26 SES 04 A, Examining Principal Autonomy from a Comparative Perspective
This contribution presents a comparative interview study of school principals that work in the same region but in different countries. In the north of Finland, Sweden and Norway, the arctic region of “Nordkalotten”, we can find different national schools very close to each other. In total 24 principals from all three countries were interviewed in order to examine how national, global or local aspects condition principals’ scope of action in their professional work. Theoretically, the study builds on the mentioned autonomy grid, but complements it with elements of classic Nordic curriculum theory, namely the notion of Lundgren (1983) of curriculum-making taking place in a formulation arena, policy wise and a realisation arena, meaning the enacting of such policies in the local circumstances of the schools. Whereas the formulation arena is approached by comparing the description of the principal in school law and general parts of the state curriculum, the realisation arena relates to the interviews. Our results show that in a formulation arena, there are differences in how similar tasks are formulated. In Finland, we found rather clear-cut definitions of the responsibilities of the principals. In Sweden and Norway, the principals’ tasks are formulated more open-endedly, which can result in an overextension of principals on the one hand, but also in extended autonomy on the other. In the realisation arena, day to day principal work is described similarly by all national principal groups. School leadership in the region is conditioned very much in terms of a local frame of reference in all three contexts. In particular, Swedish and Norwegian principals experience closeness to political decision makers as favourable. Interestingly, in some cases, the large geographical distance from central administrative decision-makers is also experienced as a reason for extended autonomy. It is very significant that Finnish and Norwegian principals do not bargain for their salaries individually, a fact which reduces the complexity of leadership for these groups. In Finland, the local superintendent makes many more decisions than in Sweden and Norway. We argue that too much responsibility might lead paradoxically to a restriction of autonomy in principals’ work. Responsibility also makes one accountable (Ingersoll 2003). In other words, the Finnish principal position might be less “risky”, which would decrease accountability and allow concentration on educational core issues of schooling. Moreover, due to individual salaries, risks are even more individualised in Sweden, which is less true for their Norwegian and Finnish colleagues.
Ingersoll, R. M. (2003). Who controls teachers' work. Power and Accountability in America's Schools. Harvard: Harvard University Press. Lundgren, U. P. (1983). Between Hope and Happening. Texts and Contexts in Curriculum. Geelong: Deakin Press.
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