Chapter 4. Context matters: conditions for the success of the model

This chapter analyses the context surrounding the competence development model for schools. The model has been designed recognising the highly complex policy environment in Norwegian education, supporting political legitimacy and democratic values as it aims to boost local development processes. It builds on experience with municipal and school networks, but also recognises that capacities vary among different municipalities and schools; and can be aligned with broader policies and strategies to develop the teaching profession and promote partnerships between schools and teacher education providers.

The chapter also introduces observations on how contextual factors may help or hinder an effective implementation of the model, including the need for sustained investment in effective governance processes that: foster conditions for a long-term perspective and strategic planning of continuing professional development; strengthen the whole-of-system approach in the county collaboration forum and relative to complementary policies ; and increase responsiveness to schools with identified capacity needs.


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.

4.1. Understanding the context and complexity of the policy environment

A policy may have a smart design, but equally important to including stakeholders in the process of implementing it, is to acknowledge the context in which it is implemented. Cultural, demographic, economic and political factors all affect education policy. An effective implementation process, therefore, recognises “the existing policy environment, the educational governance and institutional settings and external context” (Viennet and Pont, 2017[1]).

This includes an understanding of the underlying governance processes and how effectively these function. The Norwegian education system is highly complex, involving numerous, simultaneous interactions between multiple actors at different levels and on multiple time scales (Burns, Köster and Fuster, 2016[2]). A feature of complex education systems is that the multiple actors (including administrators at central, regional and local levels, school principals, school governors, teachers, parents and students) may each defend their own vision of education deeply rooted in their personal beliefs (Burns and Köster, 2016[3]). The ways these multiple actors interact lead to new behaviours and structures. In this way, the context for policy evolves and is reliant on feedback and knowledge on these new behaviours.

Understanding and respecting these complexities, effective governance processes incorporate the following (Shewbridge and Köster, 2017[4]):

Strategic thinking – at all levels of the system: To counterbalance political pressures, complex systems benefit from strategic thinking that seeks to balance short-term priorities with long-term perspectives. Importantly, strategic thinking is not reserved only for the central level, but part of this involves strengthening capacity for developing long-term strategies and vision at all levels of the system. Strategic thinking processes actively seek to incorporate various perspectives of stakeholders across the system; adapting strategy and vision as new information and knowledge emerges from a broad range of sources. The synthesis of information and knowledge in strategic thinking helps to make informed decisions, find better strategies, and challenge existing mind-sets (Burns, Köster and Fuster, 2016[2]).

A whole-of-system approach: Coordination and alignment across actors, governance levels and policies requires a perspective reaching beyond individual realms of decision making and accountability. Fragmented approaches can produce inefficiencies and potential synergies may be wasted (Colgan, Rochford and Burke, 2016[5]). In a complex system, the numerous links among the different elements are a source of inertia and there is a need for co-ordinated efforts with interventions at multiple points to achieve change (Mason, 2016[6]). This underlines the importance of a whole-of-system approach and is not limited to the education system as a whole, but also to reasonably self-contained systems, such as schools, school districts, municipalities and regions (Blanchenay and Burns, 2016[7]). A whole-of-system approach can increase the effectiveness and efficiency of policy approaches, help moderate tensions between priorities and identify and develop synergies between elements (Burns, Köster and Fuster, 2016[2]).

Constant attention to building capacity at all levels of the system: Capacity comprises ensuring actors, organisations and systems have the adequate resources and competencies to fulfil specific roles and tasks. In complex systems, responsibilities are decentralised and knowledge is distributed, both where it is produced and where it is required, across levels of governance and across stakeholders inside and outside the government administration, which creates specific challenges to ensuring capacity (Blanchenay and Burns, 2016[7]). As already noted, different governance levels require capacities for strategic thinking, setting priorities, governing knowledge, integrating research and evidence in policy design, implementation and adaptation. At the same time, it is not feasible to identify capacity needs at the central level, therefore an exclusively vertical approach to capacity building is inefficient in these complex environments. Horizontal and collaborative approaches to building adequate capacity are more suitable to link to varying contexts and capacity legacies (Burns, Köster and Fuster, 2016[2]).

4.2. Key contextual factors in Norway

The White Paper 21 “Desire to learn – early intervention and quality in schools” introduces the competence development model for schools that allocates national resources to support school-based continuing professional development (Government of Norway, 2017[8]). The model includes three schemes, reviewed in detail in Chapter 2:

  • a decentralised scheme,

  • a follow-up scheme, and

  • an innovation scheme.

This section maps key aspects of the evolving context for education policy implementation in Norway as they relate to the model. It considers societal trends and how these have shaped attitudes towards expectations of school quality; the complexity of the policy environment; institutional settings, including the evolution of central and local capacities for identifying and addressing priorities for quality improvement; the broader set of policies around developing the teaching profession and support they are likely to need – notably the requirements and offer for individual continuing professional development.

4.2.1. Societal trends

Societal trends define the issues that arise in education and the way they are perceived (Viennet and Pont, 2017[1]). Norway has a long tradition of equity, local decision making and democratic values. The majority of Norwegian children attend public schools and there is a clear commitment to offer free education. There is a high level of trust in the local level and a belief that decisions are best taken as close to the students as possible (Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training, n.d.[9]). In the 1990s the role for central authorities was focused on inputs (curriculum content, facilities and programmes offered) (Hatch, 2013[10]). However, two factors brought about a change in attitude to a greater focus on “quality” and an opening to thinking of the Norwegian system as a whole:

  • The availability of results from PISA and the “reality shock” that Norwegian education was not the best in the world. This opened the door to developing initiatives at the national level to support school evaluation. Although, according to (Lundgren, 2003[11]) these were initially considered to be a threat to local autonomy and faced strong resistance from teachers.

