Forum on Leadership Policy on Equity and Learning: Take it to the Students

The Maltese Ministry of Education hosted a conference on school leadership and equity, co-organised by the former European Policy Network on School Leadership (EPNoSL) on 16/17 January 2017. As an active member of the EPNoSL, EPA was offered the opportunity not only to participate, but also to offer input in two workshops on Supporting National Advocacy of Parents’ Associations and Giving Responsibility to Boost Participation. EPA was represented in the event by Brigitte Haider, our Project Manager. You can read her detailed report below.

The conference also offered an opportunity to have a discussion among former network members in order to successfully submit an application for a next financing round for our work on school leadership policy. Since the event the submission was done and now we all keep our fingers crossed for it. EPA is offered a major role in the planned network, together with our regular collaborator, the European School Heads Association, ESHA. The network would be again led by FORTH and we have enjoyed working with them.


Evarist Bartolo, Maltese minister for Education and employment, started his speech with the question how schools could become more effective (but he did not define effectiveness).
To his mind traditional formal education is totally obsolete, because learning often takes place outside of schools in other learning spaces. This requires a collaborative culture of schools with these environments. Learning should be aimed at life (including citizenship) and work. Learning nowadays is influenced by a lot of outside factors, therefore schools need to engage with a wider community.
Schools cannot exist in a parallel universe and do not need walls around them.
Martine Reicherts, new Director General of DG EAC, is strongly convinced that education can make a difference, education is fundamental and therefore youth education is on top of the EC agenda! The EE will present a package on youth education on May 25 (tbc). For this reason, all stakeholders in education are invited to participate in a public consultation on this topic that will be launched soon.
“Let’s think out of the box!” “Let’s be creative!” “It is 5 to twelve!” “I’m much more crazy than you can imagine!”
Joe Caruana, permanent secretary of the Maltese ministry of education and employment (and successor of Frans Borg, who was EPA’s GS up to 2005) continued with a plea that the voices of all concerned are urgently needed. Malta has currently implemented a career guidance toolkit that follows each single learner from the very early to the very late years and is supposed to make all people become lifelong learners themselves. Malta has also implemented new forms of assessment and evaluation and an overall training for school heads. For this reason, they established a new institute for teacher and school head trainings.

Martine Reicherts pointed to the 30th anniversary of Erasmus (celebrations in the following week in Berlin). She stressed the crucial role of school leadership questioning the meaning of leadership. There has been a shift of paradigm to “what can I do to improve the situation” (no longer to rely on the system that would help to make things better). The last PISA results on general were worse than the preceding ones. It is essential to look at best and worst practises. A migrant background of learners does not necessarily lead to worse results and does not produce less changes.
Jacky Lumby stressed that education was too much based on economy, but now there is a slight shift noticeable to more security and social cohesion. In reality disparities are widening and deepen disadvantages. “Elites shape the education” was the general mind-set in 19/20th century, but on policy level we need schools to be(come) more diverse. She repeated the statement of the minister on the obsolescence of the traditional formal education. One challenge is the fact that most teachers are not trained in dealing with diverse kids. Therefore, we need 1) a different vision what education is for and 2) new teacher trainings focusing on thinking skills. At the end of her speech she gave two remarkable examples: In Scotland there are cases of leadership by very young children that proved that it really works. There is a catholic school where Islamic pupils are allowed to read the Koran during the Holy Mass.
Michael Schratz from Austria gave one of his typical colourful presentations with so many ideas from different approaches and points of view that I cannot list here all of them. The longest distance in the world is what is written in a policy paper until it comes to the learner. The picture of an Iceberg perfectly indicates that most of the learning is not seen, because it is under the water. What you can see are only the test results that map only a small part of the whole thing. This is why we speak about deep learning! Deep learning is also an enabling strategy for social involvement. He presented a new framework of good pedagogical practises, new partnerships, new environments and leveraging digital challenges.
He stressed the 6 Cs: creativity, critical thinking, communication, character, citizenship and collaboration as key factors for future education. “We do not need more leaders, but more citizens – change agents – for the future.” Schratz is member of the jury of the “Deutscher Schulpreis” that awards creative school projects in Germany. One of the last awarded projects implemented a new job description of a school leader that is targeted on helping humanity. “It is necessary to connect systems, not pieces.”
ETUCE: salaries and working conditions of teachers and school heads may sometimes cause obstacles; Reicherts answered that underpayment cannot be accepted, but money is not always the crucial point
Question on the aim of an announced school package: Reicherts informed that the main issues are teacher training, entrepreneurship and leadership
Dean of Malta university mourned an often-predetermined mind-set of teachers and pointed to the difference between the policy level and the reality in classroom. Jacky Lumby answered him that changes need time. In her example, it took 7 years; crucial is the initial teacher training, because there is the possibility to select the right people
Thomas Huddleston from SIRIUS stressed the difference between the first and the second generation of migrants/newcomers, pointing to the fact that in some countries the first generation performed much better. The situation seems only slowly increasing. One of the main factors is that the school system is also very slowly changing. Migrant children are often concentrated in schools with pupils from other disadvantaged groups. There is a lack of multi-cultural teacher training. Migrant children should get (more) education in their mother tongue. Parents’ support/mentoring is often lacking. Migration is often connected with discrimination.
Lana Jurko from SIRIUS draw the attention to the factors that make a good leader. To her mind a good leader should
  • ·         act on issues based on social justice
  • ·         believe in this
  • ·         connect with the community
  • ·         do not believe in a deficit theory

