6th ISER Symposium, South Africa: 19-23 July, 2010
Submitted by: Pekka Kanervio, PhD (Ed.), researcher,
co-author Mika Risku, MA, researcher
University of Jyväskylä
Institute of Educational Leadership
Subtheme: challenges and opportunities
Challenges in Educational leadership in Finnish municipalities
A national research concerning educational leadership, especially superintendency, in provision of general education in Finnish municipalities was conducted in 2008-2009. The target group was superintendents in Finnish municipalities (n=399). The superintendents answered a broad questionnaire. The return rate was 57.7 %. The purpose of the study was to describe the educational leadership of general education in Finnish municipalities in 2008 and the changes taking place in the provision of general education before 2015.
Superintendents came to the Finnish school system in the 1970s when the comprehensive school system was started. Even though the law does not anymore require the superintendents most of the municipalities have superintendents. Because of the deep depression in Finland at the beginning of the1990s many of the positions in municipalities were abolished and many of the tasks are combined. Today the general education is lead by superintendents with broad job descriptions including educational, cultural, sport and youth matters. At the same time supporting personnel was decreased which led to growing demands in work.
In 2005 municipalities got new challenges by the new legislation demanding municipalities to collaborate in their service production. Several municipalities merged at the beginning of 2008 (99). Several other municipalities organized the service production in collaboration with neighboring municipalities.
The research results show that municipalities seemed to have consistent strategic development considering the changes in environment. At the same time the municipalities have scarce resources to manage and lead education (strategically). Also municipalities and their situations are very different depending on the development of population and the ability of producing services because of that. The population is not the only explaining factor of the differences. Even quite large municipalities have scarce resources in educational leadership.
Most of the municipalities saw there future positively from the service users’ point of view. At the same time the situation will be more demanding for the leading educational officers. Most of the superintendents predict that their tasks are increasing. Because of increasing tasks some of the tasks will be delegated to principals. Some earlier results have shown that because of the principals’ heavy workload they are delegating some of their tasks to teachers. In an OECD report (2008) on of the concerns was that in the future teachers are not able to concentrate on teaching because of their increasing managerial tasks.
In the future the main challenge might be the need of sufficient resources in educational leadership. It is very important that teachers can concentrate on teaching and the quality of teaching can be secured.
Keywords: provision of education, educational leadership, superintendent, municipality, change
Challenges in Educational leadership in Finnish municipalities
The purpose of the study is to describe the educational leadership of general education in Finnish municipalities in 2008, to study the superintendents’ perceptions on the changes that are taking place in the municipal provisions of general education by 2015 and to build a databank to deepen and broaden the knowledge of educational leadership in 2008 in Finnish municipalities and as comparative data in follow-up studies. The research is funded by the ministry of Education.
The study has two phases: a questionnaire in fall 2008 and interviews in 2009. This presentation deals with the questionnaire study. The target group for the questionnaire was all the superintendents who are responsible for the provisions of general education in Finnish municipalities (n=399). The superintendents were sent an email in which they were asked to answer a broad questionnaire consisting of 88 items. The scope of the study is the superintendents’ perceptions.
The return rate was 57.7 %. The answers represent the whole Finland well, both geographically and in consideration to various classifications of municipalities. The statistic data were analyzed with the SPSS -programme and the open answers with the Excel -programme.
Scope of the study
Questionnaire was based on American Association of the School Administrators’ (AASA) questionnaires and University of Kentucky research programs (Prof Lars Björk). We collaborated with several stakeholders in Finland in this study: the Finnish Institute of Educational Research, the Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities (AFLRA), the Trade Union of Education in Finland, the National Board of Education, OPSIA, the Finish Association of Principals, and the Ministry of Education. With this collaboration we tried to get every aspect studied in this research.
As earlier mentioned the scope of the study was the superintendents’ perceptions. In this study we used several classifications of the municipalities. The first classification was the municipality types used by the Statistics Finland: urban, densely populated community, and rural area. The second classification of municipalities was according to AFLRA concerning the form of municipality collaboration: merging municipalities, increasing cooperation between municipalities, built-up regions, and other municipalities. The third classification was the development of the population in the municipalities. We will return to these classifications in more detail later. One of the scopes was also gender.
In this research in the municipality types used by the Statistics Finland the urban means municipalities, in which 90 % of the population is living in an urban area and the biggest population centre has at least 15 000 inhabitants. The densely populated community means municipalities, in which at least 60 % but less than 90 % of the population is living in population centres and the biggest population centre has at least 4 000 inhabitants but less than 15 000. The rural mean municipalities in which less than 60 % of the population is living in population centres and the biggest population center has less than 15 000 inhabitants. It means also the municipalities in which at least 60 % but less than 90 % of the population is living in population centres and the biggest population centre has less than 4 000 inhabitants.
