The Swedish school system – Its problems and possible solutions

The Swedish school system – Its problems and possible solutions

Gunner Iselau is the former Director of Education for the Swedish National Agency of Education. In this position, he has gained a meta-perspective of the Swedish school organisation and its problems. Colleagues in other countries often ask ‘How is it that Sweden’s school system, which has previously been a model for the rest of the world, has now become so problematic?’ 

In this video, Gunnar addresses this question and offers solutions to the 10 problems he identifies. He hopes that this will help educators and educational researchers around the world better understand the Swedish system, and compare it to their country’s educational system.

A transcript of his presentation can be found below the video. 

Video Transcript 

Hello. I’m Gunnar Iselau and I get a lot of questions from my international colleagues. Everyone starts in the same way. How is it that Sweden, which has had such a well-functioning school system, now has such a polarized and international questioned system? And that Sweden, which was at the top in terms of knowledge, now has fallen so low. And that’s Sweden which was the world’s best at helping those students in need, is now letting these students sink.

The summary of the questions is how it is that Sweden, which is so rich and has all the possibilities, has created a polarizing school system that threatens the entire base for its democracy?

The Swedish education system does not work as intended based on school laws and regulations for the school. Instead, every level of responsibility in practice interprets in their own way. Instead of enforcing the common rules, the result is a lottery both regarding equivalence and learning.

Which possibilities a student gets depends on the municipality, school, and teacher. What could it be due to? In various international contexts, I’ve presented the basic reasons that can explain why nothing happens despite a lot of efforts being made.

Colleagues from different countries who have heard me have now requested these reasons, so I will present the top 10 obstacles in about 20 minutes including possible solutions.

See this as a starting point for your reflections on the school situation in your own country to discover and avoid, and if necessary, improve.

And what do I base my experience on? I have served at the National Agency for Education’s evaluation department for a long time. There I have participated in and been responsible for evaluations, had dialogues with the Ministry of Education, within universities research, and recently been hired as an expert by authorities and municipalities. In this way, I’ve gained a meta-perspective on the situation for the Swedish education organization.

Everything I know we describe should be perceived as positive even if it’s negative. And to make it clear some descriptions are in black and white. To make a point what I am describing is the usual situation although there are of course exceptions, but they are just exceptions.

The first step is always to realize how it is in order to change – as in the emperor’s new clothes, if you read this story. All my points are in line with both Swedish laws and regulations, school research and evaluations of the Swedish school system. Some of my reports on this are available in English. Some are also for use by the OECD.

The basic question is why the Swedish schools’ equivalence and quality have declined despite all attempts to make them better. The efforts made over the past 25 years can be summed up by the fact that never have so many made so many efforts in Swedish schools at such an enormous cost, with so little efficiency. So, what is the problem with the Swedish school organization and how can it get better?

Here is a description in 10 points in about 20 minutes.

Number one. Levels of responsibility in the school system.

It’s a horizontal spinning system. The Swedish governance of the school is divided into different levels of responsibility. The National Ministry of Education has given the municipal assemblies the responsibility to organize their schools so that each principal can lead the school. So that each student achieves the national goals. So, it is three main levels. The national government, the municipal assemblies, and the school unit level.

The problem is that these levels are like different worlds. Each level works in its own way, according to its own perceptions of what to do. Not after the national mission. In an effort to improve, each different level does more of the same thing, which makes it worse. We can call this “horizontal spinning”. It is common for each level to shift its responsibility to the level below.

Finally, the responsibility for students’ learning has dropped to the student themselves. And when the student is in trouble, especially if he or she hasn’t parents who can help. No school organization wants to prevent students from learning.

Sweden does not want that either but still, it is what is happening. And how to fix this?

The first thing is to make sure that each level of responsibility does not decide for itself what to do or follow the municipal routine which often focuses on secondary tasks. Instead, the action of the levels must be based on the assignments in the national government documents. That is what the Swedish taxpayers pay for, and the students have the right to, and what the democratic society needs. Therefore, ensure that the upper level in the school organization acts so that the next level can fulfill – and really fulfills – its national mission. Otherwise, it will be as it is.

Number two. Knowledge goals.

They are lowered to suit a worse result. Only 80% of students reach the national goals each year. A situation that has been going on for several decades and which has been implicitly approved by the National Ministry of Education, and their supervisory authorities. This means that 20% of Swedish students have not been given the conditions they are entitled to. 20 000 students per year during each year.

The responsibility lies with the National Ministry of Education which has not clarified the municipal assembly’s responsibility to give each student equal opportunities to achieve the national goals.

The National Ministry of Education has, through its failure to enforce the Education Act in practice, accepted the municipal assembly’s own interpretations of the Education Act. Which is startling but has become normal. The rankings published by various interest organizations for teachers and employers have contributed to the maintaining of low goal fulfillment. The municipalities that are above the average in the measurements do nothing more. And those that are below do not consider themselves able to do anything. The years go by, and nothing happens.