  • A growing discourse on the importance of knowledge to future economic success. This opened the door to the “Knowledge Promotion” curricular reform in 2006, which promoted elements deemed essential to a knowledge society: goals, competencies, basic skills, learning how to learn and learning strategies (Hopfenbeck et al., 2013[12]).

4.2.2. Policy environment

A relatively stable environment for policy development

In the Norwegian political landscape of coalitions and multi-party agreements, education policy tends to secure broad support and is less prone to ideological changes with changing governments (Moller and Skedsmo, 2013[13]; Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training, 2007[14]; Pont, 2017[15]). For example, there was broad political support for the introduction of a national quality assessment system in 2004 (see below). In theory, this leaves fertile ground for the development of long-term objectives. In tandem, there is a long tradition of consulting stakeholders in education policy development (Chapter 3). However, this also means the co-existence of different political parties in power at different administrative levels, which may pose barriers for implementation of policy, particularly given the prominent role that municipal and county authorities play in education: the local politicians are the “school owners”.

A highly complex environment for implementation

The involvement of many stakeholders and the co-existence of different political parties represented at national and local levels make up a highly complex environment. Main responsibilities for compulsory education are decentralised. Municipal authorities have responsibility for kindergartens and public primary and lower secondary education; County authorities are responsible for public upper secondary education. However, many decisions are taken within a central framework and may involve schools or other stakeholders. In 2006, the Knowledge Promotion curriculum changed the principles for governance on a fundamental level, with combined responsibilities at the school, school owner and central levels (Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training, n.d.[9]).

From an international perspective, responsibilities for educational decisions are finely balanced in Norway. Along with Denmark, Finland and Korea, Norway appears to have the most complex distribution of decision making among central, local and school levels, according to a range of indicators on governance (OECD, 2018[16]).1 In Norway, while the central government has full responsibility for curriculum development, national strategies, laws and regulation etc., multiple levels are responsible for decisions related to instructional organisation and personnel management, which is much higher than on average in the OECD.2 For personnel management, this comprises decisions on teacher duties, conditions of service and fixing of salary levels (OECD, 2018[16]). For other areas, local authorities have full autonomy (see below).

This complexity gives rise to varying perceptions throughout the system. While the “school owners” are the local politicians, especially in larger authorities the local administration may be regarded as the authority in daily business. Teachers in larger municipalities, for example Oslo, would see the local education department as responsible for running the school and school quality policies, whereas teachers in smaller municipalities may well perceive the Minister as having the main influence over school quality policies.

4.2.3. Institutional settings

A coordinating authority for each county

An important institution that seeks to “reconcile municipal self-governance and local democracy with the national principles of equality and rule of law that are applicable to all Norwegian residents” is the County Governor's office (Norwegian County Governor, n.d.[17]). This is an example of a mechanism linking the various levels of governance – an important institutional factor identified by Viennet and Pont (2017[1]). As the state's coordination authority for the specified county, the County Governor has a complex role, representing several ministries, with an understanding of a wide range of social issues, broadly supervising municipal activity (financial and administrative) and acting as an appeals body in the area of education (among other). The County Governors the OECD team met with perceive these cross-sectoral responsibilities as a real strength in their role. In education, County Governors also advise and supervise all school owners (municipal and county authorities, independent schools) with regard to legal issues (the Education Act and the Independent Schools Act) and communicate to central authorities issues that are important to county authorities. The County Governor reports to the Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training, which in turn reports to the Ministry of Education (Hopfenbeck et al., 2013[12]). The size of the office/administration to support this work varies among County Governors.

Staffing decisions are taken at the local and – increasingly - school level

While some aspects of decision making are set in a central framework (see above), there are many areas where local authorities enjoy full autonomy, notably over decisions on the hiring, dismissal and duties of school principals (OECD, 2018[16]). Also, local authorities have full autonomy over the allocation of resources to schools for teacher and school leader professional development, although the use of resources for teacher professional development is decided in consultation with the school (OECD, 2018[16]).

Decisions on teacher hiring are also taken at the local level, although within a central framework. In practice, municipalities may delegate these responsibilities to the school level. PISA data indicate this practice has increased since 2006 and in 2015 was widespread (97% of students were in schools where the principal reported having considerable responsibility for hiring teachers) (OECD, 2018[18]).

Established central capacity for quality assurance support and dialogue with education providers

A central agency, the Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training has been central in efforts to support capacity for improvement in the education sector. It has developed quality assurance structures for primary and secondary education and training (whose some of the key tools are presented in Table 4.1). Going beyond offering tools and technical supports, the Directorate also monitors municipalities and can deploy teams of supervisors (the “advisory team”) who aim to build municipal expertise and capacity to continuously improve the quality of its schools (Kavli, 2018[19]). The advisory team has existed already for 8 years. However, a new aspect to this is a more structured “follow-up scheme” (one of three strands in the new competence development model for schools) where the Directorate, based on a set of objective indicators, targets and offers support to some municipalities with identified weaknesses. Such offer remains a voluntary matter and in 2017 around half of the targeted municipalities accepted support.

The Directorate also plays an important role in the offer of initial teacher training and further education. The Directorate has responsibility for “engaging in dialogue with course providers in the higher education sector to ensure that both basic teacher training and continuing education and in-service training meet high standards” (Kavli, 2018[19]). The Directorate is the contracting authority for continuing education programmes related to the “Competence for Quality” strategy, i.e. the offer of individual professional development (see Section 4.2.3). It establishes guidelines for courses, allocates funding and oversees the application process. An important change in the overall governance is the recent change of the role of the Directorate, which supported schools and municipalities through national programmes. As part of the competence development model for schools, the decentralised competence development scheme has removed administrative responsibility from the Directorate for the offer of school-based continuing education (a function it formerly had with the now obsolete national programmes).

