To build towards achievement of quality education there must be greater recognition of the important role played by principals and other school leaders. This was one of the key conclusions of an EI school leadership seminar called “Quality leadership for quality education” held in Helsinki in May. Hosted by the Finnish teachers’ union Opetusalan Ammattijärjestö (OAJ), the seminar was attended by 69 participants from EI member organisations across the globe.
The meeting was officially opened by Henna Virkkunen, the Finnish Minister of Education. The Minister informed the participants that primary and secondary education in Finland is free, including learning resources, meals and transportation. Teachers are highly educated, with the minimum entry level qualification being a Masters degree, and they have a high degree of professional autonomy. A combination of these factors might explain why Finland has performed so well in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Speakers and participants stressed the importance of shared pedagogic leadership. They agreed that schools should practise democratic and collaborative leadership involving not just the principal and his or her deputy, but the whole school community. The seminar also explored the impact of the financial and economic crisis on education. Deep cuts in education budgets and teachers’ salaries were reported in countries as Latvia and Slovenia. The IMF has continued to impose severe conditionalities, including public sector wage cuts. Participants recommended that EI and teachers’ unions should take advantage of the current momentum to move the school leadership agenda forward through continued advocacy activities, involvement in policy development, organising training programmes in collaboration with organisations at all levels. New issues and challenges that have a significant impact on educational leadership continue to emerge in many parts of the world. Some of these include performance management/ appraisal and merit pay, international comparative surveys and assessments, and emphasis on competition. EI and teachers’ unions should continue to monitor these developments and to engage with public authorities and international organisations in order to influence school leadership policy and practice. The 2007 EI Congress Resolution calls for the employment of principals on the basis of a benchmark of skills; school leaders should be trained, experienced and competent teachers. They should be given training in leadership, managerial and coaching skills, including the ability to create a vision for the school, practise democratic and shared leadership. Because violence against teachers, students and other education employees seems to be on the rise, teachers’ unions should work with school leaders to ensure safety of teachers, support staff and students, including the development of safety measures for dealing with natural disasters and violence. The current financial and economic crisis has had a negative impact on educational leadership and education in some countries. In the US and other countries, the education sector has benefited from economic stimulus packages. EI and its member organisations should continue to engage the international financial institutions and public authorities to resist cuts in education spending and to ensure that education benefits from any economic stimulus packages. By Dennis Sinyolo.