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EPNoSL Jyväskylä PLA - School Leadership: Creating Social Justice through Education Policy

EPNoSL Jyväskylä PLA - School Leadership: Creating Social Justice through Education Policy

Monday, June 10, 2013 - 09:00 - Tuesday, June 11, 2013 - 17:00
University of Jyväskylä, Finland

EPNoSL Peer Learning Activity (PLA) - Jyväskylä, Finland

TITLE: School Leadership: Creating Social Justice through Education Policy 

SCOPE: Exchange of experience and understandings for the design and implementation of evidence based policy on/for School Leadership grounded on principles of equity and social justice

TARGET GROUPS: National as well as European Educational Authorities, Policy Makers, School Leaders, and other educational actors and their associations/unions

VENUE: The forthcoming EPNoSL PLA event hosted by the Institute of Educational Leadership, University of Jyväskylä is scheduled to take place in Jyväskylä, Finland on June 10th and 11th, 2013 (pre-vent meeting on June 9th) .




WG1: Autonomy

In the group discussion a set of factors endangering the achievement of equity and learning were identified in Estonia, Latvia, Netherlands and Portugal. The issues affecting schools’ effective leadership have common grounds/ roots and similar effects: the so called “crisis” is affecting schools management and leadership. In spite of the budget reductions, schools are pressed to do more with fewer resources and to deal with teachers’ dissatisfaction and stress by using “intelligent” techniques of conflict management, as if the technical approaches to conflict solving were enough to respond to the existing constraints and to the professional pressure for better results, for equity and greater social justice, which are the great challenges teachers are facing in a changing world, where reforms became urgent, though some features seem to be on the way.

In spite of the differences in the respective economies, similarities can be found in the foci of the changes in progress in the fields of educational policy and practices, even when the social contexts and the economic backgrounds are dissimilar. The key factors in the reform processes to respond to the situation of crisis are related to the way we deal with the education processes. Implicit, or explicit, is the need to improve school leadership, through new approaches to the leaders recruitment and training policies, to ensure the restructuring of schools and prepare their capacity to mobilize resources, to improve the teaching provision and their training, to implement changes in the curriculum and to cope with the re-culturing of schools towards more learning capability, more social justice. For these purposes, the issues of school autonomy need to be revised, as well as the roles and responsibilities to be distributed to internal partners / members of the school community, and to review the role of the school partnerships in the educational communities.  It is the school capacity to respond to a different society that is at stakes: though schools have enormously improved, and in different ways along the last decades, it is good, but it seems to be not enough.  The systems are in need of new leaders to deal with the necessary autonomy to respond to the new contexts of crisis.

Autonomy is defined as

  • the capacity to informed, uncoerced decisions
  • self-determination, self-governance

OECD: School Autonomy

  • ”Running a small business”
  • Managing human and financial resources
  • Adapting the teaching programme


  • Autonomy: Decentralisation/delegation – self-governance
  • Level: State – municipality – schools
  • Issues: frames – content
  • Power: structural – social technologies – discursive power
  • Room for manoeuvre: participation - deliberation


WG2: Accountability

Accountability is defined as the responsibility for actions, decisions, processes, outcomes and policies.

Accountability categories:

  • Managerial and bureaucratic accountability (indicators)
  • Market-oriented accountability (competition)
  • Public accountability (legitimacy)
  • Professional accountability (knowledge & experience)
  • Cultural-ethical accountability (‘Bildung’ & care)

In leadership for equity:

  • ‘is the quality of being fair and reasonable in a way that gives fair treatment to everyone’
  • social justice - social inheritance

In leadership  for learning:

  • basic skills
  • complex understanding
  • critical sense, collaboration, creativity … ‘Bildung’ 


WG3: Distributed Leadership

Participants were present from the following countries: Finland, Sweden, Germany, Poland, Lithuania, the Netherlands, United Kingdom, Italy and Hungary. The discussion explored the multiple roles of school heads in policy making and stressed the importance of various co-operative relationships and partnerships between the different stakeholders, mentioning some difficulties specific to certain countries as well as good practices. There seemed to be agreement concerning the message to be given to policy makers.

Partners participating in the distributed leadership research in WP4 (UK, FI, LT, DE, HU) agreed to engage in a process of peer review and support between the projects and to make the most of 'opportunistic triangulation' by comparing the diverse approaches, contexts and outcomes of the research studies.

The following main conclusions have been reached:

  • Leaders have multiple roles in relation to policy: interpreters, creators of school policy, participants, objects, buffers to external policy.
  • There are benefits in school leaders being part of partnerships involving researchers, policy-makers, and practitioner organisations, though the contexts of countries differ significantly.  For example, in Finland, the three are working well together; whereas in England the same kind of partnership is not apparent and partnerships of non-state organisations are important to counteract too much government power.
  • There is a need for collaboration between stakeholders even in competitive contexts.
  • A key message to give to policy-makers is that bottom-up approaches are more effective than top-down ones.


WG4: Policy Response

Policy response in the context of EPNoSL refers to education policy implementation processes and their results. Policies are transformed by those who have to turn them into practice. Key actors within institutions such as head teachers and teachers within schools have the capacity – even with nationally prescribed policy initiatives – to alter, shape and craft policy texts in accordance with their own professional and personal values, beliefs, understandings and goals. The aim of this workgroup was to identify and discuss critical issues in policy response related to equity and learning from the perspective of school leadership. It was comprised by participants from England, Portugal, Sweden, Greece, France, Italy and Finland. Some of the conclusions reached in this workgroup was that the main issues regarding equity and learning from the perspective of leadership are different from country to country and also policy responses to these issues can be very different. In Italy, Greece and Portugal cuts in public education spending create great challenges regarding equity in schools. School leaders are on the one hand called to work with fewer funds and quite often less teaching staff and on the other to improve the situation on the ground regarding equity and learning performance. In France, Finland, England and Sweden education spending has not been affected as much by the economic crisis, and in some cases, services offered to various categories of pupils that are in need of extra support have been strengthened. In Finland spending on pupils with special needs was increased and now two teachers can be on the same classroom. In France new jobs for 60.000 teachers and head-teachers were created. Another main issue regarding policy response was how empowered are school leaders to shape education policy making in their country. As it was discussed, across all countries represented in the workgroup, school leaders have only indirect ways to affect decisions taken at central level. In France the sense of hierarchy is very important and school leadership apply decisions made by the ministry and the bodies of inspection, with not much autonomy and discretionary powers. In Italy, there are school networks for different purposes. Some of these networks are very successful in influencing policy, while others are not. Much depends on the leader of the network. The unions are fragmented but have enough power to block policies that they do not approve. In Sweden there is a strong school leader federation at national level. However it is not easy to say how they influence education policy. In Greece, teacher unions usually react to new policies and rarely if ever their proposals are discussed with the minister with the aim to build consensus. In Portugal, the Council of School Headteachers has an established role to advise the minister. There are also the north and south professional associations. However, headteachers are not well aware of the need to be heard by policy makers.

Jyväskylä PLA stakeholders interviews

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