OECD Education Working Papers

This series is designed to make available to a wider readership selected studies drawing on the work of the OECD Directorate for Education. Authorship is usually collective, but principal writers are named. The papers are generally available only in their original language (English or French) with a short summary available in the other.

English, French

Steering from the Centre: New Modes of Governance in Multi-level Education Systems

The governance of complex, decentralised, multi-level education systems poses two fundamental questions for both policy- and research discussions: What are innovative contemporary governance strategies for the central level in education systems? How can these approaches be described and analysed to identify commonalities that might help to understand how and if they work? In addressing these questions, this paper’s aim is twofold: first, to inform the policy-discussion by presenting empirical examples of new governance mechanisms that central governments use to steer systems across their levels; and second, to contribute to the conceptual discussion of how to categorise and analyse the evolution of new governance structures. To do so, the paper starts with identifying core features of multi-level governance and the respective conceptual gaps it produces. It then introduces a simple analytical categorisation of modes of governance. An analysis of three empirical cases (an institutionalised exchange between governance levels in Norway, a capacity building programme in Germany, and the Open Method of Coordination within the European Union) then shows how various education systems address these gaps and design the role of the central level in complex decision-making structures. A comparison of the three cases identifies – despite the heterogeneity of the cases – several communalities, such as multi-staged policy processes, transparency and publicity, and soft sanctions. The paper concludes that the Open Method of Coordination, even though often criticised for its inefficiencies, might serve as a promising template for national approaches to soft governance in education. Further research on OECD education systems is needed to gather more empirical examples; these may help to get a better understanding of what is needed for successful steering from the central level in decentralised contexts.


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