Chapter 2. The design of the new competence development model for schools in Norway

The design of a policy plays a determinant role in the implementation process, as the nature of a policy solution, and the way it is formulated, influence how the policy plays out across an education system. In particular, the justification, logic and feasibility of the policy, key components of the design, can enable or hinder the reform process.

In Norway, the new competence development model for schools is a policy that allocates public funding to enhance education competence development at the local level for teachers, schools and municipalities. It does so by allocating financing through the governor’s offices for municipalities to participate in collaboration forums at the county level and encourage schools to reflect on their training needs and increase teacher training participation. This chapter reviews the design of this policy, and explores how it can best support its successful implementation.

    

The statistical data for Israel are supplied by and under the responsibility of the relevant Israeli authorities. The use of such data by the OECD is without prejudice to the status of the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem and Israeli settlements in the West Bank under the terms of international law.

2.1. Why a new competence development model for schools in Norway?

In Norway, the large diversity of contexts and tradition of local democracy have favoured the emergence of a decentralised system that aims to tackle more efficiently local challenges. This is embodied for instance in the long tradition of school autonomy, where local municipalities “own” individual schools: they exert full responsibility for the school quality and monitor the fulfilment of school legislation.

After a decade of measures targeted at students’ performance and teacher quality, the White Paper n.21 of the Norwegian Government (2017[1]) resumes the decentralisation trend initiated in the 1990s. It spells out a new competence development model for schools, which implies reviewing school governance, and redefining roles and attributions of a range of education stakeholders. However, this decentralisation effort is not without risk, as reforming multi-level governance systems is not straightforward (OECD, 2017[2]).

The White Paper (2017[1]) identifies several reasons for introducing a more decentralised competence development system. In particular, it highlights that national competence development initiatives do not provide for enough local adaptation. The evaluation of the nationally driven Knowledge Promotion Reform, a reform launched in 2006 updating the curriculum and aiming to decentralise decision-making and responsibilities while ensuring a baseline for national competence standards, has showed that the municipalities believed they had been given less freedom, despite the opposite intention (Aasen et al., 2012[3]). Moreover, as municipalities and county authorities have varying capacity and expertise to engage in quality development for schools, the White Paper proposes that it would be best for them to be well equipped to promote education development in their schools. As a consequence, the strategy set out in the White Paper aims to frame a new collective competence development model for schools that allows to respond to local needs.

According to the White Paper, the high level of decentralisation in Norway has given experience to stakeholders at the local level to take on diverse responsibilities, leading to increased schools and local school authorities capacity to develop their own collective competence development (Government of Norway, 2017[1]). By devolving responsibility for collective professional learning to schools and local authorities, the new model is designed to respond to the needs of the diverse Norwegian school environment. The model also includes safety nets (the follow-up scheme) to ensure that further decentralisation will not increase inequalities between schools and municipalities. Monitoring the effects of the new model has been included as part of the implementation strategy, and will require identifying the appropriate dimensions to evaluate, and developing relevant indicators that allow adjustments and effective follow-up to prevent inequalities and underperformance.

However, a range of factors can greatly influence the success of this new competence development strategy. The justification of the policy, the design in term of the funding structure and incentives, the clarity of the policy and role of different actors at the local level will determine whether and how deeply this competence development model becomes anchored in their practices, whether teachers increase their participation in training, and if teaching and learning practices in schools improve. This chapter looks at the design of the model, in terms of its justification, how it is logically organised, and its feasibility in terms of resources to see how it can be efficiently implemented.

2.2. A description of the new competence development model for schools

The Norwegian government’s ambition to further increase school quality is the main driver of the reform. Until recently, individual initiatives did not necessarily cover all schools, as they were targeted programmes that schools could access through the Norwegian Directorate for Education, and may not have been implemented in the way they were intended (Government of Norway, 2017[1]). The current strategy aims at anchoring in practice a sustainable collective competence development model for schools that reflects local context and the diversity of needs between Norwegian schools and municipalities. To do so, the new model relies on three complementary pillars:

  • A decentralised scheme: that will help to ensure that all municipalities (and eventually county authorities, as school owners) implement competence-raising measures, by channelling state funds to the municipalities. The municipalities themselves define and prioritise what they need, within the framework of national goals, in co-operation with universities and university colleges.

  • A follow-up scheme: in which municipalities and county authorities that report weak results in key education and training areas over time, indicators yet to be developed, are offered state support and guidance.

  • An innovation scheme: that is intended to result in more research-based knowledge about the school system. The State defines requirements for evaluation and quality, while the municipalities and research communities work together to develop the measures they wish to test.

The decentralised scheme is the main pillar of the model, where the local analysis of needs (between teachers, school leaders, and school owners) is supposed to drive competence development. The scheme provides national funding, intertwined with local ownership to adapt to the large diversity of contexts in Norway. According to the taxonomy developed by McGinn and Welsh (1999[4]), the decentralised scheme is also grounded on two motives for decentralisation in Norway:

  • Professional expertise: to improve teaching practice in the classroom, teachers and school leaders are the most suited to identify their needs and transmit them to the school owners.

  • Political legitimacy: The municipality, whose political administration is elected, is the school owner at the local level and represents the voters’ opinions. It controls the training spending and initiates the collaboration with universities.

This new strategy implies the devolution of competence to the municipality level, as school owners will have to determine their own training programmes, and negotiate with other municipalities and universities to develop it. It belongs to the last trend of decentralisation reforms that started after 2000, where decentralisation is directly sought for improving quality in schools, especially after some economic literature highlighted a plausible causal link with schools’ outcomes (Duflo, Dupas and Kremer, 2012[5]; Pradhan et al., 2011[6]; Galiani, Gertler and Schargrodsky, 2008[7]).