A good leader should follow the 3 Rs: Reflective (what is working), Reactive, Resilient
She located several severe challenges: a general lack of professional training for teachers, strange recruitment policies and difficulties in getting resources and support (not only recipes). She also raised the question of gender among the audience present. In this room, there were more than 50% male participants (in Europe there are about 80% female teachers, but only 20% female school heads)
John Portelli from Canada and as born Maltese counsellor of the Maltese ministry of education and employment highlighted the fact that leadership always deals with issues of power. Therefore, empowerment of leaders is crucial.


It was significant that 4 out of the 5 parallel sessions presented dealt only with national examples. Only I tried to bring in a European perspective with examples of good practise from different countries.
My topic was “Supporting National Advocacy of Parents’ associations” and my participants were mostly parents and school heads from Malta. (Unfortunately, the organisers did not provide any list of participants.) I referred to the EPNoSL toolkit and the EC policy paper on ESL focusing on the importance on involving parents and students in decision making on school as well as on national level. But I also mentioned the great discrepancy between what may be written in school acts and how reality looks like – of lack of legislation, reducing power of parents and students, lack of acknowledgment, lack of funding and lack of trainings – for parents, students, teachers and school heads.
These were the statements after two discussion rounds:
  • ·         a different reality between the role of parents/parents’ associations in primary and secondary schools as well as in state and non-state schools
  • ·         the legal framework for parents’ participation differs a lot in different countries
  • ·         school council remit is not clear
  • ·         parents may not feel comfortable approaching schools
  • ·         bring parents to school for good reasons
  • ·         parents’ involvement: volunteer, profession, arts, knitting
  • ·         difference between schools of different sectors: parents may be aggressive making teachers unwilling to communicate with them
  • ·         parental involvement: as a one-off occasion or regular contacts? For the latter to occur one must show parents that they value their contribution
  • ·         flexibility from employers to support parents’ participation – at least to attend meetings

During our inspiring discussion, suddenly Gerry Mac Ruairc from the National University of Ireland dropped in just when I mentioned Charles Desforges and his findings. Gerry said that he does not believe in Desforges’ outcomes, because his own studies show totally different results. Lifelong learning is a middle-class term, which does not refer to underprivileged groups. He does not know Ramon Flecha and when I presented Nora Ritók’s project with the Roma families he was not convinced about her “success”. He also said that social workers make things worse. He has also never heard about the “open school doors project” (here he showed only a small scepticism). And finally, he has no idea what NPC-p is offering to the new arriving people in Ireland (although he knows Aine Lynch, as he said ….).
Due to the low number of participants of this event (60-80, half of them locals) I had to share my workshop with Huub Friedrichs, who presented his ESL project that is run in the Netherlands. ADPE - the association for dropout prevention - offers a lot of support but only for teachers and school heads. I could not find anything relevant for students and parents in his presentation. I also missed examples of good practise. Mostly there was nothing new on this issue for me. Chris Harrison joined us for a while, but did not interfere.
The topic of my presentation was “Giving Responsibility to Boost Participation”. I started with the “ladder of participation”-concept and often heard prejudices from parents as well as teachers that hinder successful collaboration. When I switched to examples of good practise to overcome these prejudices the Maltese school heads complained that in secondary parents are not interested at all in engaging at the school of their children. They told me that there was a project that all students got laptops/tablets. For this reason, they offered trainings for parents in the morning, in the evening and even on Saturday. They complained that only 48% of the parents participated in these training. This is a rather good percentage to my mind. The parents only came to school when they had to sign the receipt of the devices. I presented the study of Loizos Symeou from Cyprus about the “language” that is used when schools invite parents, which often does not meet the needs of many parents. I also presented the examples making parents and/or students teachers and offer peer-education. I also mentioned the example of students teaching parents and grandparents in IT practise. And finally, I informed about the Latvian project of community schools – opening the school doors for activities of the whole community. Due to lack of time I could not finish my prepared presentation giving examples of empowerment trainings for students and parents to get fit for better involvement. I also wanted them to work on the school climate what had also to be deleted. They gave me a strange example from a Maltese school where a school head included an additional mark in the yearly report: parents’ participation. We did not start a detailed discussion on this issue, because I have some severe doubts about this fact.


