«2009/ED/EFA/MRT/PI/32 Background paper prepared for the Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2009 Overcoming Inequality: why governance matters ...»
The close-to-school support model incorporates two concepts of accountability. On the one hand, contractual accountability: school staff are accountable towards the supervisors, who are representatives of their employer, the Ministry. There is, on the other hand, a strong aspect of professional accountability: the involvement of the teaching staff in a self-evaluation and school improvement process implies a sense of responsibility towards their colleagues. In the same way, the change of the supervisor from a control-agent to a collegial advisor expresses a desire to instil a sense of professional accountability. This emphasis on professional accountability expresses a belief in the capacity of teachers, even in the most disadvantaged schools, to engage in a process of self-improvement. This strengthens their professionalism.
The fact that the public does not play much of a role in this process is also an indication of the trust in the professionals to regulate their own action.
This model has the following strong points:
• the structure is top-light: by far most personnel is in offices closest to schools, which makes it easy to undertake regular visits;
• supervision is freed from its administrative work overload, and can therefore concentrate on its essential work – offering support; and
• supervision becomes a flexible service by adapting itself to the characteristics of schools – effective schools are to a large extent left to get along on their own, while supervisors concentrate on the neediest schools.
Evaluation of school results between 1990 and 1996 show a significant improvement of the most disadvantaged schools and thus a lessening of disparities. It is difficult though to relate this simply to the new supervision model because this model formed part of a more global reform, which also for instance gave additional resources to these schools. Research on the work by Chilean supervisors under this model (Carlson, 2000; Navarro et al, 2002) shows the profound change which has taken place and the positive interpretation of this change by teachers and supervisors alike. But the studies also identify a number of challenges, which
have been preoccupations in the case of Chile:
• supervision does not cover all schools. This will not be a concern for the best performing schools, but there might be a large group that is not sufficiently weak to benefit from supervision and not sufficiently strong to function without any support. This becomes an even more serious issue in countries or regions where a majority of schools can be categorized as ineffective or disadvantaged, as is the case for many rural regions in many developing countries.
• setting up such a needs-based model demands a strong database on the characteristics and needs of schools, which goes beyond a simple league table. Chile has such data, but few other countries do.
• The most intricate challenge resides in the need to change the culture of the supervision service, from one of control over a large number of schools towards one of supporting a few selected schools, in other words from an authoritarian to a democratic and collegial relationship.
In Chile, such a cultural change was achieved but not through what could have been the easiest way, namely a radical replacement of existing staff. The same staff was used, but several steps were taken to change its outlook and practice, including training, new job descriptions, taking away all control functions and new working tools. Notwithstanding these various strategies, supervisors have had it difficult to abandon their tradition of control and adopt a support-oriented approach. In all case where this model has been tried out, the supervisors have searched for the right balance between allowing the school and teachers sufficient autonomy and intervening to correct their actions.
The school-site supervision model
The fourth model was not developed in reaction to the inefficiencies of the ‘classical’ model.
It is to some extent typical of countries with the following characteristics: great homogeneity, a society with few disparities, well-motivated teachers, public trust in their professionalism and strong parental interest in education. In such an environment, the teachers and the local community might appear the best monitors of the quality and the functioning of the school, as they are either in or close to the classroom and therefore can have a direct impact on the teaching process. The conviction exists, moreover, that the teaching staff have the skills and professional conscience to participate in self- and in peer-evaluation without being supervised from outside, and that the local community is willing and competent to exercise some control over the school. Moreover, because of the low level of disparities and because of the cultural and social homogeneity, there is little need for strong central intervention, either to address those disparities or to ensure the respect of national norms, including the curriculum. In other words, there is no need for a formal supervision service organized by the Ministry of Education.
Countries where this model exists are also characterized by a fairly high level of school autonomy. The Scandinavian countries but also some States in the USA and Canada and some cantons in Switzerland are among these (see for instance Lacey, 1999, on Ontario; DuruBellat and Meuret, 2001, p.183 on Rhode Island and Favre, 2001 and Strittmatter, 2001, on Switzerland). At the local level, different scenarios can exist. The self-evaluation can be very informal, without much structure or organization, relying on the individual initiative of the teachers; or it can be the responsibility of a specific structure such as a school governing board, which can be in charge of one or a few schools. While there is no external supervision, there are central-level tools to monitor the schools, such as examination and test results and indicator systems.
The following table shows the structure of this model, where all supervisory actors are based at the school-site, at local level or in the school.
Table 6: The structure of the school-site supervision model
Finland is a clear example of this model (see for instance Webb and Vulliamy, 1998;
Kivirauma et al, 2003; Webb et al, 2004). The external inspection service was abolished in
1991. Decision-makers felt that the benefits from external inspection and advice services were minimal and that, in view of the high level of training and professionalism of teachers, quality control could be entirely entrusted to them. In the same vein, the strict national curriculum was replaced in 1994 by a much lighter framework. Schools were encouraged to undertake their own evaluation, although no national strategy or guidelines were developed on how to do so. The schools took that initiative, many of them pushed into doing so by the municipality. But allowing schools so much autonomy in their evaluation does not mean that the central government is not preoccupied with the quality and functioning of schools. Their
preoccupation is expressed in at least two ways:
• the Ministry organizes optional achievement tests, develops national performance indicators and proposes evaluation procedures that the municipal level can employ. A ‘National Board of Education’ has been set up that, among other things, evaluates the education system through for example examining the operations of educational institutions; and
• the abolition of the inspection service and of the national curriculum was counterbalanced by the development of a framework, with norms and indicators that allow the Ministry to compare between schools.