The two other schemes are designed to ensure the policy does not have negative effects across diverse municipalities (for both high and low performing schools), and are responsive to the school context: schools with identified quality concerns will be offered support via the follow-up scheme, also designed as an equalisation means, while co-operation with universities will promote innovation and emulation among all schools.

2.2.1. The decentralised scheme

In this framework, the Ministry’s role mainly consists of allocating grants and defining the overall national guidelines for the content of the competence-raising measures. The Directorate for Education and Training, the executive agency of the Ministry, will monitor and ensure the evaluation of the model. The Directorate will also prepare and guide governors at the national level, and cooperate with selected universities to facilitate a network of universities as competence providers (Figure 2.1).

Instead of directly disbursing state funds to municipalities, this scheme introduces two specificities. First, funds will be allocated at the county level (through cooperation forums), where municipalities will have to co-operate to determine their use. Second, for a municipality to benefit from the fund, a financial participation of 30% of the total amount is required. This co-funding is meant to ensure that municipal and state resources are in conjunction with each other, and that municipalities are fully engaged in the model. This however raises the issue of municipalities with limited funding abilities, as they could choose not to invest in any training programmes. Third, to benefit from the fund, the municipalities have to agree on a plan for competence development with the local university or universities outside of the county.

At the local (municipal) level, a network gathering the school principals and representatives from the teachers associations and other local stakeholders will support the schools to identify their competence development needs. Several municipalities are expected to work together in a regional network to build capacity, and agree on their priorities for school improvement.

At the county level, the policy promotes representatives from the municipality networks to meet with the local universities and the governor through a co-operation forum. Other stakeholders may be invited to sit on the co-operation forum, for example, the Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities (KS), or other local stakeholders. Figure 2.1 provides an idealised image of the Co-operation Forum. There is, however, variation in how the Co-operation Forum may be set up by the different county governors (see Chapter 4). The county governor, as a key player, is in charge of administrating state funds for the model, moderating the co-operation forum, and ensuring that actions entail effective improvement in school quality.

Each regional network has to bring its priorities for improvement to the cooperation forum, and the governor moderates the debate to reach an agreement on which priorities and what projects to carry out. This includes the choice of thematic areas and the more detailed allocation of state funds. If the actors do not reach a consensus, the county governor makes the final decision.

The governor must also foster collaboration between local school authorities and higher education institutions. As the state funds for training are available at the county level, municipalities and universities have to agree on the cost of the training. In this bargaining process, the governor plays the role of the broker. The training can also be provided by higher education institutions outside of the county, or in cooperation between different institutions from in and outside the county.

Overall, the decentralised scheme is meant to sustain collective professional development in the long term, without the government needing to supplement it with additional competence-raising strategies. Its implementation started in 2017, only at the municipality level (in charge of primary and lower secondary education). The initial budget reported to the OECD team was NOK 100 million, with projections to be progressively increased by NOK 300-400 million by 2020. As a comparison, the two school quality raising initiatives Competence for Development (2005-2008) and Competence for Quality (ongoing) have spent yearly respectively NOK 350 million and NOK 1.3 billion. According to the Directorate for Education and Training, in 2020, the budget of the decentralised scheme should represent around 30% of the total budget for teacher professional development. As the funding of the decentralised scheme reaches a sufficient threshold set by the Ministry, counties’ authorities (in charge of upper secondary education) will also be included, starting in 2019 (Government of Norway, 2017[1]).

Figure 2.1. Simplified outline of the decentralised scheme
Figure 2.1. Simplified outline of the decentralised scheme

Source: Directorate for Education and Training, Government of Norway.

2.2.2. The follow-up scheme

To prevent further decentralisation to increase inequalities, the follow-up scheme is intended to be a safety net for school owners, to help them overcome challenges arising in the classroom, and to ensure that all local school authorities have sufficient capacity and expertise to identify their needs and use the adequate processes to engage in quality competence development for their teachers and schools.

The Directorate for Education and Training has defined a set of criteria covering student outcomes and learning environment. Based on these criteria, and a set of general themes defined by the Ministry of Education to take into account in the assessment, county governors can assess school quality and offer guidance to the schools facing the greatest challenges with the follow-up scheme. It then aims to contribute to ensuring equality of opportunities in education, and also increases transparency and school accountability.

The scheme relies on the Advisory Team Programme, an intervention unit created by the Ministry to support municipalities displaying poor results over time. While it began as a pilot project in 2009 involving around 100 municipalities, the Advisory Team Programme is now mainstreamed to cover the whole country. A municipality that fails to achieve satisfactory results according to the indicators can request support, and the county governor can also run its own assessments to offer guidance to the schools facing the greatest challenges. However, the support offer is not binding, and municipalities can decline it. Making assistance from the Advisory Team Programme mandatory for schools lagging behind is currently under consideration.

When a municipality and the Advisory Team Programme agree to collaborate, the work starts with a first external assessment to analyse the status of the school and identify potential development areas. At the same time, the municipality carries out an analysis of the overall quality development work in the municipality. Then the Advisory Team helps the school leader to develop a plan to leverage school quality based on the identified educational development areas. The Advisory Team also promotes quality dialogue between all the stakeholders in the school sector, conveys best practices in terms of “school ownership” and “school leadership”, and helps the politicians with the implementation of the strategy developed by the school manager.

2.2.3. The innovative scheme

Within this three-pillar strategy, the innovative scheme is the counterpart of the follow-up scheme. This feature of the model is aimed to enable the more dynamic schools to partner with universities and develop tomorrow’s learning practices.