A shift in culture to greater use of evidence in decision making at local levels

There has been sustained investment in building a culture of evaluation in Norwegian schools. In the 1990s, although municipalities were responsible for developing quality assurance for their schools, only half the counties managed to do this and so a stronger national approach was needed to guarantee a proper education for all children in Norway (Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research, 2002[20]).

In 2004, a White Paper introduced a national quality assurance system in Norway (Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research, 2004[21]). In 2011, OECD reviewers, in the context of a review of evaluation and assessment policies internationally, stated that Norway was one of the few systems that had made efforts to design an assessment and evaluation system from scratch (Nusche et al., 2011[22]). An overview of the key tools for evaluation and assessment is presented in Table 4.1. Part of this system, the School Portal provides core indicators, which are established and well known by all actors in the education system. Municipalities have to prepare an annual quality report and integrate these indicators. The OECD team noted that an evaluation in 2013 found that all municipalities follow this procedure. However, it also noted that in many municipalities there was potential to use the results of this reporting process more effectively for development.

There is evidence internationally of a significant change in accountability culture in Norwegian lower secondary schools. Reports from Norwegian school principals in PISA assessments indicate that some accountability mechanisms have become more extensive between 2006 and 2015, with the proportion of students in schools reporting that student achievement data are tracked over time by an administrative authority rising from 53% to 85% and posted publicly rising from 47% to 69% - with these now above the levels reported on average in the OECD (OECD, 2018[18]).

Table 4.1. Key tools for evaluation and assessment in Norway

Key tools


Use of results by


National tests

Mandatory for Years 5, 8 and 9. Assessments of students’ basic skills in reading, mathematics and English.

National authorities

School owners


At the national level, results are used to inform education policy and allocation of resources towards municipalities with special challenges. At the local level, results inform school evaluation and improvement.

User surveys

Pupil Surveys are mandatory in Years 7, 10 and Vg1. Schools can also administer them in other years. Parent Surveys and Teacher Surveys are voluntary.

National authorities

School owners


Results are used at all levels to analyse and develop the learning environment. Results may also be used for research purposes.

Mapping tests

Available for Years 1, 2, 3 and Vg1. Assessments of basic skills in reading and mathematics. Some are mandatory and some are voluntary.

School owners


Identify pupils who need extra help and adapted teaching at an early stage in their schooling.

Point of view analysis tool

Available for schools to structure a systematic review of their teaching practice and results.


Inform school self-evaluation and improvement.

Organisational analysis tool

Available for schools to review the school as a workplace for its staff and identify aspects that may impact teaching and learning quality.


Inform school self-evaluation and improvement.

Template to prepare local status reports

Available for school owners to assist them in the preparation of their annual status reports. The Template tool includes data for both mandatory and suggested indicators

School owners

Assist school owners in the requirement to complete annual status reports and strengthen education system monitoring at the local level.

School portal

A web-based information tool presenting information from the national tests and the user surveys, and basic school data about enrolment, resources and completion rates. Comprises an open part and a password-protected part where schools and school owners can access their own data.

General public National authorities School owners Schools

Provide all stakeholders with access to key information on basic education at the national and local (school owner) level. Provide school owners and schools with specific information concerning their own results to inform school evaluation and improvement.

Source: Nusche et al. (2011[22]), OECD Reviews of Evaluation and Assessment in Education: Norway 2011, OECD Publishing, Paris,

A familiarity with collaboration networks

The new model proposes collaboration networks as its main structure of operation. This is grounded on previous experiences that have had some apparent success in Norway in recent years. As part of the 2006 Knowledge Promotion and lower secondary reform there are many existing networks among municipalities and schools. As part of that reform, there were official and funded positions for regional advisors/support. This has built up support structures in different parts of the school system. A study of implementation strategies for the 2010 programme in Norway “Assessment for Learning” found that learning networks among schools aided the exchange of knowledge and provided peer support in the implementation process (Hopfenbeck et al., 2013[12]).

4.2.4. Articulation with other policies

The number and variety of policies to be implemented in a given system make education a crowded policy field, with the possibility for two policies to contradict or misalign with each other (Viennet and Pont, 2017[1]). If enough policies align in a favourable environment, then it becomes possible to change complex systems such as the education sector (Mason, 2016[6]). For the implementation of the competence development model, the policies targeting schools and professional development are extremely important, as the model will either compete or need to be aligned to many of these.

The Ministry consulted stakeholders in developing a strategy for teacher education for the next 10 years – Teacher Education 2025 (Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research, 2017[23]). This document refers to the many different demands that have been placed on teacher educators over recent years.

An important part of the Teacher Education 2025 strategy is the goal to have “stable and mutually beneficial co-operation between teacher training institutions, the kindergarten sector and the school sector” (Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research, 2017[23]). This reflects a continued focus on the role of school-based competency development in the Ministry's policy. Various national initiatives over recent years have included school-based competency development in partnership with the school owner, for example, the New Possibilities 'Ny GIV' initiative in 2010-13 and the 2013 action plan to raise the performance in lower secondary education.

The Teacher Promotion strategy includes basic measures to make teaching more attractive. Among these, there is emphasis placed on teacher training programmes being practice based (and 5 years duration); and greater focus on continuing education and in-service training and school-based development projects. This latter point fits well the new decentralised competence development scheme.