How to fix this? According to the curriculum, the teaching is based on the students’ experiences and thinking. Not, as often can be, based on the teacher’s own experiences and thinking. What to do is simple and obvious. Just as national laws in Sweden ensure that everyone in traffic drives on the right side, so the National Ministry of Education must ensure that everyone complies with the Education Act.

This means that the curriculum’s goals and guidelines must guide the teaching.

Not the teachers’ different opinions on what to do. This will increase the conditions for the students learning.

Number three. Nationally governing.

It’s more to be governed, than governing. Instead of governing, the National Ministry of Education afterwards tries to support – with extra resources and targeted efforts – when the municipalities and schools prove not to work. The municipal assemblies and their economists are grateful when they do not have to take their given responsibility. These rescue efforts have been done for the past 20 years and did not even work from the beginning. But it has become an alibi for both the municipal assemblies and the national Ministry of Education that something is being done. And gives a deadline that is further ahead to wait and see. But it does not get better. And then try again in the same way with the same result. And it does not get any better.

That the Swedish schools inspectorate criticize the officials in the municipalities when something is wrong but spares the politically responsible. Then it’s difficult to get a change. The root cause is that the municipalities organization is Teflon coated. All attempts by the National Ministry of Education to do something that changed the municipalities routines slip away and disappear.

And how to fix this? The operation is simple. The National Ministry of Education requires the municipal assembly to comply with the Education Act. And in that way, make sure that every student gets the conditions to feel safe and learn. In addition, the national government should once again earmark the economic contributions for schools, and repay what the national government saved in the 1990s when they left it to the municipalities to take responsibility. In this way, both the municipal and the national bodies benefits as the need for money for plasters  – that is to say emergency measures – decreases.

Number four. The municipal assemblies’ governors.

“What? We?” Because the Swedish municipal assemblies have not seen or accepted their responsibility for each student, they have used money that could have created equivalence and quality in the school for other things. Then, it costs them many times as much to try to repair the damage that has occurred, to patch up the failed teaching.

Students who do not receive the opportunity cost a lot in extra support measures, as well as later in social expenses, labour market measures, and some unfortunately in prison care costs. It can be said that the sails that would be used to move the school ship forward must instead be used to seal the holes in the leaking school ship.

What will be the effect of the Swedish municipalities keeping a low teacher wage level for almost 30 years? Well, they have lost talented teachers who earn more in other professions. Instead, they often have teachers who could not be anything else. In addition, many of the teachers do not even have a teacher’s degree. And the question is – what does a teacher’s substandard teaching costs the students who do not get the opportunity to learn that they are entitled to? And what does it cost society?

When the municipality reduced teachers’ salaries and fewer people wanted to become teachers, the Swedish national ministry of education tried to help by lowering the admission requirements for teacher education. Double error. Poor competence of the teachers hardly benefits the students’ learning.

And how to fix this? The question is what is the best effect for the money invested in the school? Swedish and international reports are clear. The best financial outcome is to secure and, if necessary, increase the teachers’ competence to teach. Because Sweden has not invested in it so far, this is the biggest potential success factor in Swedish schools. A necessary premise is that the focus in the system must change. From focusing on the final result to ensuring the quality of the ongoing process – that is the teaching – which is what affects the result.

Number five. The Head of Education in the municipality.

They released the steering wheel. The responsible local politicians have officials who will organize the assignment, based on the resources provided. Responsible is the Head of the Education department in the municipal. That is the case in theory but not in practice. It is common for the Head of Education department in the municipal not to ensure that the principal performs – and can perform – his or her duties. The alibi is often that the principal says to the head of the administration, “I have a government assignment, so I take care of it myself”, and both execs then can do what they think is more important or easier. It becomes a win-win situation for them, but a losing situation for the students, who remain in their difficulties.

How to fix this? Yes, you will probably see the necessary action directly. It is that the municipal assembly places as the first requirement on its Head of Education to ensure that each principal can carry out – and carries out – his or her assignment. And it is to make sure that the teaching works for each teacher. Then the Head of Education has fulfilled their task. Perhaps the most important contribution as it also becomes a model for the principal’s approach to their teachers. 

Number six. Principals.

They hand over their pedagogical leadership to each teacher. In Sweden, there is often a division of property between the principal and the teachers. We teachers take care of the quality of teaching so you as a principal can take care of the rest. This makes life easier for the principal and for the teachers but not for the students. Because Swedish teachers are alone. No one follows how their teaching is conducted. Students in difficulty remain in difficulty. It should be noted that the principal in fact also commits misconduct. For the principles task in the curriculum is precisely to be a pedagogical leader. As this, the principal is responsible for following up on the teaching and evaluating school results in relation to the national goals and the knowledge requirements. The principal is also responsible for the results of the school. In Swedish schools, principals often do – or must do – other tasks than being pedagogical leaders. As a result, the situation is as it is. The same year to year.

And how to fix it? This is most important. It should not be a lottery what chance a student gets depending on the teacher’s skills. Therefore, the principal must ensure that each teacher has – or develops – three basic competencies according to school research. Relationship competencies, leadership competencies, and didactic competencies.

