New headteacher positions receive one application on average and the turnover is high. Now researchers from the University of Agder want to find out why – and help solve the problem.
“Headteachers stay in their jobs shorter than before. Sick days are increasing, and fewer people apply for jobs. In the past, you worked as a teacher for a long time before becoming a headteacher. Now applicants are getting younger and younger.”
This is how Professor Morten Øgård summarises some of the problems that the School Heads Association has asked researchers at the University of Agder (UiA) to look into.
Together with other researchers at the Centre for Local Government Studies (SAKOM), Øgård has previously surveyed managers in schools and nurseries in the municipality of Kristiansand. The conclusion then was that a third of them were managers only in name.
In the new project, the researchers at SAKOM will build on this work. They will find out more about the working situation of Norwegian headteachers and what makes it difficult to recruit and retain them. The project will also study managers in nurseries.
Under great pressure
Researcher Linda Hye explains that the problem has three parts:
- Funding for schools is decreasing.
- Pupils’ rights are increasing.
- More demands are placed on headteachers regarding results.
Hye points out that the position of the headteacher is defined as an especially independent position (særlig uavhengig stilling). This means that they are exempt from the Working Environment Act. Unlike other employees, headteachers do not have a job description that regulates the tasks in the job.
This makes the responsibility greater and the work tasks more numerous. At the same time, headteachers encounter many paradoxes in their everyday work.
“If a pupil is awarded a certain number of hours with a special education teacher, it could blow the budget. Should the headteacher be loyal to the pupil and the national legislation or to the school owner?” Øgård asked.
Section 9A of the Education Act puts further pressure on headteachers. It states that headteachers can be held responsible – and actually be convicted – if bullying cases are not resolved.
Important for pupils
In order to learn more about the working situation of headteachers, the researchers will conduct a survey among the 3,500 members of the School Heads Association. They have also performed focus group interviews in advance.
“All research says that school management is extremely important. Not only for how schools develop, but also for pupils’ results. If it is the case that few people want to take on the role of head of school, then Norway as a knowledge nation is in danger,” Hye said.
The researchers have previously written a book about municipal middle managers. There they show how more pressure and less support lead to positions with less well-being and low goal achievement.
“We want to delve deeper into these issues in schools. An important part of this work is to come up with proposals that can improve the situation for headteachers,” Hye said.
In parallel with this, the University of Umeå will look at the situation for school leaders in Sweden. The researchers will thus be able to compare the results between Norwegian and Swedish municipalities.
The researchers will present the results of the survey in June 2023. It will also be a topic at the annual political gathering, Arendalsuka.