The government will determine the number and the amount of public grants available for this scheme, and set the overarching research framework. Schools and universities will define objectives together and develop projects to apply for grants. The final allocation of research grants will be grounded on the academic quality of the research projects.

The idea is that these partnerships will boost innovative practices. The ministry aims to incentivise universities and schools to run random control trials to formally identify the most effective teaching practices. This evaluation methodology is also expected to spread to other activities subsidised by public funds. In the end, these results will enrich pedagogical knowledge, inform public decision-makers, and strengthen the initial teacher training with practice-based new elements.

2.3. Observations and issues

The design of a policy plays a determinant role in the implementation (Viennet and Pont, 2017[8]). Bell and Stevenson (2015[9]) state that the nature of a policy solution, and the way it is formulated, influence its “enactment”. In the end, the justification, logic and feasibility of the policy, key components of the design, can enable or hinder the policy implementation process. The following sections review the new competence development model along these lines to see how its implementation can be made most effective. This entails exploring the clarity of the reasons and vision behind this policy, the design of the policy and its long term sustainability.

2.3.1. Justifying the new model

To improve school quality, the Norwegian government aims at establishing a sustainable competence development model that reflects local context and the diversity of needs between Norwegian schools (Government of Norway, 2017[1]). The White Paper identifies several reasons for introducing a more decentralised competence development system. In particular, it refers to the last competence-raising strategy “Ny GIV” (New Possibilities, 2010–2013), which was characterised by centralisation rather than decentralisation. It included a teacher professional development strand that was defined at the central level, and guidelines on who could participate were issued for the local level. The objective was for teachers who were part of the programme to introduce in their schools the new teaching methods they learned. Yet, the White Paper reports that evaluations of Ny GIV indicated that teachers mostly continued their ordinary teaching practices, and that implementation at the local level of central guidelines was difficult, due to a lack of shared understanding on how it was supposed to be implemented (Government of Norway, 2017[1]).

In sum, according to the Norwegian Government (2017[1]), national competence development initiatives do not provide for enough local adaptation, and municipalities and county authorities have varying capacity and expertise to engage in quality development for schools. In this way, the new competence development model for schools aims to develop collaborative professionalism at every layers of the education system, and respond to the lessons learned from the Ny GIV initiative.

The vision of the new strategy is complex and needs further refinement

The vision of the decentralised scheme is set out in the White Paper:

“The goal is that all schools, municipalities and county authorities, through partnerships with universities and university colleges, shall take responsibility for and have the freedom to initiate quality development work at the local level.” (Government of Norway, 2017[1])

While this vision may be clear for national politicians, following discussions with Norwegian stakeholders and international comparative analysis, the OECD team considers that it does not spell out the objective for schools and student learning, and requires further polishing to reach and motivate a broader education audience to engage with the policy. For school owners, benefits of this vision may be straightforward, as they get responsibility and financial resources in terms of school competence development. But the vision does not explicitly mention how educational staff and universities can engage and benefit, or how it is linked with educational outcomes for students. For instance, why would teachers engage in collaborative development and why would universities comply with new training requests?

Irgens (2018[10]) has studied “Ungdomstrinn i utvikling” (UiU, Lower secondary school in development), a school-based competence development programme which ran in more than 1200 lower secondary schools between 2012 and 2017. The professional development for teachers and school administrators took place in local schools with assistance from universities and university colleges. He concludes that few schools made use of a traditional Nordic co-operation model, by establishing early on dialogue seminars and having teachers developing a shared understanding and knowledge of the challenges at hand. On the contrary, he observes examples of a transaction perspective, an “order and deliver” model of competence development that has resulted in a lack of teachers’ involvement, and limited school quality improvement. The way the new model is designed aims to restore this tradition of co-operation, where teachers define together their development needs and the partnership with the university is mutually profitable.

During the OECD Norway stakeholder seminar to discuss the preliminary findings on the implementation of the model (Annex C), participants proposed the following vision:

“Building a sustainable system of collaborative professional development, where schools partner with universities and local stakeholders to improve teaching practices, answer local needs, and enhance student learning.”

This draft vision states more clearly that partnership and collaboration are at the heart of professional development in Norway, with the student learning experience as a main objective. It still lacks the school level as a key layer of collaborative development, but it intends to reconcile the traditional Norwegian approach to conduct co-operation projects with initiating and carrying out local development (Øyum et al., 2010[11]).

However, for the vision to be effective, there is not only a need to hone the vision so that it can motivate and involve all the different stakeholders, but also to refine it in operational terms. In effect, the OECD has observed that successful implementers favours “a small number of clear, high-priority, measurable, ambitious but feasible goals” that strengthen coherence and clarity (OECD, 2010[12]).

In this sense, the vision of the new model spelled out in the White Paper appears heavily loaded with many expectations and the goals may not be measurable or clearly tangible. To change classroom practices, the reform expects many sectors to adapt or change their practices:

  • Schools to recognise their own training needs and transmit this to municipalities,

  • Municipalities to take ownership of school improvement,

  • Networks to work together in co-operation forums,

  • Universities to be more responsive to school training demands,

  • Governors’ office to lead the process through funding.

This implies to improve at least professional development in schools, responsiveness of universities, and collaboration between municipalities. The success of the reform then relies on all these layers updating their practices and working together according to the new model. The complexity of the new model goes against the Occam’s razor principle, or law of parsimony, a heuristic that favours simple models over convoluted ones. In other words, this raises the question whether there are more direct or efficient ways to improve school quality than having to change every interaction among a range of education stakeholders. It also depends on different actors having similar perspectives on how the model can be successful, which is not clear at present. How can for example networks working together result in improved practice? Qualitative or quantitative measures of intermediary progress would help make the vision more achievable for those involved.