The view of a good teacher must be defined. It is not the one who gives high marks or leans his teaching toward a textbook. Nor it is to be able to motivate the already motivated students. What is the criterion for a good teacher? Well, it is to be able to motivate the unmotivated student. The day when this criteria becomes crucial in wage setting, then something happens in the Swedish schools.

Number seven. Quality assurance.

It’s fruit without seeds.

Each principal and each Swedish municipal assembly must, according to the Education Act, make an annual quality assurance to follow up and develop the education. But how is it in practice? It is not done – or it is made by each principal according to their own opinion, often focusing on what they have done but a little on what they have achieved. And no descriptions of problems or what to do about them. Or it is the management’s description, which often is overfilled with excel statistics that no one can interpret or interprets in different ways.

In summary, the Swedish quality work does not work. It has no core that builds the future and often no one but the author of the report cares. How do we know that Swedish quality assurance does not work? Well, then quality improvements would have made it better, right? But nothing has happened. The same situation year after year.

And how to fix this?

The starting point for evaluation should not be the staff’s image, but the students’ own descriptions of the situation. The current situation of their well-being and their learning. It is this image that governs their actions. So it is the student’s image that all improvement starts with, not the adults’ image of how they think the students feel.

Also, the focus must change from what has been achieved to what remains. Which should not be described as common as aggregated percentage. Instead, for each school, state the number of students who have not achieved the goals. This then becomes concrete both as a challenging starting point and to follow the effect of measures. It is the student’s image of their situation that constitutes the fruitful core. The one that is the common starting point at all levels of responsibility to coordinate and – if necessary – to improve.

Number eight. For-profit independent schools. A loss for all but one.

In Sweden, as the only country in the world, you can start a school that is paid for with tax money per pupil. And if there is money left over, take it out as a profit.

Will there be money left over? Certainly – if the owner reduces the cost through cheap premises, cheap staff, and selects students who are easy to teach, the owner gets a fat bank account somewhere. Results improve, the for-profit school’s students are given higher grades but have poorer knowledge than municipal ones when these are measured equally.

Freedom of choice is positive words but hides increased segregation by the fact that some schools attract certain students. The result, together with segregated residential areas, has been that Swedish schools have gone from mixed socio-economic school classes to schools being segregated depending on parents’ socio-economic status or religious affiliation. Add that to the National Agency for Education reports that the opportunity you as a student gets depends on peer influence. That is, how to succeed in achieving your goals depends on which schoolmates you have — this has dismantled the equation and well-being in the Swedish society. The misunderstanding of each other and thus the contradictions has increased – like the exclusions of students from school. For-profit independent schools and freedom of choice for some have thus eroded democracy in Swedish society.

And how to fix this? First, do not introduce profit in school activities. It’s not good for anyone except the owners’ bank accounts. If the municipal school does not work well, do not think that increased competition by giving profit to private school companies is the solution. Rather, improve the municipal school equally for all. Cheaper, and better. For if the National Ministry of Education and the municipality assemblies follow the guidelines set out in the national government documents and which I’ve tried to recall here, there is no reason to choose. Then all schools have the same quality. Then the students’ opportunities are not affected by where they live nor by the socio-economic or religious status of their parents.

Number nine. National tests. Something good that became bad.

In the 90s, national tests were introduced in Swedish schools. They were diagnostic. The teacher could compare the image of the student with the image from the national test and thereby get a second opinion for their assessment. According to the National Agency for Education, it should support the teacher to make assessments equally and fairly. Good, if it stopped at this. But the media and politicians began to take in results, rank schools, and see the tests as exams. Then things went crooked.

The results of the national tests were decisive for both the principal status and the teachers’ salary level. The national tests which could only measure paper pencil answers guided the teaching to a lower level. A situation that makes it easier for insecure teachers with a lower competence to be able to teach but disadvantages the students, especially those who have difficulty expressing themselves in text or have a bad day.

In addition, the teachers corrected the students’ answers themselves. Situations are described where the teacher regulates their salary and gives the school a higher ranking by correcting the students’ answers positively.

How to fix this.

Yes, diagnostic tests are good for the often lonely teachers’ assessment. It also concretizes the parts of the curriculum that are measured which is good. But avoid comparative rankings and these take over teachers grading responsibility, then everything fails. By returning to the function national tests should have – a second opinion for the teacher. The teacher’s professional status is increased. It also gives students a better chance of reaching all national goals, even those that cannot be measured with just paper and pencil.

Number 10. School research without practical effect.

Swedish school research is characterized by researchers making research to present their research reports to their research colleagues and thus make it clear. It’s often interesting reports, which then are read and discussed by their colleagues and superiors. But what about principals and teachers? Do they know? No. And if they come across them, do they feel that they can be used in their everyday school life? No.

So, even if Swedish school research highlights how the school should function, it has had no practical effect.

And what is needed to fix this? It’s just one thing. Introduce requirements for tested and repeated results by external parts -at the school level and teaching level – before a research report is approved. Then the results would have an effect in the Swedish schools.

This was 10 points that sum up Swedish school’s problems, but also shows how the problems can be solved, which is stated in the Education Act and in the curriculum, but are not followed so far.

