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Learning schools in Sweden – principals understanding of on-going school improvement in an era of accountability
Linnaeus University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Education. (SITE)ORCID iD: 0000-0003-1157-7932
Linnaeus University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Education. (SITE)
2014 (English)In: ECER 2014, The Past, the Present and the Future of Educational Research: 03. Curriculum Innovation, 2014Conference paper, Oral presentation with published abstract (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Over the last two decades there has been a general transnational policy trend towards major emphasis on learning outcomes. In Sweden – like in many other countries – there is an on-going discussion about pupils’ academic achievement, not to mention due to Swedish pupils’ low results in different international knowledge comparisons (cf. Ball et al., 2012; Grek, 2009).

During the last years there has also been an extensive discussion on how research can help developing schools in terms of professional development for teachers and principals but also raising students’ achievement. School improvement combining scientific evidence and the proven experience is attracting a wide interest, especially in the international research. There are several attempts from different perspectives addressing questions related to professional learning and development for teachers and principals, school and teacher effectiveness, school improvement, curriculum innovation et cetera (cf. Day et al., 2012).

In Sweden the situation is more modest according to research efforts in the school development field, although there are important and interesting results from collaborations between school researchers and school improvement efforts (cf. Håkansson & Sundberg, 2012; Blossing, 2008).  

The Education Act of 2010 is part of a top-to-bottom curriculum reform in Sweden, which has put further pressure on municipalities and schools to implement new syllabuses, clearer goals and knowledge demands and a new grading system (cf. Utbildningsdepartementet (The Ministry of Education), 2008; 2011). At the same time there is still high expectations and demands on performance improvements and school-based development work. So what does it mean working with school-development under the external pressure? Our previous research shows that there is a differentiated picture appearing when it comes to local actors’ arguments of content areas of curriculum development. Howsoever the strongest arguments were the result and the inspection argument, there are also other motives for choosing specific curriculum areas as a starting point for school-improvement, for example previous development work adjusted to the new curriculum, lack of competencies, signals from the staff et cetera (cf. Sundberg, Håkansson, Adolfsson, 2013)

 

The starting point for this paper is an on-going three-year research project in six Swedish compulsory schools with the general purpose of exploring and developing theoretical, methodological and practical knowledge for school improvement. A vital question is how local actors (i.e. principals in this case) comprehend the parallel process of local improvement work and external pressure in terms of accountability and performance improvement. As part of this broader aim the purpose of the research presented in this paper is to elucidate principals’ understanding of the school improvement work after one year, in regard to estimated changes/results, chosen strategies and local conditions. The following research questions are addressed in the paper:

 

  • In what way do principal understand school changes related to local conditions and strategies in terms of:

 

a)     content areas covered on teacher level?

b)    their own leadership and learning?

c)     capacity-building for school development?

 

The first theoretical starting point in this paper is a “classical” framework of curriculum theory (i.e. the frame-factor theory with its different levels of analysis – the societal/ideological level, the curriculum level and the teaching and classroom level, cf. Lundgren 1989).  In this context we above all use elaborations of the frame-factor theory describing pedagogical processes in terms of frames/conditions – processes – results (c.f. Lindensjö & Lundgren, 2000).  A second theoretical starting point used in this research is aggregated knowledge from the field of school effectiveness and improvement. During the last decades important empirical findings has emerged as well as theoretical models explaining and supporting successful school development and school leadership (cf Fullan, 2001; Hargreaves & Fullan, 2012; Hallinger, 2011).

Method

In connection to the mentioned elaboration of the frame-factor theory, Fullan (2001) means that educational processes must be studied and analysed in relation to its external and its internal conditions. Stoll (2009) emphasizes the importance of internal and external actors supporting and creating the necessary conditions, culture and structures. The concept “capacity-building” is used trying to take into consideration the “multifaceted” characteristics of school development and also show that school improvement essentially deals with creating capacity for learning (c.f. Stoll 2009; see also Fullan, 2006). Our analytical framework and the tools for analysing data, take into consideration the mentioned starting points searching for evidence related to changes in the schools linked to capacities in terms of research-based strategies but also principals insights in i) curriculum content areas, ii) teaching and student learning, iii) the school’s potential for educational change, iv) morals and values in their leadership (cf. Stoll, 2013). In order to explore and analyse the on-going school improvement process and changes after one year through principals’ understanding, different qualitative methods have been used. The most important sources are the qualitative group interviews with principals (n=13) at the end of the first year, but also sound recordings and field notes from eight planning meetings with the principals during the first year (from January to December 2013). Furthermore we have also analysed planning documents from the schools showing local goals, school-based activities and evaluation plans. The group interviews were carried out in two groups in December 2013 following a semi-structured interview-guide. Each group consisted of six or seven principals and the interviewer was a research assistant who had not met the group before. The questions were structured according to the above-mentioned structure for pedagogical processes: frames/conditions – processes – results, but organized in the other way (i.e. observed changes/results were discussed first). Each interview were taped and lasted for approximately one and a half hour. All sound recordings, field notes and other documents (approximately 50-70 pages of text) have constituted the foundation for the analysis in several steps.