Norwegian teachers are in need of professional development

In 2013, Norwegian teachers in lower secondary education reported higher than average unsatisfied demand for development, and less participation in professional development than the TALIS average (Figure 2.2) They were 30% never taking part in collaborative professional learning, twice the TALIS average (OECD, 2014[13]). The top three areas in which new teachers indicated a high level need of development were: ICT skills for teaching, teaching students with special needs, and student evaluation and assessment practice; these results are also in line with the needs identified by the Norwegian government (Government of Norway, 2017[1]). Reported teacher’s self-efficacy was low in Norway. The percentage of lower secondary education teachers who felt they could “help [their] students value learning”, “motivate students who show low interest in school work”, and “help students think critically”, was at least 20 percentage points below the TALIS average. Moreover, in 2015, almost half of the student population attends schools whose principal reported in PISA that teachers not meeting individual student’s needs hinders learning, which is twice the OECD average (OECD, 2016[14]).

These data confirms what the OECD team heard during meetings across Norway in terms of unmet need for teacher professional development. In other words, there is room for improvement, as the current professional development schemes in Norway may not sufficiently support teachers in their training needs across the country. The new strategy however, relies heavily on network collaboration and partnerships of many different players. If this collaboration does not engage teachers and reach their classroom practices, as the analysis from UiU has shown, the new model risks having limited impact. In that sense, the model needs to emphasise that teachers should be heard regarding their needs for competence development and be part of the decision-making processes, to empower them and foster ownership of the model.

Figure 2.2. Professional development undertaken by teachers in days, TALIS 2013
Percentage of lower secondary education teachers who report having participated in courses/workshops in the 12 months prior to the survey and the number of reported days they participated in courses/workshops over the same period:
Figure 2.2. Professional development undertaken by teachers in days, TALIS 2013

Source: OECD (2014[13]), TALIS 2013 Results: An International Perspective on Teaching and Learning, TALIS, OECD Publishing, Paris, http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264196261-en.

 StatLink http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/888933041592

Lower reported levels of engagement in professional development in Norway may be due either to an inadequate professional development supply, or to a lack of incentives for schools and teachers to participate. In the case of the former, the new decentralised scheme can offer a solution, as teachers collaboratively define their training priorities, and school owners will negotiate with the university to design professional development meant to respond to local issues.

Conversely, in the case of the latter, the new decentralised scheme might have little impact, since it relies on the assumption that each teacher has a drive for collaborative professional development. The economic literature emphasises the importance of designing the “right” incentives for a reform to take root, for an agent to follow the policy’s intentions. This includes taking into account the cost, the time, the beliefs, etc. Here, the main incentive of the decentralised scheme is the public funding allocated to the governor’s office that should encourage schools to reflect on their training needs, cooperate within their network, participate in the collaboration forum at the county level, and in the end increase teacher capacity. Due to the high transaction costs this whole process entails, more direct incentives could ensure the take-up of the decentralised scheme.

For instance, aligning professional development with teacher evaluation can foster professional growth. According to the European Commission (2018[15]), a 4-stage matrix process allows building trust in the system, so that evaluation is perceived as formative, motivates teachers, and effectively informs professional development:

1. Develop stakeholder’s consultations and pilots linking teacher evaluation and school improvement to create a strong foundation for new evaluation approaches.

2. Develop strong self- and peer-evaluation comments that are linked to the competence framework.

3. Strengthen the links between needs identified during evaluations and teacher professional development.

4. School-based evaluation is well established and integrated with the processes for teacher professionalisation and whole-school development.

In Memphis, United States, the explicit link between poor performance and professional development efficiently guides teacher improvement (Box 2.1). In Korea, the new teacher evaluation system involves stakeholders and has fostered transparency, making it more difficult for underperforming teachers not to follow professional development (Box 2.2).

Box 2.1. Memphis, United States: Linking teacher appraisal to professional development

The city of Memphis, Tennessee in the United States has developed a system that explicitly links professional learning to teacher appraisal. In Memphis City Schools, appraisal is based on teaching standards, and professional development is linked to teachers’ competence on the standards. Thus, a teacher who has poor performance on a specific indicator on a teaching standard can find professional growth opportunities related to that indicator. Memphis City Schools publishes a professional development guide each year that lists the professional growth offerings by standard and indicator. In addition, most of the professional development courses are taught by Memphis City School teachers, ensuring that the course offerings will be relevant to the contexts in which these teachers work.

Source: Nusche et al (2014[16]), OECD Reviews of Evaluation and Assessment in Education: Netherlands 2014, OECD Reviews of Evaluation and Assessment in Education, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264211940-en.

Box 2.2. Reforming the teacher evaluation system in Korea

Korea reformed its teacher evaluation system in 2011 to promote teachers’ professional growth. Within the National Teacher Professional Development and Evaluation System, principals, teachers, parents and students grade the teachers; further professional development is required for teachers who receive low evaluation scores, thereby aiming to improve teacher quality and effectiveness. This methodology is cost-competitive, as the teacher appraisal directly determines who needs, and with what intensity, to undertake professional development. However, for the system to function properly, several criteria are required:

  • the quality of the multi-dimensional evaluation needs to be ensured so that it adequately assesses teacher performance,

  • the evaluation framework needs to be flexible enough to reflect local context, so that evaluation items remain relevant,

  • there is a risk that teachers consider professional development as a penalty and do not fully engage in mutual evaluation. As teachers grade other teachers, they may be reluctant to reveal poor performance. For teachers to fully appreciate the value of evaluation for helping their professional development, they need to be knowledgeable of the system and skilful in performing evaluations.