So, really – it’s easy. Just to begin. The basic idea in these ten points is that if all levels of responsibility instead do as intended in the assignment, it’s more likely that the Swedish schools will reach what is intended – the same conditions for all students regardless of municipality, school, or teacher.

I hope these 10 points have stimulated you in your thinking, and how you experience your school organization.

 

Gunnar Iselau

Gunnar Iselau

Former Director of Education, the Swedish National Agency for Education, now developer of municipal school systems.

Gunnar Iselau is a former Director of Education, the Swedish National Agency for Education, and is now a developer of municipal school systems.

International observer IEA.

Website: sysko.se

Looking to the Past to think about the Future of Policy Research

Looking to the Past to think about the Future of Policy Research

With the online European Conference on Educational Research 2021 fast approaching, to whet your appetite for what will doubtless be an exciting and stimulating event, you might like to revisit one of the academic highlights of spring 2021 for the Policy Studies and the Politics of Education Network (EERA Network 23). Our Online Seminar Series brought together leading academics in the field of education policy studies, all of whom have a close relationship with Network 23. Over 200 friends and associates of the network registered to attend the four seminars, reflecting the huge contribution made by each of our speakers to education policy research.

In one way or another, our speakers looked to the past to think about the future of critical education policy research.

Navigating Crisis: A reflection on 2020, entangled space-times of education, revisionist work and learning, and making histories

In the first seminar, Terri Seddon, Professor Emeritus of La Trobe University in Melbourne, reflected on the events of 2020 before looking to the future. In a powerful presentation, Terri brought together a variety of images and ideas with findings from a funded research project that investigated policy reform and policy effects in an ‘integrated partnership’ model of teacher education. Terri suggested that historical reading and writing can offer insights into educational knowledge building, and discussed processes of rereading the past and rewriting the future. Finally, in looking towards sustainable futures, Terri considered the place of doubt in partnership work and concluded with thoughts on the remaking of teacher education.

Multiple Temporalities in Critical Policy Sociology in Education

In the second seminar, Bob Lingard, Professorial Fellow in the Institute for Learning Sciences and Teacher Education at the Australian Catholic University and Emeritus Professor at The University of Queensland, discussed multiple temporalities in critical education policy sociology. Extending the concept of ‘historically informed’ in Jenny Ozga’s definition of education policy sociology in 1987, Bob considered different conceptions of the temporal which, he suggested, refers to the complex relationships between past, present, and future. Bob then argued that the temporal is neglected in critical education policy sociology, and demands new research and theoretical work. Looking back in time will help us understand the present and possible future in policy terms, and relationships between them.

Elites and Experts in Education Policy

In the third seminar, Jenny Ozga, Professor Emeritus of the University of Oxford and one of the founders of our network, discussed elites and experts in education policy. Jenny drew on work investigating the changing relationship between knowledge, expertise, and policy, looking at the forms of knowledge available to policy actors and the effects of these on the capacity of policy actors, including experts and elites, to govern education. Jenny compared the knowledge technologies and material processes available to policy elites and experts in the 1980s with those in contemporary contexts, to better understand knowledge-policy relationships. She concluded with some thoughts on how the pandemic has affected relationships between experts and policymakers.

Sedimentation and/or re-politicization of a highly marketized education system

In the final seminar, Lisbeth Lundahl and Linda Rönnberg, both Professors at the University of Umea, were joined by Professor Piia Seppänen of the University of Turku to discuss highly marketized education systems, focusing on Sweden. Their work builds on research carried out over several decades on the economisation of public education and its consequences, which include increased social segregation, reduced democratic influence over education, and the impoverishment of curricula. They set each of these in historical perspective within the Swedish context. Based on interviews with leading Swedish system actors, including education business leaders and various interest organisations, Lisbeth, Linda and Piia then reported on the extent to which commodification, privatization and marketization in education have become institutionalized, normalized, and therefore taken for granted. They identified this process as one that Bob Jessop describes as sedimentation, although they remained hopeful that re-politicisation of policy debates was now emerging.

This series provided an opportunity for those within the wider education policy research community to connect with each other. For many, these seminars provided some relief from the enforced isolation of the global pandemic, and were well received by all who attended. The speakers were generous in the time they gave, and provocative and insightful in their presentations. I am sure you will enjoy watching and listening to them, whether for the first time or as a reminder of what was a wonderful series.

Dr Peter Kelly

Dr Peter Kelly

Associate Professor (Reader) in Comparative Education · Plymouth Institute of Education

Peter Kelly is Link Convenor for Network 23: Policy Studies and Politics of Education. If you would like to know more about Network 23, he is happy to be contacted: peter.kelly@plymouth.ac.uk.

