School leadership in Europe - Toolkit published as the final outcome of a 4-year project

As the readers of our blog surely know EPA was part of a European network of over 30 partners working on policy recommendations and tools about school leadership for equity and learning, EPNoSL. On 28/29 May 2015 a so-called Peer Learning Activity (PLA) was held in Heraklion, Crete, Greece as the closing event of this project-like network. For EPA the most important outcome of the project is the Toolkit for Equity and Learning that has a separate chapter on stakeholder collaboration.

The foundations of the work of EPNoSL can be found in the outcomes of the Comenius Network Leadership in Education (2009-11). In the Framework of Reference that was published as the outcome of this earlier network parents were clearly listed as one of the main stakeholder groups that has to be involved in school leadership and school autonomy was listed as one of the key premises of leadership and collaboration.

The Toolkit developed by the network is raising the main issues and key challenges policy makers and/or practitioners are facing when introducing and exercising school leadership with special emphasis on equity and learning. EPA contributed heavily to the toolset on collaboration especially with regards to parental involvement and student/learner/child participation. 

EPA was represented at the PLA by its president, Eszter Salamon and expert Nelly Guet. In an invited intervention EPA's point of view was presented on parental involvement and the need for empowerment. We have called the attention of participants to the fact that regardless the will or initiatives of some governments and also tradition, for parents it is not a choice, but an obligation to be part of their children's education. At the same time it is a bad approach to consider parents as customer as children are to be treated as competent partners from very early on. Thus parents are one element of an equal triangle, however the only ones with a legally established responsibility.

At the same time it is obvious many parents do not consider the above. Thus they need to be informed about it, there is a need for awareness raising on what it means and also for empowerment in order to enable parents to fulfil this task. It is an obligation for governments to provide support by means of information, training and any other suitable format. The lower the socio-economic status (SES) of the family is, the more support parents need, but we also have to keep in mind that very high SES families are often facing the same or similar issues. 

If a school leadership approach offers parents responsibility at school for areas they are competent at (eg. school meals), it can give leverage to awareness raising and empowerment in other aspects of school life and leadership. Studies show that respecting and treating low SES parents as equals is the only good starting point, leading to educational success of the children. Nora Ritók's point of view was quoted here stating that it is not enough to help the children, but the whole family needs to be empowered to be able to take care of their children themselves. Helping the children only reproduces the wrong role model and lead to a mindset that always relies on other to solve problems instead of them.

Nelly Guet’s report:

The closing event of EPNoSL, which has just ended brought together renowned experts Michael Schratz, John MacBeath, Stephan Gerhard Huber, all three specialists of school leadership I have the pleasure of knowing for 10 to 15 years, and others whose expertise was also extremely relevant. All keynote speakers stayed until the end of the seminar, as well as the representative of the Commission.
Working on school leadership means, of course, working on self-evaluation, shared leadership, as well as training of teachers, school heads and other stakeholder. 
I have had the opportunity to contribute to three European projects in this field since 2004:

all of them building on sharing, comparing and using experiences of all stakeholders: researchers, practitioners, politicians, parents and Unions.

My personal focus in the case of EPNoSL was on the need for a policy response. During the event last week Michael Schratz stressed that we are facing a major problem: youth unemployment in Europe and he recalled Andreas Schleicher’s formula: “to change lives and to drive economics, we have to develop skills”. A new initiative by the European Commission, Youth Guarantee is aiming at bringing 6 Billion Euros to the 13 countries whose youth unemployment rate is high, if they engage themselves to fulfill two conditions : creating jobs, developing skills for people under 29. To develop the skills of young students we need to reform education systems and in the course of this to put much more emphasis on school leadership.  EPNoSL has proved that the issues “of equity and learning have to be tackled and solved at that level.

I could attend two workshops: Educating School Leaders for Equity and learning (Michael Schratz) and School Autonomy for equity and learning (Lejf Moos): examples taken in Scandinavia where two levels appear to predominate, ministry and school with municipality/local community level is being left out.

Personal talks I had with the German participants (Lower Saxony and Berlin - Brandenburg) as well as the presentation of the Scottish Leadership showed me that these countries manage to develop tools that enable the system to change.

My participation in the closing conference of the project EPNoSL in Heraklion confirmed the opinion that I expressed a year ago in my book called: “Shift to Europe or stay by the Republican illusion? What future do we want?”: “Our next minister has to accompany the transformation of the French school, which will be fulfilled neither in books nor in speeches but will be built in permanent contact with stakeholders involved in the same professions in Europe and the world”. In conclusion of my book I urged future French ministers of education to mobilize their partners for a true European cooperation in the field of education… but in Heraklion, as a French, I had to read the letter of apology from our Minister, while 15 participating countries among the 23 had sent a representative.

I also concluded my book by “Urging the next president of the European Commission to reformulate the rules of subsidiarity in education since associations - even if they are combined into a platform for education and lifelong learning as it is currently the case - cannot by themselves introduce the necessary reforms in some countries where there is an alarming situation in the education system”.  
Countries where the youth unemployment rate is very high - Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Hungary and France - must urgently consider using good practices summarized in the toolkit  that have been developed throughout the working of EPNoSL. During the closing session I expressed my hope primarily that the efficient network created thanks to EPNoSL will be put at the disposal of countries that solicit its intervention and advice as well as that our expectations will be facilitated by the EU Presidency by Malta in 2016.


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