Source: Yoo (2018[17]), “Evaluating the new teacher evaluation system in South Korea: Case studies of successful implementation, adaptation, and transformation of mandated policy”, Policy Futures in Education, Vol. 16/3, pp. 277-290, http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1478210317751274

Synergies with other professional development programmes are missing

To increase school quality, Norway already introduced new qualification requirements in 2014 for individual teachers. Teachers who teach English, Maths, Norwegian, Norwegian sign language and the Sami language must have 30 credits in the subjects in primary school, and 60 credits in lower secondary. For other lower secondary school subjects, the requirement is 30 credits. Figure 2.3 provides an overview of the distribution of credits according to the subject among teachers in primary and lower secondary education. More than 20% of Norwegian teachers, 30% of Mathematics teachers and 45% of English teachers have less than 30 credits. In that regard, school owners must have a plan for how to meet the individual qualification requirements by August 2025. The Competence for Quality programme, a government programme for teachers’ individual continuous professional development, offers teachers large support in further education (see Section 2.3.3). However, in addition to individual continuous professional development, much literature has demonstrated the value of collective learning and professional development approaches at the school level to contribute to raise overall school quality (Hargreaves and Fullan, 2012[18]).

The justification for a competence development scheme at the school and local level appears warranted – as there is considerable room for teachers to improve their participation in training, a formal requirement to increase qualifications, and a need for collective professional development, which in Norway is responsibility of municipalities. In fact, most of the people the OECD team met through Norway during the different visits supported the competence development scheme.

Figure 2.3. Distribution of the share of teachers having a certain number of credits, by field
Figure 2.3. Distribution of the share of teachers having a certain number of credits, by field

Source: Government of Norway (2017[1]), Desire to learn - early intervention and quality in schools, White Paper, Government of Norway, Oslo.

But there does not seem to be clarity on the positioning of the model with regards to overall professional development. According to the Directorate for Education and Training, in 2020, the budget of the decentralised scheme should represent around 30% of the total budget for teacher professional development. During the OECD visit, the Directorate recognised that the total budget for the decentralised scheme was small compared to the total spending on teacher training. Therefore, there is a need to clarify the position of the decentralised scheme compared to other training strategies (such as Competence for Quality programme, existing municipal strategies for professional development) to create synergies, and to ensure that school owners include all types of professional development in the school development plan.

During the OECD visit in Norway, education stakeholders commented on the difficulty of ranking professional development priorities at the school level, as it requires organising staff training time throughout the school year for different schemes. Participants in the OECD Norway stakeholder seminar also revealed their confusion regarding the two models (Competence for Quality and the new model), wondering if they were substitutes or complements. Without a clear positioning of the decentralised scheme, there is a risk that it appears as a complex solution requiring a lot of coordination compared to existing training strategies.

2.3.2. The logic underpinning the new model

Transferring the power of decision and responsibility for the use of public competence-raising funds to the local school authorities is not new in Norwegian education policy. Within the first Competence for Development strategy (2005–2008), the State already allocated NOK 1.4 billion in support of school owners, in an attempt to ensure that funds for the schools’ competence-raising measures were adapted to local needs. Evaluations of this strategy produced mixed results though. On one hand, researchers analysing the strategy found that allocating the funds directly to the school owners led to better co-operation between school owners and university colleges, more relevant practice-based measures, and a more conscious and systematic approach to competence development at the school and school owner level. On the other hand, the strategy did not lead to any notable increase in participation in competence-raising measures; either because municipalities spent funds on measures that could not be regarded as training, or because more resources were spent on negotiating measures for the individual municipalities. These conclusions entailed two additional questions: whether it was reasonable to expect the school owners to take the responsibility they were assigned, and if all municipalities had the capacity and ability to play the role they were intended to (Government of Norway, 2017[1]).

Bearing this former experience in mind, the OECD team however witnessed a broad support for the new model. While the White Paper lacks of a clear communication strategy and the development of a story ensuring the Ministry’s goals are well understood on the ground, researchers, teachers, universities, students and parents’ representatives perceived the new model as a desirable lever to ensure that competence development effectively matches local needs. Yet, despite this a priori inclusive stakeholder engagement, the former evaluation of training decentralisation calls for careful consideration of potential pitfalls.

Building the capacity of stakeholders to play their intended role is crucial

Beyond anchoring the new model in transparent practices and ensuring its sustainability, it is also important for stakeholders to endorse its intended objectives. To do so, a clear definition of the attributions is required (see Chapter 3 for an in-depth discussion). If the school diagnosis in terms of training needs and the partnerships with higher education institutions appears to be understood on the ground, as observed by the OECD team, there are some concerns regarding the role of governors, especially if they have not substituted a dialogue-oriented logic to an inspection-logic with schools. The OECD team observed that some governors were playing the intended role of mediators at some Co-operation Forums, while others were directly deciding training priorities for the county. In some counties, this approach was selected in order to launch the new model, with the objective to set a dialogue process over time. It should be noted nevertheless that skipping the school diagnosis and the ranking of training priorities at the network level, to impose a top-down strategy, is opposite to the spirit of the model. The OECD team is not aware whether a clear framework of action for governors has been established, to promote capacity development, peer exchange and convergence on ultimate objectives.

The issue of capacity then needs to be addressed, whether from a vertical point of view, from teachers, school leaders, and school owners to the governor’s office, or from a horizontal point of view, referring to the large spatial heterogeneity in the Norwegian territory.

