the committee consider that the headmasters have the required competency.
Every second headmaster considers that he/she lacks control over important decisions about the economic situation and personnel at their school.
The headmasters feel that they are powerless in relation to the politicians. Only 11 per cent of the headmasters feel they can affect the decisions on the political committee.
—Previous research shows that the headmaster is of great importance as a leader for the pedagogical activity and the pupils’ results. Thus, it is of great concern that the headmasters in Sweden feel that their responsibility and power are limited by the governance of the local politicians, states Elisabet Nihlfors.

The researchers give a number of suggestions for measures to reinforce the role of the headmaster and to improve the communication between school politicians and headmasters:
The headmaster must be given real conditions to govern the school activities. The role of the municipality should be to create good conditions for this and this shall not prevent the headmaster from exercising the leadership role that is described in the new school law.
Introduce a nation-wide and compulsory education for future headmasters with the aim of attracting more people to the profession and reinforcing the professional status of the headmaster.
The authors are ELISABETH NIHLFORS, Associate Professor (Docent) of Pedagogy at Uppsala University and OLOF JOHANSSON, Professor of Political Science at Umeå University.

Read more about SNS Educational Commission.

The report was presented at an SNS seminar on October 21.

According to ELISABET NIHLFORS, Associate Professor (Docent) of Pedagogy at Uppsala University and OLOF JOHANSSON, Professor of Political Science at Umeå University, most headmasters enjoy their role and consider their work to be important. At the same time, the insufficient connection between the responsibility and the power that the headmasters are given by their principal is problematic. Thus, proper support for the headmasters is needed. The principal should not govern the details and a compulsory education for headmasters that deals with leadership as a whole should be introduced. At the meeting, the participants expressed that it is important that Swedish research is carried out within this area and that the SNS research report is thus a welcome contribution to the discussion about the governance of the Swedish school.

IBRAHIM BAYLAN, the educational policy spokesperson for the Social Democrats, agrees with the authors of the report that there should be higher educational requirements for headmasters and a greater focus on pedagogical leadership in the education for headmasters. Headmasters should also be offered increased support in the form of supervision from mentors and the possibility of shared responsibility with a superintendent. According to ANDERS EKEGÄRD, Deputy Headmaster at Sunnerstaskolan, it is important that responsibility and power between the different levels of governance in the Swedish schools are clarified. ANN-MARIE BEGLER, Director General, The Inspectorate of Schools, pointed out that systematic high-quality work is important.

Participants at the meeting:

OLOF JOHANSSON, Professor of Political Science at Umeå University
ELISABET NIHLFORS, Associate Professor (Docent) of Pedagogy at Uppsala University

Comments on the report were made by PER-ARNE ANDERSSON, Director at SKL and responsible for questions concerning schools, IBRAHIM BAYLAN, spokesperson for educational policy, Social Democrats, LINA AXELSSON KIHLBOM, Headmistress at Ronnaskolan, ANN-MARIE BEGLER, Director General at the Swedish Schools Inspectorate, ANDERS EKEGÄRD, Deputy Headmaster at Sunnerstaskolan, MATZ NILSSON, Federal Chairman at The Swedish Association of School Principals and Directors of Education and GUNILLA SÖDERSTRÖM, Teacher in Headmaster Education and former Headmistress.

The meeting was chaired by CAMILO VON GREIFF, Director of Research at SNS.