In this research in the classification municipalities according to the AFLRA the merging municipalities means those municipalities which are merging following the Act on Restructuring Local Government and Services (9.2.2007/169). The increasing cooperation between municipalities means municipalities forming larger catchments areas for services. The built-up regions means municipalities, such as Helsinki metropolitan area and other built-up regions with problematic urban structures, which are strengthening collaboration in services following the Act on Restructuring Local Government and Services (9.2.2007/169). The other municipalities mean municipalities which are not merging or cooperating with other municipalities (Pekola-Sjöblom 2008).
In this research classification according to development of population in municipalities means that:
population of the municipality is not changing significantly
population of the municipality is decreasing naturally (more people are dying than born)
population of the municipality is decreasing because of migration loss
population of the municipality is increasing naturally (more people are born than dying)
population of the municipality is increasing because of migration gain
population of the municipality is increasing because of municipal mergers
Essential results of the study
Firstly the municipalities seemed to strive for strategic development which is independent sustained and consistent. The strategic development seemed to be taking into consideration the environment. Even though the strong independent status of municipalities is seen in the superintendents’ answers the views of the central government were considered in the strategic planning. The municipalities tried to adapt to the changing environment and to aim their operations to the future changes. Two of the main aims were to secure services and sustainable economy. The central government’s role was seen as a supporter for strategic development in municipalities. The support was seen more other forms of support than legislation were regarded important, such as: State subsidies, education, core curricula and projects (funding).
Secondly even though there is strategic development in the municipalities the scarce resources for educational leadership in municipalities seemed to hinder both managerial and strategic leading of education significantly. For superintendents their work was important but due to work requirements the work caused a lot of stress. One reason for that might be small staff resources. The small staff resources might be more problematic in the future: both superintendents’ and principals’ job descriptions were believed to expand. According to Kanervio and Risku (2009), “in the largest municipalities the fragmentation of the provision of education may also distract educational leadership”. Superintendents yearned more specified qualifications and training for both superintendents and principals.
As seen in the figure 1 in almost 5 % of the municipalities have no one to work in the education office. In those municipalities the work is done by one of the other officers. In most of the municipalities (53,4 %) there are less than 2 workers in the education office of the municipality. In many cases (20 %) the superintendent might be one of the principals. That is kind of awkward situation when principal is his/her manager (boss). In the municipalities with two officers usually the one is superintendents and the other supporting personnel (secretary).
Figure 1 Staff resources in municipality school offices (comparative)
Municipalities and their situations were very different which should be taken into consideration when developing educational leadership in municipalities. In table 1 is seen that even a quite small municipalities might have several workers in the school office when at the same time a municipality with 10 000 inhabitants may have no workers in the school office.
As seen in the figure 2 most of the superintendents (58.2 %) felt much or very much stress in their work. Only 2.4 % if the superintendents did not feel any stress. When we asked the reasons of the stress with open ended question several reasons raise as seen in figure 3. Most important reason is disjointedness of the work (32.6 %). The provision of general education was most often led by a broad local education and culture committee and by a superintendent with an equally broad job description which explains the disjointedness of the work. Some of the superintendents take care of educational, cultural, sport and youth services added with tasks of municipality’s transportation services.
The second important reason for stress was problematic tasks (28.3 %) including problematic customers (parents) too. Especially when some benefits are cut from the students, such as changes in school transportation, parents are very actively discussing on the subject with officers. The challenging change to conduct is a closing of a school because of the lack of students. Parents never accept the closing of a school without fight even though the closing might be rational.
Table 1 Staff in municipality school office compared to population in municipality
Figure 2 Superintendents’ perceptions on the amount of stress caused by their work
The third important reason for stress is haste (27 %). The haste might be in connection to the multiple tasks the superintendents are taking care of. As seen in the figure 4 the perception of the superintendents’ is that their job description will expand in the future (33.2 %). It seems that even now the superintendents delegate some of the tasks to principals because superintendents are not able to handle all their tasks. In the future that situation might be worse and might increase principals’ work. That might lead to delegating of some of the principals’ tasks to teachers. This future view was predicted in the OECD report 2008 concerning educational leadership in Finland (Pont, Nusche, Hopkins 2009, 83, 89).
Figure 3 Matters causing stress for superintendents in their work
The third assumption was that job description will be clearer (18.9 %). The superintendents working in merging municipalities saw that in merger their job description will be clearer. These superintendents believed that in future their tasks might be only a part of the whole educational sector such as strategic planning.
Figure 4 Change in the superintendents’ job description by 2015
Superintendents do not have a nationwide qualification. Superintendency is seen as a profession and because of that most of the superintendents are ready to accept nationwide qualification for superintendency as seen in figure 5. Another reason for qualification is superintendents’ wide job descriptions. Multiple talents are needed for superintendents in successful working.