At the school level, the capacity to engage with the model may be linked to the learning culture of the educational staff, but also to the incentives provided to engage in a network and to the quality and relevance of the offer. It would be important for schools to understand the value of collective professional development through networks vs individual school professional development if they are to invest their time going beyond their school borders. This will depend on their learning culture, their capacity to recognise their own learning needs, as well as on their actual engagement with the model to shape the offer. This would also require developing the educational staff capacity in conducting effective self-evaluations and development planning, leading meaningful appraisals (next subsection), benefiting from applied research and partnerships with universities etc.

As recipients of public funds, school owners must have the capacity to use them wisely, and to engage in a fruitful collaboration with higher education institutions. According to the Nordic Institute for Studies in Innovation, Research and Education (NIFU), school owners are always the weakest point in education reforms, and their role has been criticised during the decentralisation reforms in the 90’s and the 00’s. This was particularly noted in regards to the plan for local competence building linked to the implementation of the new curriculum for compulsory education in 1996, and the Competence for Development strategy in 2005-2008 (UNESCO, 1996[19]; Government of Norway, 2017[1]). The OECD team reflected on how this model can effectively enhance school owners’ participation and capacity, given previous experiences. School owners should use funds wisely and critically assess school improvement plans. Network facilitators should be trained and focused to ensure that collaboration within networks creates value. County governors have to develop skills to lead the negotiation between networks and higher education institutions, rather than overpowering the collaboration network. Overall, the training of stakeholders should be an integral part of the policy in order to ensure the sustainability of the new model (see Chapter 3).

The question of accountability in a “trust-society”

The Norwegian Education system is based on trust, and had limited control and monitoring mechanisms before the introduction of the national quality assessment system in 2004 (Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training, 2018[20]). The Ministry of Education then developed a multi-faceted evaluation and assessment framework that provides monitoring information at different levels and aims to achieve both accountability and improvement purposes (Nusche et al., 2011[21]). Despite these efforts, Hatch (2013[22]) considered that Norway had only moved “half-way” towards accountability. This is also observable in the design of the new model, where the follow-up scheme is not mandatory: municipalities are offered the support of the Advisory Team Programme, but have the choice to decline it.

Therefore, completing the accountability framework, by better aligning the evaluation and assessment framework in Norway with the new competence development model, could potentially strengthen incentives for teachers and schools to participate in the new model.

At present, teacher appraisal appears underdeveloped. According to national regulations, teacher appraisal must be implemented, but neither methodology nor performance criteria are defined to frame the process. Schools owners can establish their teacher appraisal framework, but many delegate human resources issues to the school leader. Schools define their own procedures, following the guidelines from the county or the municipality. In general, teachers receive feedback during an annual employee dialogue with their school leader. Data shows however that teachers in Norway were less likely than their TALIS counterparts to get feedback from principals and school management team and also reported 10 percentage points less than the TALIS average a positive change in their teaching practices after they received feedback on their work at their school (OECD, 2014[23]).

Schools self-evaluation is statutory, and is the primary method of delivering school evaluation and improvement. The Directorate for Education and Training has developed tools to help schools diagnose their status. For instance, RefLex is an online tool designed to help public schools and school owners determine whether their practices are in line with the Education Act. School owners are expected to develop a quality improvement framework, and ensure that schools implement self-evaluation based on the data available on the School Portal. Typically, school owners monitor results, require schools to submit annual plans and occasionally visit schools to conduct a “quality dialogue” and check compliance of school policies with regulations.

Embedding the new model in the school self-evaluation process could strengthen teachers and schools incentives to participate, and ensure teachers actively participate in the decision-making process of the selected professional development. School self-evaluation could identify strengths and weaknesses to trigger off recognition of competence development needs or support from the follow-up or the innovative scheme. This would inscribe collaborative professional development and the model as part of school processes of improvement in a sustainable way.

For professional development to bear fruit however, the quality of the training needs to be assessed, and the efficient use of state funds has to be monitored. Participants of the OECD Norway stakeholder seminar have considered that initiating and sustaining dialogue between schools, schools owners, students and parents may help build trust towards the new model and networks collaboration. Otherwise, school owners should be held responsible for the use of funds, and strengthening the teacher position within the scheme could serve this purpose. The idea of having earmarked grants was also raised during meetings with school representatives to prevent school owners from using the funds for purposes other than teacher training (Government of Norway, 2017[1]). Since 2013, and the Competence for Quality programme, the quality of further education is ensured by having more stringent content requirements for training than for basic education programmes, and a “Participation Survey” yearly monitors teachers’ satisfaction and perception of the training relevance. This should also apply to any training undertaken within the new model.

Finally, accountability usually goes hand in hand with the development of indicators. To define such indicators, clear and measurable objectives need to be set beforehand to clarify objectives as well as progress towards them for all those involved. The reform objectives include improving school quality and teacher competence, and should encompass teachers’ participation in training, but also the extent to which the training is effectively translated into classroom practice. Indicators would also help monitoring the whole model and its development, and ensure that school owners steer the model in the right direction. The follow-up scheme also requires a set of tailored indicators to identify the schools lagging behind for the Advisory Team Programme to intervene. So far, the OECD team has been informed that the Ministry has considered establishing lower quality limit in key areas of education and training, but whether these lower bounds will be the same across territories or reflect additional local needs has to be discussed.