References and Further Reading

Alexiadou, Nafsika, Lundahl, Lisbeth & Rönnberg, Linda (2019). Shifting logics: education and privatization the Swedish way, in: J. Wilkinson, R. Niesche & S. Eacott (Eds) Challenges for public education: reconceptualising educational leadership, policy and social justice as resources for hope, London, Routledge. http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/record.jsf?pid=diva2%3A1267623&dswid=9840

Lingard, Bob (2021) Multiple temporalities in critical policy sociology in education, Critical Studies in Education 62(3) 338-353, DOI: 10.1080/17508487.2021.1895856. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17508487.2021.1895856

Manton, Claire, Heffernan, Troy, Kostogriz, Alex & Seddon, Terri (2021) Australian school–university partnerships: the (dis)integrated work of teacher educators, Asia Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 49:3, 334-346, DOI: 10.1080/1359866X.2020.1780563. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/1359866X.2020.1780563

Ozga, Jenny (2020) Elites and Expertise: the changing material production of knowledge for policy, in: G. Fan and T. Popkewitz (Eds) Values, Governance, Globalization, and Methodology, Volume 1, Singapore, Springer Open. https://www.springer.com/gp/book/9789811383465

 

Managing Digital Learning during COVID-19 and Beyond

Managing Digital Learning during COVID-19 and Beyond

It is undisputed that Covid has had a massive impact on education and the way it is delivered, both in the UK and internationally. Whilst there have been a number of papers on the ways in which teachers have innovated during this time, and the impact this has had on their workload and mental health, there has been little on how school leaders and their senior teams have taken a strategic overview of online and blended learning. This post takes a look at a funded research project and explores why this area is so important for school leadership, both during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

The recent pandemic has led to unprecedented challenges for school leadership teams and their staff. Almost overnight, they have had to create policies and working practices in a very short timeframe. One leader reported that a strategy meant to take three years had been achieved in three weeks!

In England, secondary schools have been shut down for the duration of two lockdown periods for all but the children of essential workers. Evidence from our pilot project suggests that school leaders have not only changed policies and practices but in many cases, their vision for education. The project, leading school learning through Covid 19 and beyond: online learning and strategic planning through and post lockdown in English secondary schools, investigates how senior leaders strategically planned for online learning – before, during, and after the pandemic. Our sample includes interviews with 70 senior leaders from English secondary schools, along with a questionnaire sent out via project partners to 4000 schools, and an analysis of 200 school websites.

 

level I – this is the lowest level of digital planning, in which technology is used passively by particular teachers in particular subjects to support learning. This level is termed – substitution. Level II this is where traditional pedagogy is adapted for online, this level is termed – augmentation. Level III – modification – this is where strategic thought is given to the design of online learning and enhancements that add value are implemented. Level IV – strategic planning for online learning – this links to a whole school or departmental approach.
Figure 1 : Strategic Planning for Online learning: Level 1 to 4, adapted from Puntedura, 2021.

Our project classifies the different levels of strategic planning for online education, via an adapted version of Puntedura’s (Puentedura, 2010), SAMR Model, in which the lowest level of planning is termed substitution, the second level is termed augmentation, the third level is termed modification, and the final and most advanced level is termed strategic planning for online learning. (See figure 1). It adopts a strategy as a learning approach which we have used successfully in previous projects relating to educational leadership and management (Baxer & Floyd, 2019; J.  Baxter, 2020; J Baxter & John, 2021).

Challenges

Analysis of the pilot project suggests some key themes that are emerging in both qualitative and quantitative data. It is clear that school leaders made some substantial changes to the management of online learning in the period between the first lockdown in March 2020 and the second principal lockdown in the winter of 2020/ 2021. For example, school leaders reported considerable issues with hardware and connectivity, particularly during the first lockdown. Evidence suggests that they have subsequently been creative in acquiring these elements, ensuring that learners were properly equipped to engage with learning during lockdown two.  

One of the major categories that has emerged within the study is well-being and care: this in terms of both teacher and learner welfare. School leaders appear to have placed the well-being of their staff and learners first and foremost. They report considerable stress amongst staff, and challenges in relation to learners, particularly those with particular learning needs, and those from lower socio-economic backgrounds. This aligns with the findings of a report by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development).

Leaders have also reported the considerable investment of time needed in building the competencies of parents and carers. This has offered both challenges and opportunities with engaging parents more fully in the learning processes of their children. Communication with parents and learners, and not least in managing online teachers and teams, was also a challenge. Yet again, out of the crisis, there appears to have been some considerable learning taking place, with senior leaders speaking to SEN students and their carers, in some cases on a weekly or even daily basis.

Leaders report that one of the most important tasks during lockdown has been establishing a baseline for effective teaching. Some schools cut down on curriculum to focus on the essentials. Sorting out policies and protocols with staff, governors, and unions, has taken up a great deal of management time, but respondents largely feel that it has been a worthwhile task going forward.

Opportunities

There is considerable evidence of pedagogical innovation and creativity, particularly during the second lockdown when school staff were taken less by surprise. Leaders report evidence of new ideas being tried and tested by teachers, free from the normal constraints. They also report new roles being created as a result of an enhanced focus on digital learning. For example, a new head of digital strategy and innovation at one multi-academy trust; a new head of digital training and development for both teachers and parents in the same MAT.

There is also evidence that some senior leaders are beginning to view education in a different way: one head of a multi-academy trust had already brokered a relationship with Apple to move the whole curriculum online. New and innovative practices adopted during Covid, born out of necessity, are reported as now being ‘business as usual’. An example of this is parent evenings – once held face-to-face and often poorly attended, particularly in schools in challenging areas – which have been much more successful online. Several school leaders state their intention to continue this practice and extend it to governor meetings and, in some cases, staff meetings too.