Figure 5 The qualification of the superintendents and principals
Most of the superintendents support an idea of university level qualification training for principals. The reason was that principalship should be seen as a profession. Those who opposed the qualification training were afraid of more trained principals than superintendents. Second reason to oppose the qualification training is that is even now mentioned in principals’ qualification as one route to principalship.
Thirdly municipalities and their situations in the provision of general education were very different. The provisions of general education in municipalities differed significantly from each other when analyzed through the population and the development of population, and through the classifications of Statistics Finland and Local Finland. There were major differences also in the expectations concerning the development of different municipalities.
As seen in figure 6 in municipalities less than 10 000 inhabitants most of the municipalities did not answer to our questionnaire. The same phenomenon is seen in municipalities more than 50 000 inhabitants. We called to those municipalities which did not answer to our questionnaire. The result was that in small municipalities there was any officer to answer to our questionnaire. In some cases the mayor of the municipality was the only officer in the municipality offices and was too busy to answer or was not capable to answer. In large cities the educational sector was so fragmented that none of the officers had overall view of the educational sector. Because of the fragmentation the officers in larger cities were not capable to answer to our questionnaire.
Figure 6 Municipalities that responded and did not respond to the questionnaire classified by the
population of the municipalities
Fourthly the perceptions on the provision of general education in 2015 were mostly positive from the service users’ point of view. However as earlier mentioned, the job descriptions of the leading educational office holders were expected to be more demanding. The municipality inhabitants were expected to either oppose or support changes depending on how they valued the changes.
The provisions of general education in municipalities were mostly lead with same kind of leadership arrangements and general education was produced in the traditional way. Schools usually had their own principals but there were only a few assistant principals. The municipalities were responsible for both ordering and producing general education by themselves. The orderer – producer -model, municipal consortiums and collaborations between municipalities were few.
The superintendents expected there to be more collaboration between municipalities without municipal mergers, but there were mentions concerning municipal mergers and changes inside the municipal structures and ways of operation as well. The traditional ways of producing general education was believed to dominate but the superintendents also thought that the orderer – producer -model would become more common. The school networks were expected to either centralize or remain the same. Changes in the operational environment, upholding and improving the standard of education and requirements for efficiency were regarded as the main reasons for the changes in the provision of education.
As seen in figure 7 most of the superintendents’ perceptions on the development of the quality of teaching by 2015 were two-folded. Most of the superintendents believed that even though the quality of teaching is high (PISA 2006) the quality will increase in the future (47.1 %). Almost as many of the principals believed that there will be no change (44.3 %).
Figure 7 Development of the quality of teaching by 2015
The number of male and female superintendents was almost the same but the salaries of male superintendents were significantly higher than the salaries of the female superintendents. As seen in figure 8 the female superintendents worked more often in rural municipalities and in municipalities with smaller populations. The career patterns of female superintendents differed significantly from the career patterns of male superintendents.
In 1995 only 38 % of the superintendents were female while now the proportion was even. That explains partly the differences in the career of female superintendents. Most of them have shorter career and because of that they are still working in smaller cities and the more experienced men superintendents are working in bigger municipalities. That explains the difference in salaries too.
Figure 8 The gender of the superintendents classified according to the population
of the municipalities
Results from different items in the questionnaire gave results that corresponded to each other well. On one hand the results seemed to be well aligned with results from earlier studies and on the other hand the results described major changes taking place in the municipal provisions of general education in Finland. There data can be used as a databank for forthcoming transverse and longitudinal studies. Application of the results will be in national and local level.
The research continues. At the moment he second phase of the study the analysis of the interviews is going on. The second report of interviews should be ready in September. A sequel funding for a national principal and school level study has been granted by the Ministry of Education. The study has also expanded to be an international study on superintendency in the provisions of general education in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and in South Africa.
Kanervio P. & Risku M. 2009. Tutkimus kuntien yleissivistävän koulutuksen opetustoimen johtamisen tilasta ja muutoksista Suomessa. (A study on educational leadership in general education in Finnish municipalities) Opetusministeriö. Opetusministeriön julkaisuja 2009:16
Laki kunta- ja palvelurakenneuudistuksesta 9.2.2007/169. Act on Restructuring Local Government and Services (9.2.2007/169)
Pekola-Sjöblom, M. 2008. Paras-arviointitutkimusohjelma ARTTU. Tutkimuskunnat. http://www.kunnat.net/k_peruslistasivu.asp?path=1;29;348;31540;129938;129945 .
PISA 2006 http://www.oecd.org/document/2/0,3343,en_32252351_32236191_39718850_1_1_1_1,00.html
Pont, B., Nusche, D. & Hopkins, D. (Eds.) 2008. Improving School Leadership. Volume 2: Case studies on system leadership. OECD.