Since 2017, there are specific requirements that teachers should have in-depth studies in order to teach core subjects. “Competence for Development” is an important funding source for continuing education for teachers and school administrators in primary and secondary education (the Directorate is the contracting authority). These programmes aim to reinforce subject knowledge for teachers and upgrade the competencies of those who do not meet the strengthened national qualification requirements in the Teacher Promotion strategy. Specifically, they are designed to help school owners comply within 10 years. However, they also aim to “promote collective learning and the development of a professional educational community at the individual school level” (Kavli, 2018[19]).

There are two important ongoing policy development processes that are key to the implementation of the new model: an ongoing revision to the curriculum (to be adopted in 2019) and a proposal to revise the Education Act, which is expected in 2021. In particular, the revision of subjects in primary and secondary education will have an impact on the content of teacher education, continuing education and in-service training programmes (Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research, 2017[23]).

4.3. Observations and issues

4.3.1. Supporting long-term capacity building and nurturing trust

Overall, the OECD team formed the impression that this is conceptualised as a long term, low profile approach to invest in development and improvement of local processes. As presented in Chapter 2, this provides a high level of political legitimacy – local authorities are responsible for the quality of school provision. As documented above, staff development is a local responsibility and increasingly key decisions are made by school leadership. The aim of this model, therefore, can support building strategic thinking capacities at different levels of the system to buffer from short-term political priorities – an important element of effective governance in complex systems (Shewbridge and Köster, 2017[4]). However, during interviews with stakeholders the need to provide assurances of the model’s long term nature became apparent. The Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities (KS) cautioned that municipalities had seen the “recentralisation” of resources following the introduction of the knowledge promotion reform in 2006. An important aspect of implementation, therefore, will be building trust in the stability of the model and its focus on local development priorities.

The competence development model for schools appears to fit well to several aspects of the evolving Norwegian context. Emergent properties within a complex system cannot be anticipated (Mason, 2016[6]; Snyder, 2013[24]) and mean that effective policy strategies evolve as new knowledge develops. Knowledge from research, from experience with municipal networks and with initial school and university partnerships have all fed into the design of this model – as documented in White paper no. 21 (Government of Norway, 2017[8]). During the stakeholder seminar, the fact that the model had been built on lessons learned from past experiences was seen to heighten its chances of successful implementation.

While there are contextual factors that fit well with the competence development model for schools, its various aims and its reliance on engagement and collaboration of many different actors are highly ambitious (Chapter 2). In particular, an important point for implementation success will be to ensure continued evaluation of the effectiveness of municipal networks and partnerships with universities. As noted during the stakeholder seminar, it will be essential to avoid being locked into ineffective partnerships.

Leading the collaboration forum and implementing the new model according to a whole-of-system approach

A whole-of-system approach ensures coordination and alignment across actors, governance levels and policies. It can increase the effectiveness and efficiency of policy approaches, help moderate tensions between priorities and identify and develop synergies between elements (Burns, Köster and Fuster, 2016[2]).

For the new model to be successfully implemented, a whole-of-system approach needs to be considered. At the policy level, it requires considering concomitant policies to exploit potential synergies or prevent inconsistencies. Section 4.2.4 listed some of the policies related to teacher professional development, the transition to a new curriculum, and the revision of the Education Act. All these important developments should inform the design and/or the implementation of the new model. This would improve school participation in collaborative professional development as it is related more directly to schools own needs.

At the organisational level, the cornerstone of the model is the County Governor office, as it acts as a broker in setting the priorities for professional development, and manage the funding allocated by the State. As such, County Governors are important facilitators in the implementation of the decentralised scheme and the follow-up scheme. This was echoed during the stakeholder seminar, with the involvement of the county governor seen to be a key supporting factor. The collaboration forum is the vehicle for a whole-of-system approach. The importance of this – with a focus on student needs at the centre of efforts – was emphasised during the stakeholder seminar. The collaboration forum provides the platform to focus discussion on priorities and to ensure that school-based competency development is not entirely overshadowed by the demands for individual professional development (even referred to as “competing initiatives” during the stakeholder seminar).

However, county governors perceive and undertake their role differently. The OECD team gained insight directly from county governors or indirectly via discussions with other stakeholders on different approaches being taken throughout the country. Perspectives shared with the OECD team from different stakeholders indicate that the county governor's role in the network is a challenge. Feedback across stakeholder groups represented in different county collaboration forums about different approaches being taken can cause uncertainty and question the credibility and/or legitimacy of a given approach. For example, there are also arguments about a lack of ownership among essential stakeholders if they do not have a seat at the collaboration forum (see Chapter 3, Section 3.3.2).

At the same time, successful implementation will depend on flexibility to adapt and build a whole-of-system approach that fits the context in the given county. This point was also underlined during the stakeholder seminar. There are different existing capacity legacies within each county, as can be illustrated with the example of the merger of two former counties in Trøndelag (Box 4.1). This case illustrates the need for time to build support for the decentralised scheme and to create a shared vision and clarity of stakeholder roles within this. It is notable that the implementation of the decentralised scheme will play out at different pace throughout Norway depending on the existing capacity legacies.

Simultaneous with the OECD visits in May 2018 and January 2019, UDIR organised meetings for all County Governors. This reflects recognition of the identified challenge and that UDIR is investing in promoting a common understanding of the county governor's role in implementing the model. Creating a forum for exchanges on different approaches among county governors is an important strategy for implementing the model and for communication. More generally, communicating the successes of a whole-of-system perspective can help establish legitimacy and mobilise stakeholder support for collaborative approaches (Colgan, Rochford and Burke, 2016[5]).

