School management in regional education
School management in regional education is relatively autonomous, but insufficiently supported
The most important actors in managing preschools, elementary and secondary schools in Slovakia are their principals and school authorities. The execution of their relatively broad competencies is made more complicated by opaque legislation and disputed responsibility for the various aspects of management. Neither the criteria for selecting candidates for school principals, nor the selection process are clearly stated. The most qualified applicant is therefore not guaranteed to become a principal. The principals are in charge of a very broad agenda, which distracts them from supervising the pedagogical process and developing human resources. School authorities could unburden principals from a part of their agenda, related to the operation of the schools. However, only a small part of them possess the necessary capacity, qualification and determination to do so. Thanks to the broad competence of the school principals, the authorities may not have a say in some of their decisions, despite sharing responsibility for the appointment and operation of the schools. School authorities are more often involved in approving the vision and strategic development at private or religious schools, compared to state or district ones. The execution of competence by school principals is further complicated by the fact that a part of the district schools is managed under the original tenets, with the other part under tenets transferred from state managed schools. This means that different schools and their individual organizational units are governed by different sets of rules and financed from different sources. Neither the school principals nor the authorities receive support sufficient for quality school management.
School districts do not have a direct impact on applicant selection for the role of principal. They only decide on the appointment of the selected candidate at the request of the school board. They are allowed to refuse a candidate, but they must justify their decision. If a candidate met the qualifying and other formal criteria, the justification of their refusal for a given position would be problematic. The authorities therefore tend to appoint the first candidate proposed by the school board. In lieu of qualitative criteria for assessing applicants in the selection process, and unclear procedural selection rules, the principal chosen might not be the most qualified applicant.
School principals have broad competencies, yet they are not fully autonomous in management, and face multiple obstacles in their decision making. The scale of the agenda they are in charge of, as well as the lack of administrative staff, limit their capacity to manage the educational process and human resources development. A quality pedagogical team, cooperation with the school authority, and a division of responsibility in school management have been identified as being of the greatest help by the school principals in the survey. However, when trying to build their teams, they continue to encounter labour and employment legislation that creates barriers to the firing of employees. At the same time, school principals do not possess sufficient resources to financially incentivise their employees and reward them for a good job.
The method of school management is closely related to the individual management and leadership skills of senior school employees. However, they do not receive the necessary methodological support to develop these skills. The compulsory functional education that they undergo in their positions is limited when it comes to encompassing all the varied educational needs in the area of management. A subset of the school principals expect practical advice on the school’s daily operations from their functional education, while the more experienced principals expect a different added value that can be utilised in the strategic development of their schools. For this reason, only a relatively small number of school principals in the survey identified their functional education as something that had helped them in their roles.
Considering the scope of the agenda of management, the delegation of responsibilities to deputies, school committees and the teachers themselves appears to be an effective strategy for the principals. School committees and the teachers play an important role, especially in areas directly related to the educational process, according to the principals. Participative management increases their engagement and motivation, and leads to a greater sense of identification with the direction of the school and a sense of shared responsibility for its quality operation.
Even though the principals in the survey identified collaboration with school authorities as being of significant help in managing their schools, there were certain areas in which a large portion of the principals could not rely on the authority. Many school authorities embrace only those functions sanctioned directly by the law; managing their budget and overseeing the finances of the schools. The authorities often do not have the necessary resources, capacity, qualifications or determination to unburden the principals from dealing with operational issues, personnel and their economic agenda, including public procurement. The school authorities also do not receive methodological support and aid appropriate to the practical execution of their capacities.
School boards and their district committees do not have a significant impact on the management of the school, according to the principals. This stems from the legislation stating that the only significant executive capacity of the school board is to carry out the school principal selection process and, based on its results, recommend a candidate for appointment to the school authority. Other than that, the school board is supposed to be involved in the conceptual direction of school development, but the decision itself is made by the principal. However, from the point of view of the principals, the impact of the school board on daily operations is relatively low.
School management at different levels of education, as well as individual organizational units of the schools, is made more complicated by the functioning of two management modes. District preschools, and organizational units at elementary and secondary schools, for instance cafeterias, extracurricular clubs and halls of residence, are managed and financed under the original tenets of the district. The elementary and secondary schools themselves however, are managed and financed under the tenets transferred from the state administration authority. These two modes are guided by different sets of rules and financed from different sources. This increases the administrative burden of schools and school authorities, given that the individual organizational units manage their own resources, file their own personnel agenda, process data independently, and answer to different authorities of state or district administration. The fragmentation of the operational and economic agenda therefore increases the time and personnel required for its fulfilment, and causes a waste of human resources. Along with the lack of administrative staff experienced by many schools, this can lead to the stretching of the senior staff, and rob them of their capacity for quality management of the educational process and school development.
The results of the quantitative and qualitative data analysis of the Learning Makes Sense project are presented in detail in the following sections:
The selection, competencies, development and execution of the role of the principal
School principals have wide competencies, but they encounter obstacles in their execution
Read further (available only in Slovak)
The execution of competencies by the school and district authorities
The school and district authorities aid schools only in certain aspects of management
Read further (available only in Slovak)
The management system of regional education at the level of schools and school authorities is complicated. This is caused not only by the lack of transparency and extensive legislation, but also by the scope of the agenda and unclear competencies in various aspects of management. It complicates and prolongs the decision-making processes, and puts an administrative burden on schools and school authorities. The principals and authorities also lack adequate methodological support and education on strategic management, process management and human resources. As a result, it seems that many schools in the regional education sector are not managed efficiently, and are not always led by principals with strong leadership and management skills. When it comes to providing quality educational services, regular assessment and innovation, there is currently a lack of conditions conducive to teachers doing their job well, in such a way that would enable the holistic development of all learners.