The organisers of this conference also invited representatives of SIRIUS, KEYCONET and ELINET, but only SIRIUS participated. They gave a short overview on their activities and partners.
Then the audience gave some national examples of good practise focusing mainly on activities for underprivileged groups.
Mika Risku (FI) presented their local education plans
Gerry Mac Ruairc (IR) presented an example of schools where catholic students (mainly from Ireland and Poland) enter the school building by a different entrance than the other students
Scotland: policy of welcome schools: schools act as universal service point for social, health, housing … issues
Wales: nurture rooms for newly arrived families
NL (after a study visit of school heads in Sweden): reception classes were converted in general classes; school heads are often not aware of their gatekeeper role; they often do not want to accept migrant/refugee children, because they influence the school ranking in a negative way
PT: new programme of school autonomy during the last years; school shall use their resources in a more effective way
Lithuania is confronted with a lot of refugees from Ukraine and some Russians and a few Chechens (?)
{Bernd Jankofsky from LISUM: informed me that his organisation offers empowerment trainings for students and parents for better engagement in schools}

Tuesday, January 17, 2017


1.        What is educational success?
S:     friends can help, encourage, bring you forward; educational success ≠ learning facts, but learning for life; teachers can help; you can succeed in what you believe; you can reach what you want to reach; friends and teachers who encourage you to reach your aim; friends and teachers who provide you with tools and resources that you may need; most subjects are based on handsome experiments and most things we do are the same things we do outside of the school (alternative school with many children with special needs and ESL; one teacher per student!)
P:    hands-on subjects; child is now really happy to go to school; “embedded lessons”, e.g. learning maths within vocational subjects (alternative school); getting prepared for life; success even if you fail at the end, but then you learn a lot on your own way of doing things
T:    feel better; success in school = success in life; first build character and responsibility to become a good citizen
SH:  build on the student’s talents; look for appropriate programmes and for appropriate people to help the students; success = active citizenship; never stop trusting in the students as well as in the teaching and non-teaching staff; working together in good teams; every student should reach his/her potential
2.        How to identify a person who supported an educational success?
S:     my cousin, who became game tester; my uncle, who graduated two times; my father, who tried what he could do to like a subject that he did not like before; my father, because he succeeded in what he did (left with 16 to the military and came back home healthy); all other students, because they are given enough time and positive attitude of teachers (alternative school)
P:    aunt of her children, who went to work in Brussels just after finishing school (but is totally incapable in practical things, e.g. fix a button and has to be supported by her own children in these things; statement of a mother of alternative school); prime minister who said that Malta is a small country, but could become the best in Europe
T:    Malala Yousafzai; to be happy in doing what you are doing
SH:  problematic student with academic and social problems, who finished the academic career and did additional a lot of other things, e.g. member of school council, helping other children …; a dyslexic friend who started working in a jeans factory and then started to buy old houses and renovated them and sold them with big benefit (alternative school); despite any difficulties a person who continues and reaches the goals he/she has in mind
SH:  disappointed, because no students mention families to support them; parents sometimes question on what is decided on school level; parents cannot guide their children to their full potential; first meeting = barbecue; communication in the right way and always be reachable
P:    children take this for granted; the family is always present; former SH very autocratic, but actual one invites parents and others to all activities; number of engaged parents is rising
S:     parents are always there, but students must learn to succeed without the support of the family; positive influence of mother, who always tried to keep him back to track – now he is happy that he has chosen this alternative school, where he feels very happy; the presence of parents is taken for granted
3.        Who helped you to belong to the school? Is there something missing to feel more included?
S:     other students, friends, teachers; additional extra curriculum activities where students can show where they are good at; teachers and friends who make you feel important; wood working: every student is responsible for a part, but all together make you feel involved (alternative school)
P:    work experience (alternative school); learning from other students, not only from teacher; more positive learning needed!
T:    guidance by management team
SH:  examples: whole class writes a book, writes stories, include drawings, bring in other aspects …; creativity and structure (alternative school); positive environment (physical setting), good relationship among stakeholders (laid down in a joint school vision statement) that leads to “TOGETHER” – dream, believe, work, achieve

4.        Indicate one thing stop doing and one thing to go on or to introduce
S:     ADHD: meeting with teachers that they will better know what this is (alternative school); school shall go on like it is; stop bullying; one-in-one teaching; more extra curricula activities; stop homework, but do more exams!
P:    children shall go in confidence and comfortable to school; stop comparing one is better than another; dream for a better future
T:    stop a cohesive syllabus; we (=teachers) can make a difference; working on differences

SH:  stop results using as a benchmark (ranking); give more possibilities to students to show what they are able; stick to positive things and make them recognised; stop with negative things; have the same esteem (alternative school)

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