There are also institutional issues that relate to the professional identity of County Governors, with their complex role in respecting both central and local needs. During the stakeholder seminar a potential barrier to the successful implementation of the decentralised scheme was perceived to be if county governors would act as decision makers, rather than facilitators. In Austria, “School Supervisors” are employees of the federal government represented at the provincial level. They have traditionally had responsibility for inspecting compliance with federal laws, but they have gradually taken on roles in quality management. There is now a new official function being introduced and initial experience has revealed the need to put considerable effort into clarifying their roles and building a new identity. Although federal employees, many school supervisors identify strongly with the provincial level and take varying approaches to their roles. This institutional culture has to be factored in to how to effectively implement the new federal law (Bruneforth, Shewbridge and Rouw, 2019[25]).

Box 4.1. The approach to organising the collaboration forum in Trøndelag, Norway

On 1 January 2018, the county of Trøndelag was established with the merger of two counties. The two county governors and their respective offices/administration from each of the previous counties remain. The structures and experiences were very different. In March 2017 the two county governors organised a preparatory meeting with the universities and the two national centres. This was the start of a continuing effort and focus to establish a common understanding. This was highlighted as a critical aspect in change management.

In tandem, the county governors worked on building the necessary structures, including taking one year to establish the collaboration forum, which comprises representatives from the two universities, the Union of Education, KS and each of the eleven “regional networks of municipalities”.

In the South there was an established system of regional networks, but not in the North. Time was invested to explain the system and the “network way of thinking” to municipalities in the North. A letter was sent to each municipality including two tasks: describe the region and the municipalities that you will collaborate with and nominate one representative to participate in the collaboration forum. This was a deliberate strategy to leave room for municipalities to self-organise. At the same time the County governors have made it clear that in the absence of an effective regional network and/or its inability to agree on continuing professional development priorities, the County Governors will decide. KS informed the OECD team that its inclusion in the County Forum gives opportunity to ensure the needs of lower capacity municipalities are represented. The County governors informed the OECD team that including the Union of Education was “one of our strongest cards” to ensure that teachers are involved.

Trøndelag has a system of “development partners”. The two local universities have received funding to work together to create a “development pool” offering support to regional municipal networks. This is a deliberate strategy to facilitate more direct contact between local university representatives (development partner 1) and schools, which in turn is expected to improve teacher education. A second tier of development partners can be engaged from any publicly accredited university or college in Norway, depending on the expertise and support required.

County governors reported that a temptation to rush this process and to push ahead without securing a common understanding would be the greatest risk to implementing the decentralised scheme effectively. The county governors are developing a framework that sets out the expected role of each stakeholder group.

4.3.2. Keeping a long-term perspective and strategic planning of professional development provision

Effective implementation will be highly reliant on strategic thinking at the university level and integrating planning processes with the collaboration forum. The Teacher Education 2025 strategy underlines the importance of looking out for opportunities to improve coherence and coordination – and in particular to view the education system as a whole (Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research, 2017[23]). During discussions with stakeholders the OECD noted many challenges for implementation related to the need for planning of provision both for local needs within the collaboration forum and also to ensure a balanced offer nationally. At the stakeholder seminar, participants underlined the need for a long term view to build capacity in universities as a crucial factor to the model’s long term success.

At the institutional level there are concerns about establishing a coherent long term plan. There are aspirations to create conditions for universities to build medium and longer term plans for the offer of professional development courses and in doing so build their capacities to better meet locally identified needs. Insight gained from discussions with universities indicates that planning is primarily driven by known availability of funding. One illustration of this is a statement of satisfaction from researchers made to the OECD team: “we have our money, so the model is working well”. One important aspect to facilitate medium term planning aligned to priorities agreed in the collaboration forum will therefore be assurance on budgetary allocations in the medium term.

In the short term, there is a need to recognise the reality of universities working with their established planning cycles and the need to coordinate these with the emerging priorities for school-based competency development discussed and agreed within the collaboration forum. Here there may be initial implementation problems, in light of the stage of the university’s planning and budgetary cycle. Simply put, existing resources may already be fully allocated. For example, a core task for universities now is the development and implementation of the new 5-year teacher education. An upcoming priority will be professional development that supports teachers with implementing the revision to parts of the curriculum. Many interviewees assumed that this would come through as an immediate priority for school-based competency development also. These very pressing demands on universities may leave limited room for addressing any other needs that may be raised within the collaboration forum that, for example, are not related to the upcoming curriculum revision.

During the stakeholder seminar, the lack of capacity in universities in the short term was highlighted as a barrier to navigate in initial implementation stages. In this reality of restricted capacity, there were concerns that smaller municipalities would lose out, with the larger municipalities “eating up” the capacity of the local university. The OECD team noted the importance of geographical factors in planning provision. The distances between some municipalities and public providers imply additional time and expense to deliver tailored training to schools. Some interviewees were concerned that it would not be possible to engage the necessary support from a public provider. Such concerns were echoed during the stakeholder seminar with regard to the large private sector not being considered in the model.

Another challenge is to plan a balanced professional development offer nationally. There are aspirations to gradually change the mind set at the local level that professional development can be provided by any public provider in Norway and not just the local university. Thus introducing the idea of a market and “shopping” for the best fit to identified needs. However, during interviews the OECD team noted some concerns that certain public providers would dominate the market and local universities may lose business.

The OECD noted the potential of a Co-ordinating Group for a network of all universities to facilitate the strategic thinking among universities, in particular with challenges on coordinating provision nationwide. The Directorate for Education and Training has tasked the Western Norway University of Applied Sciences to lead this network. The initial aims are to identify the key competences within each university and what is required for effective co-operation among universities. Then there is the question of how to distribute competencies and the offer around Norway. The first meeting of the network was in May 2018.