 In terms of quality assurance, this is one area that presented school leaders with their biggest challenges. But from the second lockdown onwards, some schools had already introduced strategies for peer observation of teaching, virtual learning walks, and other innovations to promote and sustain good practice. Some respondents reported using online engagement statistics to measure learner engagement.

One particularly interesting area reported by one senior multi-Academy trust leader: a number of teachers and headteachers across over 15 schools reported that quieter pupils, those who didn’t normally respond well in class, had engaged far more fully with lessons when delivered digitally. This is a potentially intriguing area that could be taken forward concerning introverted students and their more extroverted peers.

Going Forward

The central part of the framework links to well-being and access to learning in the next concentric circle moving outwards, is trust, communication, data privacy. The next concentric circle contains four quadrants, four aspects of digital learning in secondary schools: one – design differentiated learning experience for all students; two – build competencies of teacher students parents and carers; three – collaborate in multilateral strategies with teacher voice at the core; four – develop the digital environment with a combination of approaches. Outside the circle are for headings these headings indicate that the subjects are overarching in relation to the other quadrants of the circle: pedagogical innovation, flexibility and partnership, resources and infrastructure, equity ability and inclusivity.

The pilot research has revealed some interesting findings that will be taken forward into the main phase. It has also resulted in a theoretical framework for our research. This is illustrated in figure 2.

As can be seen in the framework, we place well-being and access to learning central to the future development of digital innovation in secondary schools.

The second part of our framework includes:

  • designing a differentiated learning experience for students
  • the importance of building the competencies of teachers, students, parents, and carers
  • collaboration in multilateral strategies with teacher voice at the core
  • developing a digital environment via a combination of approaches.

We look forward to continuing our reporting on the project, which will give rise to a free online course for school leaders hosted on the Open University’s open learning platform.

 Further details of our project, or to take part, see our website at: https://www.open.ac.uk/projects/leading-online-learning/

 or follow us on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/Covid_EduLeader

References and Further Reading

Baxer, J., & Floyd, A. (2019). Strategic narrative in multi‐academy trusts in England: Principal drivers for expansion. British Educational Research Journal, 45(5), 1050-1071.

Baxter, J. (2020). Schemes of delegation as governance tools : the case of multi academy trusts in education under review.

Baxter, J., & John, A. (2021). Strategy as learning in multi-academy trusts in England: strategic thinking in action. School Leadership & Management, 1-21. doi: 10.1080/13632434.2020.1863777

Jewitt, K., Baxter, J., & Floyd, A. (2021). Literature review on the use of online and blended learning during Covid 19 and Beyond. The Open University The Open University

Dr Jacqueline Baxter

Dr Jacqueline Baxter

Associate Professor in Public Policy and Management The Open University Business School

Dr Jacqueline Baxter is Associate Professor in Public Policy and Management and Director for the Centre of Innovation in Online Business and Legal Education (SCILAB). She is Principal Fellow of The Higher Education Academy, Fellow of The Academy of Social Sciences and Elected Council Member of Belmas. She is outgoing Editor in Chief of the Sage Journal Management in Education (MiE) Her current funded research projects examine the interrelationship between trust, accountability, and capacity in improving learning outcomes; and the strategic management of online learning in secondary schools during and beyond Covid19.

Dr Baxter is based in the Department of Public Leadership and Social Enterprise at the Open University Business School.

She tweets @drjacqueBaxter and her profile can be found at: http://www.open.ac.uk/people/jab899. Her latest book is: Trust, Accountability and Capacity in Education System Reform (Routledge, 2020).

Dr Katharine Jewitt

Dr Katharine Jewitt

Research Fellow and Educational Technology Consultant at The Open University

Dr Katharine Jewitt is a Research Fellow and Educational Technology Consultant at The Open University. Katharine works across four faculties (Faculty of Wellbeing, Education & Language Studies, Faculty for Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics, Faculty of Business and Law and The Centre for Inclusion and Collaborative Partnership) and teaches at access, undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

Professor Alan Floyd

Professor Alan Floyd

University of Reading

Alan Floyd is a Professor of Education and his research and teaching activity focus on two substantive areas: educational leadership and doctoral education. Specific areas of interest include:

  • Academic leadership
  • School leadership and Multi Academy Trusts (MATs)
  • How people perceive and experience being in a leadership role
  • Distributed and collaborative leadership
  • Leadership development
  • Career trajectories
  • Identity Insider research and associated ethical issues
  • Supporting doctoral researchers
The ‘Logic’ Behind the Resumption of National Testing in the Danish State School System

The ‘Logic’ Behind the Resumption of National Testing in the Danish State School System

On the 1st of February, the Danish Minister of Education, Pernille Rosenkrantz-Theil, announced that national testing would be resumed as of March 1st to evaluate the “learning loss” that has arisen in connection with the lockdown of state schools in Denmark. What is the logic behind this decision, and what does it say about the political priorities in relation to primary schools?

