The responsibility of headteachers increases, and their work load increases. At the same time they encounter many paradoxes in their everyday work, according to the researchers.

The job of headteacher has become an exposed position

New headteacher positions receive one application on average, and the turnover is high.

“Headteachers stay in their jobs for a shorter time than before. Sick days are increasing, and fewer people apply for the 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.

Professor Morten Øgård and researcher Linda Hye at the Centre for Local Government Studies.

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 headteacher is defined as a 'specially 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 their 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 receives 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 asks.

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 at 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 nation based on knowledge is in danger,” Hye says.

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 says.

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.

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