One obvious example to consider in the balance of the “nationwide offer” is what to do with the existing national centres of expertise. The OECD noted that significant resources have been invested in building up “national centres” within different universities. However, it remains a decision for each institution to determine how and whether to integrate and develop these existing resources into their future offer.

4.3.3. School strategic planning and quality assessment

A clear expectation of the decentralised scheme is for schools to assess and prioritise their quality development needs and to feed this up via municipal authorities to the collaboration forum. This relies on an established and ongoing culture of self-evaluation and development planning. As noted in Section 4.2.3, the reported use of data for accountability purposes has increased considerably in Norway between 2006 and 2015. The white paper considers this maturing culture of evaluation as an important element in the design of the decentralised model for competency development. Evaluations of earlier programmes have pointed to school planning and ability to integrate specific programme goals within the broader aims of educational policy and school practice as facilitators of implementation (Hopfenbeck et al., 2013[12]).

The OECD team notes how important the role of the municipal authority is in promoting a culture of quality assessment and strategic planning. The availability of funding for school-based professional development is an important support to whole-school improvement. The point was raised during the stakeholder seminar that this would now mean that a whole-school approach was possible. However, the OECD team noted the importance of building the necessary planning processes to make the best use of this. Lack of strategic planning was underlined as a major barrier to the effective implementation of the model during the stakeholder seminar. Some stakeholders pointed to the need for school owners to receive training as a priority.

The decentralised model for competency development is one source of funding offered for professional development. There are also individual professional development plans offered under “Competency for Quality”. In many municipalities there will also be local funding offered for professional development. Here there is much work at the local level to plan the professional development offer. How do municipalities perceive all these different strategies? To what extent are these coherent? Will requirements to upskill existing teachers’ subject competency overshadow broader, collective professional development needs? During the stakeholder seminar, there were some references made to “competing interests” and “tensions” in this regard and concerns that the funding allocated in the model may be “misused” for subject-based training.

One important consideration in the design of the decentralised scheme was feedback from researchers on local capacity issues, on among other, experience with existing networks from the lower secondary programme (Government of Norway, 2017[8]). The OECD team noted examples of collaboration networks, typically organised around participation in a particular programme. For example, in Oslo a district-wide offer of professional development to better understand the importance of intercultural communication in multi-cultural student communities. Also, the importance of participation in regional networks was clear in smaller municipalities as an important access to professional collaboration. Building these supporting structures is particularly important in light of how smaller municipalities may be vulnerable to changes in leadership at both the authority and school levels. During the stakeholder seminar, the existence of regional partnerships that were established for the lower secondary reform were identified as important supporting structures for the successful implementation of the decentralised scheme (see also Box 4.1).

The school principal's leadership approaches, along with teachers' pedagogical practices and collaborative methods, are an important part of the norms that drive actors' daily activities at the school and local levels (Viennet and Pont, 2017[1]). This underlines the critical role of the school leadership and there is a need to consider how to plan school leadership development at the local level. As noted in Section 4.2.2, observation of classroom teaching is reported to be a feature in the majority of Norwegian lower secondary schools. To support effective self-evaluation, school principals should have the opportunity for training in the techniques of observing and assessing teaching and learning and giving developmental feedback to teachers (OECD, 2013[26]).

While there has been considerable focus on professional development for school leaders (see Chapter 3, Section 3.3.3), the OECD team noted anecdotal doubts about some school leaders' capacity to analyse and use data for quality improvement. These concerns were echoed during the stakeholder seminar, with the existing school leader professional development programmes being underlined as important supports for the implementation of the model generally. School principals and other members of the school with evaluation responsibilities require skills in classroom observation, interviewing, data gathering, analysis and interpretation of results which both ensure validity and reliability in the evaluation process and which allow the results of evaluation to be understood (OECD, 2013[26]).

To highlight the importance of these issues for implementation and support of the new model, let's take three different scenarios of how quality assessment practices may be carriers or barriers to school participation in the decentralised scheme:

  • Strong culture of quality assessment within the school and municipality: the school has access to established collaboration networks and the school is familiar with situating itself within broader municipal strategies; the identification of school priorities for quality development flows seamlessly from the evaluation processes; the staff are fully integrated to evaluation and planning processes; there are regular channels for feedback from staff and students; there is high consensus among staff on school development priorities and this is no additional work for the school. These are reported to the municipal authorities as part of the annual planning and they have a realistic overview of priorities among their schools. In turn, they are able to set municipal-wide priorities and to defend these at the collaboration forum (either directly or via a municipality representing the network it is affiliated with).

  • Strong culture of quality assessment at the school level, but this is not systemic within the municipality: the school identifies its priorities for quality development based on a rigorous self-evaluation; however, it is not clear to the school what the development priorities are at the municipal level and/or those identified by the municipality do not reflect the school's priorities in any way; the school does not have access to collaboration networks or these are only incipient and related to discrete programmes; there is a low level of trust from the school that its developmental needs will be represented at the collaboration forum or met. The school may not even be aware of the collaboration forum.

  • Established system for quality assessment at the municipal level, but the school engages in quality assessment only from a compliance perspective: the school leadership may perform a minimum reporting to comply with requirements within the municipal quality assessment reporting; the school staff and students are not engaged in a broader process of self-evaluation and feedback on school quality improvement; the breadth of the school's needs are not identified or reflected in this exercise and school staff perceive this as an empty bureaucratic exercise that does not lead to improvement. This is a wasted opportunity to highlight school development priorities and to feed these into municipal wide discussions. The school sees no change or benefit from the collaboration forum.