In the other Scandinavian countries, we see a similar evolution, with an earlier movement away from central control towards local-level regulation being tempered more recently by the reintroduction of some form of central regulation (Eurydice, 2004, p.31-32). It is not surprising that such a model is not present in most developing countries precisely because of the absence of the characteristics which explain its success in places such as Finland, namely a strong teaching corps, closely involved and well educated parents and few disparities.
It will have become clear that, in the absence of external supervision, the role of the other two monitoring tools, exams and assessment and self-evaluation, have grown in importance. The absence of external supervision is not so much a result of doubts about the effectiveness of State control as a reflection of the relative strength of the other actors who can exercise control, i.e. the teaching profession and the local community. Neither does absence of external supervision imply a naive belief in the intrinsic value of teacher autonomy. It could be argued that, where these other tools and actors work properly, teachers might have less autonomy in their classroom than in a system which relies mainly on an external supervision system that is not functioning efficiently.
The school-site supervision model relies on a combination of professional and public accountability. Teachers are held accountable towards their colleagues, with all participating in a self-evaluation process. Relying on teachers’ professional accountability makes sense when there is trust in their professionalism and when efforts are made to develop teaching into an attractive career. There is also an element of public accountability: parents and even pupils play a role in the school evaluation process and exercise some control. Their involvement is very different from what the public is expected to do in the central inspection model. They are meant to put pressure on and collaborate with ‘their’ school, to motivate the whole school community to improve rather than to go and look for the best possible school to send their kids to. We can refer here to the distinction made earlier between the ‘free-market’ and the ‘partnership’ model. Parents are considered in this model as partners of the school rather than as clients. This model however contains an internal contradiction: it emphasizes on the one hand the value of teacher professionalism, but it relies on the other hand strongly on a group of non-professionals, the parents. This has in some cases led to teachers opposing parental control or to parents being reticent to intervene in schools.
This model has two important assets. Firstly, it puts a strong emphasis on the role of the school, the teachers and the local community in improving teaching and learning. As such, it respect what most research has taught, namely that for a school to change for the better in a sustainable way, the commitment of the school-site actors is a requirement. Quality cannot be imposed from the outside. A second asset is that the supervision service, which under the classical model in some countries has developed into a fairly heavy bureaucracy, a burden for the government and a constraint on school initiatives, is replaced by a lighter structure allowing for more school autonomy.
There are several challenges. The absence of governmental control and a support structure could become a problem for ‘weak’ schools that do not have the internal resources to start off an improvement process. Even in the most developed countries (Strittmatter, 2001, p.122, refers to schools in Switzerland), the lack of internal school capacity was identified as a serious constraint in some schools who failed to develop an evaluation, in which all local level actors genuinely play a part. In some countries, the group of ‘weak’ schools could form a majority. In such a situation, breaking down all external supervision could be interpreted as an abandonment of responsibility. Secondly, this model functions well if the absence of a supervisory structure is balanced by other evaluation mechanisms, such as exams and tests and a comprehensive and regularly updated indicator system, and by a good normative framework. Arguably, this is as complex to develop as a well functioning supervision system.
Thirdly, there is a risk that national policy objectives will be threatened if there is little external control on what goes on in schools and in the classrooms. A country such as Finland, characterized by great homogeneity and few disparities, nevertheless had that preoccupation and after some years started to tighten the regulatory framework. In multicultural countries with many disparities, this issue might be much more serious.
Maybe the most significant risk of this model is that its strong reliance on teachers’ willingness to participate in self-evaluation may lead to teacher isolation and self-satisfaction.
The absence of an external eye and of a system of exchange between schools can lead to methodological weaknesses in the evaluation and to complacency. This raises again the question of finding the right balance between internal and external evaluation even in countries with a highly professional teaching corps.
Section III Models and disparities
The interaction of these different models with the level of disparities between schools is complex. Three questions can help us clarify this relationship: firstly, what attention do these models give to the issue of disparities: do they recognize its existence or do they consider it a problem of little importance? Secondly, what do these models consider as the causes for such disparities? Thirdly, what impact do their interventions have on the level of disparities? The first and fourth model do not pay much attention to this issue, while the second and third do but offer almost contrasting responses.
The first model – the classical supervision – gives very little attention to the issue of disparities. This finds its explanation to some extent in the origins of this model: it was developed in the context of an elitist system and its original aim was to ensure the development of a homogeneous system, as part of a nation-building exercise. Supervision was very much a tool of standardization, preoccupied with enforcing respect of national rules and regulations. This was linked to the conviction that the respect of these rules, in the form of a national curriculum and nation-wide norms on e.g. teacher qualifications or pedagogical methods, was the best strategy to help each school achieve good results. Any movement away from these norms, even if intended to make school more locally relevant, was considered an abnormality.