The follow-up model cannot curb inequalities yet

Any decentralisation process intrinsically bears a risk of increasing inequalities, as local governance units face different contexts, resources, and capacity (Vermeulen, 2018[24]). The follow-up scheme, meant to offer safety nets for municipalities lagging behind in terms of students’ outcomes, is at a developing phase; it is not mandatory, a municipality can refuse the support of the Advisory Team Programme, and the Ministry is still in the process of developing a set of indicators that define a lower quality limit in key areas of education and training. What is more important is to ensure that the Advisory Team Programme’s support is effectively translated into classroom practices. During the review visit, the OECD team visited a school benefiting from such guidance. The support mainly consists in advice, without directly entering and observing what happens in the classroom. The Advisory Team Programme’s methodology could be more direct in helping teachers, to ensure deep changes in classroom practices from lower performing schools. The Directorate is keen on updating practices in this direction, but change has proved to have been slow so far. The OECD team will be working with the Directorate in the near future to see how the follow-up scheme can be best designed to become a true safety net and prevent inequalities. The innovative scheme has not been discussed as part of the work of the OECD, and will not be covered in this report.

2.3.3. How feasible is the new model?

The feasibility of a policy means thinking carefully about the resources and technology involved in putting it into practice (Viennet and Pont, 2017[8]). For the new model, we focus on the financial resources required in relation to different options for providing competence development, on the Norwegian tradition to work in networks, and the value of the partnerships set between the schools and universities.

Securing financial resources to signal the government’s long-term commitment

The level of resources available to stakeholders will directly influence the phasing in and adoption of the new model. The Norwegian government aims to transfer the competence development funds from the State to the local authorities in a permanent way. However, stakeholders met during the OECD visits perceived state funds as unclear and short-termed. As noted in Section 2.2.1, the 2017 national budget allocated NOK 100 million for the new competence development model. Other training strategies that will be discontinued in the future will be phased into the model. This should account for an additional sum of around NOK 300–400 million by 2020. However, some stakeholders consider this to be a modest amount, as the Competence for Quality yearly amounts to NOK 1.3 billion (Government of Norway, 2017[1]).

Box 2.3. Professional learning in Australia

The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) prepared in 2013 the Charter for the Professional Learning of Teachers and School Leaders. This document aims to promote a strong professional learning culture that would entail continuous improvement throughout teaching careers. Successful professional learning is characterised as relevant, collaborative and future focused. This framework encourages schools to become learning communities relying on their own resources, with the AITSL offering global support. On one hand the support consists in tools and resources to back the enactment of the Charter, including case studies from school and systems willing to share their strategies for establishing professional learning cultures. On the other hand, AITSL supports research into determining useful and practical methodologies for teachers and school leaders to apply in order to effectively evaluate the impact of professional learning in their school.

Source: Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (2012[25]), Australian Charter for the Professional Learning of Teachers and School Leaders.

The municipality co-funding of 30% of the training undertaken within the decentralised scheme, without an option to lift this financial constraint for the less endowed municipalities, was also perceived by those the OECD spoke with as a potential barrier of the model. It may deter local stakeholders to fully engage, and root a long-lasting dynamic of competence development at the municipality level.

For school owners, the decision to invest in this model rather than in alternative solutions raises the question of the opportunity cost of this policy. In other countries, improving teacher quality while taking into account local disparities has taken different forms, as school owners may not have such responsibilities. Australia (Box 2.3) and Estonia (Box 2.4) chose to foster network interactions and building professional learning communities. In Wales, they have chosen to introduce the concept of schools as learning organisations, supported by regional consortia that bring together different municipalities.

Box 2.4. Continuous professional development in Estonia

As part of its new Lifelong Learning Strategy 2020, Estonia has launched in 2015 a multi-actor working group to develop a continuous professional development system for teachers. The Estonian Ministry of Education supports co-operation between teachers and educational institutions to foster reciprocal learning, co-operation between teachers (including university) in integrating learning outcomes and key competences, and co-operation between teachers and support staff in solving students’ behavioural problems and analysing learning difficulties. It includes joint projects between cultural institutions, businesses and all levels of education, or joint projects between university teaching staff and researchers. Participation in international co-operation projects and comparative studies, and the development of new methods for co-operation between teachers in upper secondary schools and universities are also promoted.

Source: Estonian Ministry of Education and Research (2015[26]), The Estonian Lifelong Learning Strategy 2020.

The professionalisation of networks is desirable

In Norway, the capacity of a network to foster collaboration between teachers will influence the knowledge that is generated and determine its added value, and the added value of the partnership with the university. Yet, Stoll and Louis (2007[27]) consider that just getting teachers to collaborate is not enough. Well-funded teacher networks have failed to produce significant learning gains because they were shallow or unfocused on improving learner outcomes. Those professional learning communities fail to deliver because of a loose configuration, characterised in particular by vague objectives. Improvement through professional learning communities is however possible, under the condition that teachers collaborate and focus on the real work of improving learning and teaching (Harris and Jones, 2010[28]).

According to Norwegian researchers the OECD team met, there is a need to professionalise networks and to build the leadership capacity of the network leader for the network to bear effects. Being a network leader is a specific role that needs to be acknowledged, with adequate professional development. They use the success story of the forum for schools from the Sogn og Fjordane county, where a long-standing tradition and structure for close dialogue between key stakeholders in the county’s school sector has created an arena where national education policy is implemented on the municipalities’ terms, in line with local challenges and needs.

Box 2.5. Canada: the Alberta Initiative for School Improvement

Starting in early 2000, the Alberta Initiative for School Improvement (AISI) allotted to school jurisdiction around USD 120 per pupil to build programmes, structures or activities that would drive educators to think differently about education. Defined as “a bold approach to improving student leaning by encouraging teachers, parents, and the community to work collaboratively to introduce innovative projects that address local needs”, the AISI acted as a catalyst for change until 2013. In the early years, the full potential of the project was not realised, in particular because the subsidies were used to lower class size or compensate former budget cuts. But as the project was sustained, stakeholders committed more and more to building this new kind of networks. Evaluations indicate that some networks evolved in a community of practice around schools with flat leadership structures, and where professional learning was occurring more often. However, the initiative came to an end in 2013 when the new government stopped the funding. Potential explanations include the inability of the initiative to develop large-scale indicators monitoring student achievement, and the turnover of professionals in the network implying a loss of institutional knowledge and a constant need for training new members.