While oversimplified, each of these scenarios illustrates how the decentralised scheme could be implemented (or not) depending on existing processes for quality assessment at both the school and municipal levels.

4.3.4. Responding to school and municipal capacity needs

Another important element of effective governance in complex systems is to pay ongoing attention to building capacity within the system (Shewbridge and Köster, 2017[4]). The Ministry noted that an important factor in developing the model was a judgement that there were significant differences among municipalities in the ability to use the national competency programmes effectively (the national offer was “one size fits all”). There was a clear sub-set of school owners who were better at using national programmes. Recognising the variation in capacity within the Norwegian system, the model offers different solutions to obtain funding for school-based continuing professional development.

Representatives from the umbrella organisation for municipalities (KS) informed the OECD team that they supported this design that aims to address different capacity and needs and had enjoyed good collaboration with the Ministry in its development. As noted in Chapters 2 and 3, the OECD team generally found high levels of support for the new model among stakeholders. However, during the stakeholder seminar the realities of differing capacities among municipalities and counties was identified as a potential barrier. During the stakeholder seminar, participants emphasised the importance of keeping these differing needs at the forefront of discussions both in the collaboration forum and among university networks when planning provision. In particular, the OECD team noted some already highlighted concerns that the co-funding requirement may be a barrier for some municipalities to take up the model; these were also raised during the stakeholder seminar.

Although an offer of central support has existed for 8 years (the advisory team), the follow-up scheme introduced a new accountability element, in introducing a targeted offer of support to municipalities with identified weaknesses on a set of objective indicators. As outlined above, societal attitudes opened up to the introduction of mechanisms to create and share knowledge on system performance. When the national quality assurance system was introduced in Norway, all politicians agreed on the new system and that its purpose should be for school development and not for control (Hopfenbeck et al., 2013[12]). This move “half-way to accountability” introduced information about performance in important areas, but no high-stake follow-up mechanisms or incentive systems (Hatch, 2013[10]).

In this way, the offer of the follow-up scheme fits the Norwegian context well, that is, with it remaining voluntary. However, the OECD team heard mixed voices on attitudes to accountability. The strongest proponent for strengthening accountability was the national parent association that expressed concerns about a culture of tolerance of bad quality education in some areas of the system. For them the follow-up scheme should be compulsory for municipalities that are identified as having quality concerns, based on the agreed set of objective indicators. However, student and teacher representatives were concerned that the balance may be tipping to a focus on too narrow an understanding of school quality. This latter point relates to the broader philosophy of shifting the focus to meeting locally defined priorities for continuing professional development, which should be set on a richer set of information as documented in the school and municipal quality assessment processes. During implementation, it will be important to gauge how these attitudes evolve.

Importantly, while the OECD team is not in a position to comment on any ongoing reflections as part of drafting a revision to the Education Act, it notes the important contextual impact that any potential reflections regarding the broader accountability culture may have on the implementation of the model.

The OECD team notes the importance of ensuring “adequate” response to municipalities via the follow up scheme. Half the targeted municipalities accepted the offer of support from the advisory team. However, a greater uptake may be secured by proving the value and adaptability of the offer to really meet local needs. This may benefit from the engagement of local network resources officers.

A comprehensive review of approaches to accountability in the public sector documents the challenges involved in designing and implementing meaningful accountability (Fahey, n.d.[27]). The major emphasis should not be on the accountability instrument itself– in this case the follow-up scheme – but rather on the relational (how people respond to it) and situational (how it fits within the broader context, including capacity) components. This underscores the need for the advisory team support to make sense for those involved (e.g. clarifying roles and responsibilities), articulate a clear purpose (e.g. my teachers will be able to do….) rather than tick a box (e.g. my teachers will attend a course).

In thinking of how to make the offer of targeted support more compelling to municipalities and to their schools, it is useful to apply a set of levers identified by (Bovens et al., 2014[28]) to the follow-up scheme:

  • Meaning: motivate municipalities by drawing association with eventual beneficiaries to make it more meaningful to them (i.e. ‘think of the children’). Also communicate and share feedback from other municipalities on the benefits (and concerns) of support they have received from the advisory team.

  • Impact: help municipalities to feel that their efforts are part of a bigger picture – clearly show how what they are doing sits with things (i.e. the notion that the ‘government and its agencies appreciate us’).

  • Confer respect: this can be encouraged by gaining feedback from municipalities on how they best do the things that the government wants to be achieved (i.e. recognising that municipalities know their schools better than the central authorities do. While the central authority knows what the outcomes ought to be, the local levels can better inform the processes of how to get there).

  • Self-determination: provide enough room for the local levels to undertake the processes they want, and that they will have the opportunity to express why they chose these processes. That is, they do not have a blank cheque to do whatever they want since they must explain the choices they make. In this way, municipalities would provide feedback on the suitability of the support offered by the advisory team, but demonstrate clearly the evidence to support how they have determined their specific school development needs.

The above levers aim to foster the feeling of ownership and empowerment. Self-determination is important in many ways. This emphasises the need for highly adapted support efforts and this places great demands on the advisory team. It means finding ways to increase capacity to provide a flexible offer of support. In the previous approach, the advisory team offered support linked to the specific national programmes. While there will remain, arguably, a high degree of alignment with these, it will be important to avoid the perception that central support "only promotes central priorities".

Another fundamental consideration in future accountability designs relates to the sufficiency of existing capacity to offer support to all municipalities that are identified on the objective indicators. Simply put, if the feedback from municipalities which have engaged in the follow-up scheme is positive and compels others to take up the offer of support in future, would the advisory team be able to meet this surge in demand? Only half the targeted municipalities accepted the follow-up scheme support in 2017. This underlines the importance of building up local support networks that could be mobilised and funded via the regional municipal networks.