The Danish Minister’s announcement that national testing must be resumed immediately after the reopening of public schools has not been well received by the Danish Union of Teachers and many individual teachers. For example, in an interview with the Danish radio station P1, teacher Anne Hammer pointed out that there is a need to focus on well-being and re-establishment of the communities when the students return after the lockdown, rather than national testing. She also pointed out that national tests put students under pressure and create uncertainty, which directly counteracts the work around well-being.

Against these arguments, the Minister argues that there is a need for knowledge about learning gaps at the municipal and national level. This concept does not focus on the individual pupil and school class but rather on identifying overall patterns at the societal level. The argument for this societal need is presented by the Minister’s party colleague and spokesperson on education, Jens Joel, who in the same broadcast pointed out that the OECD has found a connection between learning losses and a decline in gross domestic product.

This argument reflects the so-called human capital approach to education, which roughly means that education must provide a skilled labour force and increasing productivity in the labour market. The OECD has advocated this approach for decades. It is a key component of the entire PISA program, which, citing education economist Eric Hanushek of the Neo-Conservative Hoover Institute, postulates a link between a country’s PISA performance and its GDP. However, this link has been emphatically disproved in numerous research publications by, among others, Hikaru Komatsu and Jeremy Rappleye. Similarly, the whole idea behind the human capital approach has been thoroughly dismantled by, among others, the British Professor of Education and Political Economy, Hugh Lauder, who demonstrates a lack of coherence between learning and earning in the global economy.

In terms of research, there is thus a picture of very dubious reasoning behind the requirement for national tests in the reopening public school. Therefore, it appears that the reason for national testing is more likely to be the desire to have some form of certainty and control of the public school by central authorities. This desire must be understood in terms of how education works globally, where international comparisons and an understanding of education is viewed as a determining factor for countries’ future competitiveness and, essentially, their long-term survival. As Professor John Krejsler has argued convincingly, global education policy is today driven by a fear of falling behind, and a well-functioning education system is understood as a system that delivers competitive academic results… and this requires certainty and control by the central authorities.

Ashmeet Baweja

Ashmeet Baweja

PhD Candidate (Peace Education) , TERI School of Advanced Studies, New Delhi, India

Ashmeet Baweja is a PhD candidate at TERI School of Advanced Studies, New Delhi, India working on mainstreaming peace education in K-12 schools. Her ethnographic research explores institutionalisation of peace education at an elite school in India. An academic at heart, her purpose is to create peaceful and SEL oriented environments as a way to create sustainable individuals and communities. Her research interests include peace education, elite schooling , sociology of education and qualitative research methods.

Peace Educator I Education Sociologist I PhD Candidate I Mountains are home I Period lifestyle enthusiast

Find out more about Ashmeet's professional journey at https://www.linkedin.com/in/ashmeet-baweja-a60435112

Blog Contributor

Christian Ydesen

Christian Ydesen

Professor (WSR) at Department of Culture and Learning, Aalborg University, Denmark

Christian Ydesen is a professor (WSR) at the Department of Culture and Learning, Aalborg University, Denmark. He is the PI of the project ‘The Global History of the OECD in education’ funded by the Aalborg University talent programme and the project ‘Education Access under the Reign of Testing and Inclusion’ funded by the Independent Research Fund Denmark. He has been a visiting scholar at Edinburg University (2008-2009, 2016), Birmingham University (2013), Oxford University (2019), and Milan University (2021) and published several chapters and articles on topics such as educational testing, international organisations, accountability, educational psychology and diversity in education from historical and international perspectives. He currently serves as an executive editor of the European Educational Research Journal.

Webpages:

https://vbn.aau.dk/en/persons/124965

https://www.researchgate.net/procle/Christian_Ydesen

Project webpages:

EduAccess.aau.dk

https://www.en.culture.aau.dk/research/projects/global-history-oecd-in-education

References and Further Reading

Brown, P., Lauder, H., & Cheung, S. Y. (2020). Theœ death of human capital? – Its Failed Promise and How to Renew It in an Age of Disruption. Oxford University Press.

Hanushek, E. A., & Woessmann, L. (2015)The knowledge capital of nations: Education and the economics of growth. The MIT Press.

Komatsu, H., & Rappleye, J. (2021). Rearticulating PISA. Globalisation, Societies and Education, 19(2), 245-258. https://10.1080/14767724.2021.1878014

Krejsler, J. B. (2019). How a European ‘Fear of falling behind’ discourse co-produces global standards: Exploring the inbound and outbound performativity of the transnational turn in European education policy. In C. Ydesen (Ed.), The OECD’s historical rise in education: The formation of a global governing complex (pp. 245-267). Springer International Publishing.

Turning a leaf: a new procedure for European Education Research Journal Special Issues

Turning a leaf: a new procedure for European Education Research Journal Special Issues

2020 has been a year like no other. On 31st of December 2019, the WHO China Country Office was informed of cases of ‘pneumonia of unknown etiology’. Less than a year later, the COVID-19 pandemic has shattered social life as we know it. The disease has taken tens of thousands of lives, whilst confining billions to their homes in worldwide ‘lockdowns’, in an effort to mitigate the spread of the lethal disease. In a matter of days, the global health emergency led to an education crisis, too. As country after country ordered school closures, education was suddenly faced with an extraordinary new reality: billions of children around the world became homebound, unable to go to school.