Source: Alberta Initiative for School Improvement (2008[29]), AISI Handbook for Cycle 4, 2009-2012.

Based on past experience with the lower secondary reform (2012-2015), researchers also communicated to the OECD team that there is often a lack of vision embodied in networks, and the need to clarify their role, to state why they are desirable, and how the network activity translates into classroom practice. Researchers consider that networks should also be used to gather best practices, identify learning barriers and how to avoid them, and disseminate this knowledge across the country. Network members need to develop inquiry-based reflexive attitude to identify the impact of the network on their teaching practice. To that end, indicators assessing the quality of networks should be developed. In Alberta, an ambitious reform planned the injection of resources at the school level to shake the whole education system and introduce innovation in education through collaboration. This initiative lasted for almost 10 years, and there was much enthusiasm by participants, who felt as shapers of their own learning. However, there has not been clear evidence or indicators, to measure the impact of the programme, and the funding was ended following a political change (Box 2.5).

Crafting school-university partnerships centred on the schools’ needs

School and university partnerships, core of the decentralised scheme within the new model, would not necessarily be developed without a strong investment and incentives. The OECD team heard that some schools are wary that the partnership would result in very theoretical knowledge being delivered by universities, too distant from what teachers really need. Applied research focusing on teaching and learning should be favoured. Some university representatives also reported wondering if higher education institutions have the capacity to support every school. Schools are also concerned that even if they can engage with any accredited institution in Norway for teacher training, there are practical arguments (for instance, costs of transport for experts) to engage “local” institutions. This will be discussed in more details in Chapter 4.

The quality of the professional development taking place in these partnership will directly influence the success of the new model. Research underlines the importance of professional development that is continuous and practice-based (Timperley et al., 2007[30]). It considers that professional development should be content focused, incorporate active learning, support collaboration, use models of effective practice, coaching and expert support, feedback and reflection, and has to be of sustained duration (Darling-Hammond, Hyler and Gardner, 2017[31]). Universities require incentives to shift their offer from a more academic tradition to that reported by research. The OECD team was told how important these partnerships can be for them, as they can act as incentives to shift their practices to become more relevant to school needs.

But forging these partnerships can be challenging. Midthassel (2017[32]) presents the potential frictions arising when establishing school-university partnerships, as this requires a clear definition of roles, excellent communication, common understanding of the partnership, and mutual trust among other factors. Lillejord and Børte (2016[33]) show that for education institutions to benefit from a partnership, they have to collaborate in meaningful and useful ways for both parties, while fostering transparency to alleviate tensions and distrust among partners.

Representatives of Oslo municipality shared with the OECD team that setting a partnership is a long process, and takes at least one year. Sometimes, the school and the university do not even find a common ground, and the time and resources have been wasted. In the end, the schools already having good co-operation will capitalise on it, while others might not have the capacity to settle an arrangement, which may increase inequalities between schools.

Due to the lack of clarity regarding the content and the dynamic of such partnerships – who is supposed to lead the process? – schools have developed a more consumerist attitude towards teacher training, as observed as the transaction approach in Irgens (2018[10]). According to university representatives, it is now common to have schools demanding a specific teacher, for a specific training. As it requires time and resources to develop a particular training, whereas the funding will only come afterwards, universities might not be able to meet schools demands. In that case, commercial training companies could enter the market to clear the demand. This would in turn requires strict quality monitoring, to ensure the private sector indeed creates added value and not only capture the State subsidies.

2.4. Points for successful implementation

Policy makers design an education policy as an answer to an issue or challenge on the agenda. However, if the design is not well developed, has a clear vision, is well adapted to the context, the chances that it is effectively implemented are reduced (Viennet and Pont, 2017[8]). This chapter reviews the design of the new competence development model for schools that the Government of Norway has introduced to understand how it can be most effectively implemented and determine if there is scope to improve it.

To improve classroom practices, the new model expects many education stakeholders to adopt new practices, including schools to recognise and transmit their learning needs, municipalities to take ownership of school improvement, networks to work together, universities to be more responsive to school training demands, governors’ office to lead the process by acting as regional coordinators and distributing the funding.

Ambitiously, this implies to improve at least professional development in schools, responsiveness of universities, and collaboration between municipalities. The success of the reform relies in fact on all these layers updating their practices, but also on promoting that the stakeholders engage and shape the overall vision and do play their agreed role, and collaborate according to the new scheme. In this regard, following analysis and exchanges with education stakeholders in Norway, the OECD team considers that for the policy design to contribute to have impact, it will be important to:

  • Strategically prioritise the new model, clarify and communicate the vision to boost take-up: Hone the vision in operational terms, also with qualitative and quantitative indicators of progress, so that it can motivate and engage all different stakeholders.

  • Review the design of the model: In terms of the financial incentives to ensure they are clear enough for local anchoring, embed the model in the evaluation and assessment framework to foster teacher’s ownership of the model, and clarify the position of the new model compared to existing school improvement strategies to create synergies.

  • Evaluate, assess, and monitor the realisation of the objectives of the new model: Any decentralisation process intrinsically bears a risk of increasing inequalities, as local governance units face different contexts, resources, and capacity. The follow-up scheme is still at a developing phase and need to be strengthened. New indicators allowing to monitor progress and quality must be developed at each level, for instance to assess the added value of networks and the relevance of the professional development delivered by universities.

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