Expected Outcomes

The results of the empirical analysis will be presented in terms of qualitative differences in principals descriptions of changes in teacher consciousness related to for example curriculum areas like classroom management, or support to pupils’ development of language. These qualitative differences can also be about – in a general sense – teachers’ consciousness of curriculum reform, content areas or school improvement (question a). Secondly the results will show patterns of principals learning related to leadership in school development, ability of analysis and time perspective in school improvement (question b). Finally the result and discussion will pay attention to capacity-building in schools related to Swedish curriculum reform (Lgr 11), different forms of external support from the research group and teaching improvement (question c).

References

Ball, Stephen, Maguire, Meg & Braun Annette (2012). How Schools du Policy. Policy enactments in secondary schools. London and New York: Routledge. Blossing, Ulf (2008). Kompetens för samspelande skolor: om skolorganisationer och skolförbättring. 1. uppl. Lund: Studentlitteratur. Fullan, Michael (2001). The new meaning of educational change. 3. ed. New York: Teachers College Press Fullan, M. (2006). Turnaround leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Grek, Sotiria (2009). Governings by numbers: the PISA effect in Europe. Journal of education policy, 24(1), p. 23-37. Hallinger, Philip (2011). Leadership for Learning: Lessons from 40 Years of Empirical Research. Journal of Educational Administration, v. 49 n. 2 p. 125-142 2011. 18 pp Hargreaves, Andy & Fullan, Michael (2012). Professional capital: transforming teaching in every school. New York: Routledge Håkansson, Jan & Sundberg, Daniel (2012b). Utmärkt undervisning. Framgångsfaktorer I svensk och internationell belysning. [Excellent teaching. Success factors in the light of Swedish and international research; in Swedish]. Stockholm: Natur & Kultur. Lindensjö, Bo & Lundgren, Ulf P. (2000). Utbildningsreformer och politisk styrning. [Curriculum Reforms and Policy; in Swedish]. Stockholm: HLS förl Lundgren, Ulf P. (1989). Att organisera omvärlden: en introduktion till läroplansteori. 2. [dvs 4.] uppl. [Organizing the Surrounding World: Introduction to Curriculum Theory; in Swedish] Stockholm: Utbildningsförl. på uppdrag av Gymnasieutredningen. Stoll, Louise (2009). Capacity building for school improvement or creating capacity for learning? A changing landscape. Journal of Educational Change. 10:115–127. Stoll, Louise (2013). Leading Professional Learning Communities. In Wise, Christine, Bradshaw, Pete & Cartwright, Marion (ed). Leading Professional Pracitce in Education. London: SAGE. Sundberg, D., Håkansson, J. & Adolfsson, C. (2013). The Recontextualisation of curriculum reform: Local curriculum innovation under the accountability regime of the New Swedish Curriculum, Lgr11. Paper presented at the ECER 2013, Creativity and Innovation in Educational Research. Utbildningsdepartementet (The Ministry of Education) (2008). Regeringens proposition 2008/09:87. Tydligare mål och kunskapskrav – nya läroplaner för skolan [Government Bill 2009/09:87. Clearer Goals and Knowledge Demands – new curriculums for the school: in Swedish]. Utbildningsdepartementet (The Ministry of Education) (2011). Läroplan för grundskolan, förskoleklassen och fritidshemmet 2011 (Lgr 11). [Curriculum for the Compulsory School, Preschool Class and the Leisure-time Centre 2011; in Swedish]. Stockholm: National Agency for Education.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2014.
National Category
Pedagogy
Research subject
Pedagogics and Educational Sciences
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:lnu:diva-46342OAI: oai:DiVA.org:lnu-46342DiVA, id: diva2:854331
Conference
42nd European Conference on Educational Research (ECER) "The Past, the Present and Future of Educational Research in Europe" in Porto, Portugal, 1 - 5 September 2014.
Available from: 2015-09-16 Created: 2015-09-16 Last updated: 2017-02-16Bibliographically approved

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Håkansson, JanAdolfsson, Carl-Henrik

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