Yet, education did not stop. From nurseries to schools to higher education, we saw concerted and speedy adaptation efforts to create home-schooling and online education environments where students and teachers can interact. The extent to which these solutions are effective, or even available to all learners, will be studied in depth in months and years to come. What is certain is that, similar to all other social policy areas, the effects of the pandemic in education are disproportionately worse for those from more unstable and weaker economic and social backgrounds.

This challenging context was the one in which the European Educational Research Journal changed editors’ hands; after the hard work of its founding Editor-in-Chief Professor Martin Lawn, and a successful five years’ spell under the editorial leadership of Professors Maarten Simons and Eric Mangez that followed, EERJ has now become an established and scientifically recognised journal in the field of education research in Europe and beyond.

 

EERJ is interested in the changing education research horizons in Europe. It sees the field as one that crosses borders through its subjects of study, our scholarly collaborations and the increasing complexity of a fluid and interconnected world. We see our work as the new EERJ co-editors as one of further enhancing the European research identity of the journal. We believe that this will be achieved by following the footpath of our predecessors in promoting the peer review and publishing of robust empirical education research, as well as balancing the journal’s publication profile by moving to a greater parity of the journal’s share of special issues with issues that feature independent article submissions.

 

As many of you know, EERJ has been closely associated to the annual European Conference of Education Research (ECER); we take part in the early career researchers’ conference, giving publishing advice to younger scholars; we organise the conference’s MOOT, a discussion forum around a topic of current interest; and we publish the keynote lectures. The journal, for a long time now, through this productive relationship with ECER, encouraged strong conference panels to submit articles as special issue proposals. Although EERJ will continue to do this important work, it also has to be acknowledged that the journal would now benefit from turning over a new leaf and allowing equal space for the publication of independent research papers, too.

 

Further, it has also become apparent that this is not just an aspiration that relates to scholarship only but perhaps also to practicality: at the moment there is a list of special issues in the pipeline; although all of them are high-quality contributions to the field of education research, the current reality of the global pandemic further increases the need for the journal to be able to be responsive to its contemporary, highly demanding and fluid historical and political environment by publishing independent articles timely and proactively.

 

Therefore, following a recent editorial board meeting and the agreement of all its members, EERJ will follow a new process for special issue submissions. This will be as follows:

 

EERJ will introduce a new ‘Expression of interest’ form with a deadline of the end of September annually. This form will be used as a tool for the evaluation of the significance of the proposal in relation to its empirical and conceptual analysis, and its contribution to the aims and the scope of the journal.  At the end of this competitive process, only a certain number of special issue proposals will go forward. The successful candidates will be invited to submit full proposals by the end of December. Full proposals will be evaluated closely: we will retain the option of rejecting a proposal if they do not fulfil the specified criteria, although we will be giving feedback and helping authors submit strong contributions. Following this process, we hope that annually, by late January, we will have an outcome that will trigger the preparation of three special issues per year.

 

The context in which EERJ is working today is one in which the mobilizing discourses of the European Education Area, combined with other ‘borderless’ flows of internationalisation of programmes, public-private partnerships and university alliances, are re-shaping the milieu of research in education. Above all, the current global pandemic, with its catastrophic effects on European economies and societies, has had -and will continue to have- a direct impact on education research in Europe. Regardless of the detrimental effects of this crisis, education research in Europe is currently thriving: a recent EERJ call for papers for a special issue on ‘Education in the Pandemic’ drew almost 200 high-quality abstracts of empirical research. A continuous challenge for EERJ is to be able to reflect on our current education condition and respond to it by publishing reflexive, robust and innovative research. We hope that this shift in the journal’s profile will help EERJ continue to flourish and grow in an increasingly competitive academic publishing environment and a highly uncertain and unequal world.

 

Professor Sotiria Grek

Professor Sotiria Grek

Professor of European and Global Education Governance / University of Edinburgh

Sotiria Grek is Professor of European and Global Education Governance at the School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh. Sotiria’s work focuses on the field of quantification in global public policy, with a specialisation in the policy arenas of education and sustainable development. She has co-authored (with Martin Lawn) Europeanising Education: Governing A New Policy Space (Symposium, 2012) and co-edited (with Joakim Lindgren) Governing by Inspection (Routledge, 2015), as well as the World Yearbook in Education: Accountability and Datafication in Education (with Christian Maroy and Antoni Verger; Routledge, 2021). 

Paolo Landri

Paolo Landri

Senior Researcher of the Institute of Research on Population and Social Policies at National Research Council in Italy

Paolo Landri is a Senior Researcher of the Institute of Research on Population and Social Policies at National Research Council in Italy (CNR-IRPPS).  His main research interests concern educational organizations, digital governance and educational policies. His latest publication is: (2020) Educational Leadership, Management, and Administration through Actor Network Theory, London, Routledge.