In July 2011 a teacher registration reform (TRR) and a probation year for newly qualified teachers (NQTs) came into effect in Sweden (Government Bill, 2010/11).
It required newly qualified teachers and pre-school teachers to do a “probationary year” under the guidance of a mentor. Between July 1 2011 and July 1 2014 principals or pre-school managers were responsible for assessing whether the NQT were to be registered or not. The principals were expected to perform this assessment by following the national standards (competence profiles) developed by the Swedish National Agency for Education, the issuing authority. The purpose of this paper is to analyse and discuss (1) sources of support for assessment and (2) to what extent these supported the principals in the assessment of the NQTs. Data is drawn from a questionnaire answered by 248 principals, completed in 2014 within the research project “Head teachers working conditions and the evaluation of newly qualified teachers (the RAOL-project)”
The TRR is another example of travelling policies in a globalized world, in this case with origin in Scotland and Canada. Some contextual policy learning adjustments (Lingard, 2010; Waldow, 2009) were made regarding the standards, but almost no adjustments regarding the structure and focus of the reform. As a consequence, parts of the reforms have been adjusted or withdrawn at several occasions. One major policy retreat was made in June 2013 when the Minister of Education, the Presidents of two teacher unions, representatives of The Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions and The Swedish Association of Independent Schools made a joint statement to withdraw the assessment of NQTs. Hence, the implementation of the Swedish TRR and the assessment of NQTs can be viewed as an example of policy borrowing and the challenges encountered when reforms are implemented prior to a completed policy learning processes. From July2014 the assessment ceased to be part of principals’ task.
Thus, this paper offers unique data from a specific time period with particular tasks and working conditions for principals. Swedish research on how principals assess and evaluate teachers' skills is largely absent, but similar international research indicates the need to explore how such assessments are performed. For instance, Kimball & Milanowski (2009) found that head teachers vary their evaluations over time and in relation to subjective values, and that their evaluations seem to be based on intuition and instinct rather than carefully formulated and objective criteria.
Recent studies show that the working conditions for principals are intense with fragmented working days during which many quick decisions have to be made (Day, 2000; Nihlfors & Johansson, 2013). Research on school leaders' working conditions (e.g. Swedish Work Environment Authority, 2011; Ludvigsson, 2009; Schools Inspectorate, 2010) raise questions on how working conditions affect the assessment of NQTs, and how the assessment affects working conditions and the principal’s role and self-image (Federici, 2013). Principals operate in the intersection of different interests, expectations, tasks and roles (Nihlfors & Johansson, 2013; Törnsén & Ärlestig, 2014), which affect the psychosocial work environment. Interestingly, changes in the professional role were being handled differently by the principals depending on their career stage (The Swedish Research Council, 2011).
Even though the main data reported here is Swedish, in times of policy travelling the results are of importance in a wider European perspective to help understand principals’ working condition and roles.
Methods (max 400 ord)
In June 2014, 644 principals were invited to answer a questionnaire and 249 responded, yielding a response rate of 38,5%. This may be considered relatively low, however, at this time it was generally known that the assessment would be phased out which probably reduced responsiveness. It should be noted that a similar questionnaire of principals conducted in December 2013 in another Swedish research project had a response rate of 31% (n = 106), wherein our response rate at a later stage can be considered relatively good.
Three clusters of principals representing different municipals located in different regions in Sweden were invited, selected to ensure a diverse sample. The web questionnaire was sent to all primary, secondary and upper-secondary schools in three regions: a metropolitan area (1 municipality), major regional centre (8 municipalities) and rural locations (15 municipalities).
The survey focused the following areas: school context, working conditions, assessment of the NQTs, support available for the principal, cooperation, the principals’ strategies in observation and assessment, issues regarding the reform and reform implementation. A typical type of response alternatives were 5-point likert scale. Some other appropriate scaling was also used as well as open questions.
The analysis of the quantitative data has been performed with the SPSS-software, in a first step through crosstab analysis. The questions analysed in this paper regard sources of support for assessment and principals’ use of these sources.
The analysis focused firstly on internal resources for assessment such as degrees from the national school leadership programme, experience of evaluating work performance from other professions etc.
Secondly, outside support included interpersonal resources such as (a)school owner/administrative level, (b)fellow principals, (c)the NQTs appointed mentors, (d)teacher staff; and material resources such as (e)national/local competence profiles.
The analysis of support indicated, for instance, that 69% of the principals reported low or no support from owner/administrative level in the assessment of the NQTs, that is, the management of the public or private school. 71% of the principals did not cooperate with other principals regarding the design of the assessment, while 7% say that they did, to a high or very high degree.
A slightly higher proportion of support (10%) from fellow principals was reported regarding the actual assessment practice, a higher proportion of support (36%) from school staff and the highest (69%) from experienced mentors.
12% of the principals report some form of training in assessment, which can be related to the fact that 40% of principals report that they, to a very high degree, report sufficient knowledge of conducting lesson observations, which is mandated in the assessment.
No significant differences appear when data is related to principals’ gender or type of school (private or public). In sum, principals receive most support from their employees, which makes them which makes their assessment practice largely free from external control, for good or bad. The issue will be analyzed further.
In terms of TRR, the centrally distributed competency profiles seem to be of relatively low use for assessment support in comparison to local collaboration with employees. This is an example of how policy becomes enacted rather than implemented, (cf. Ball et al, 2012) depending on principals’ local work conditions and organization.
References (max 400 ord)
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ECER 2015, The European Conference on Educational Research, 'Education and Transition - Contributions from Educational Research', 8-11 september 2015, Corvinus University, Budapest, Bulgarien