4.4. Points for successful implementation

An effective implementation process needs to be based on a continuous assessment of the evolving context in the school system. During the implementation seminar in Oslo, stakeholders highlighted the main barriers for the implementation of the new model (Table 4.2).

Table 4.2. Main barriers for the implementation of the new model
(Stakeholder seminar, Oslo, 18 October 2018)

Main barriers

Suggestions on how to address them

Competition between continuous professional development schemes, and lack of coherence.

Strategic dialogue including all levels to ensure policy coherence.

Lack of strategic planning capacity at municipal level.

Build strategic capacity at municipal level (at least)

  • Major action: county governors raising this as a priority during the next collaboration forum

  • Use current networks/capacity building platforms (e.g. KS’ seminars).

Lack of feedback on money use and change in the classroom.

Integrate this to school and municipal quality development processes and establish new feedback mechanisms where necessary, e.g. classroom observations.

Lack of shared understanding (language) among actors (e.g. owners vs universities).

Develop a common language based on scientific terms to facilitate dialogue between school owners and universities.

However, on many contextual aspects the competence development model for schools fits well as it: recognises the highly complex policy environment in Norwegian education and supports political legitimacy and democratic values with its aim to boost local development processes; builds on experience with municipal and school networks, the fact that quality assessment procedures are an established feature in the Norwegian school system, but also recognises the reality that capacities vary among different municipalities and schools; and can be aligned with broader policies and strategies to develop the teaching profession and promote partnerships between schools and teacher education providers.

The OECD team notes some initial observations on how contextual factors may nonetheless help or hinder an effective implementation and underlines the need for sustained investment in effective governance processes:

  • Foster conditions for long-term strategic planning of continuing professional development:

    • Ministry: recognise the need to give assurances on budgetary allocations in the medium term.

    • Directorate: ensure effective coordination among universities in developing a strategy for provision nationally.

    • County governors: communicate the importance of effective municipal and school quality development processes and monitor progress on strategic planning in municipalities with identified capacity concerns.

    • At the university level: allocate existing resources to the most pressing demands, notably the upcoming curriculum revision; participate in the coordination network to develop a long-term view on how to build capacity and broaden the offer to meet local priorities; and provide feedback on collaboration forum.

    • At the municipality level: prioritise the effectiveness of school quality development processes, including school development plans; gather and provide feedback on the effectiveness of regional partnerships in prioritising school-based competency development needs.

  • Strengthen the whole-of-system approach in the implementation of the model:

    • Directorate: facilitate coordination and feedback among county governors on how they promote a whole-of-system approach in the collaboration forum.

    • County governors: provide feedback on how well the collaboration forum is addressing varying municipal capacity within the county and providing conditions to build local university capacity.

  • Increase responsiveness to schools and municipalities with identified capacity needs:

    • Directorate and county governors: gather, analyse and communicate feedback on how well the support offered by the advisory team meets the self-identified needs at the municipal and school levels; monitor and follow up on how the municipalities with identified quality concerns choosing not to accept the support of the advisory team address the identified concerns.

    • At the municipality level: provide feedback on how the 30% matching funding requirement relates to their participation in the decentralised scheme.


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[28] Bovens, M. et al. (2014), “Process Versus Outcome Accountability”, in The Oxford Handbook of Public Accountability, Oxford University Press,

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[2] Burns, T., F. Köster and M. Fuster (2016), Education Governance in Action: Lessons from Case Studies, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[5] Colgan, A., S. Rochford and K. Burke (2016), Implementing public service reform Messages from the literature, Centre for Effective Services, Dublin,

[27] Fahey, G. (n.d.), “Meaningful Accountability for Strategic Education Governance”, OECD Education Working Papers, OECD, Paris.

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

[10] Hatch, T. (2013), “Beneath the surface of accountability: Answerability, responsibility and capacity-building in recent education reforms in Norway”, Journal of Educational Change, Vol. 14/2, pp. 113-138,

[12] Hopfenbeck, T. et al. (2013), “Balancing Trust and Accountability? The Assessment for Learning Programme in Norway: A Governing Complex Education Systems Case Study”, OECD Education Working Papers, No. 97, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[19] Kavli, A. (2018), “Quality of continuning education and in-service training (English translation)”, No. 2018/16791, Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training, Oslo.

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[15] Pont, B. (2017), Education reforms: school leadership in comparative perspective, Universidad Complutense, Madrid.

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[24] Snyder, S. (2013), “The Simple, the Complicated, and the Complex: Educational Reform Through the Lens of Complexity Theory”, OECD Education Working Papers, No. 96, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[1] Viennet, R. and B. Pont (2017), “Education policy implementation: a literature review and proposed framework”, OECD Education Working Papers, No. 162, OECD Publishing, Paris,


← 1. While international data do not reflect all decisions, they capture key aspects of instructional organisation, personnel management, planning and structures and resource management.

← 2. The OECD compiles an indicator in each of these areas, based on a set of different aspects and reports this as a percentage. So, for example, the area of personnel management comprises a set of aspects as applied to teachers and also to school principals: duties; conditions of service; fixing of salary levels. Conditions of service and fixing of salary levels for both teachers and school principals involve multiple levels of decision making; this is also the case for teacher duties. Other aspects are decided at the local level. On this indicator, Norway has a value of 58%, compared to the OECD average of 15%. For the indicator on instruction organisation, Norway has an average of 67% compared to the OECD average of 12%. Full results can be found in data tables for Indicator D6 in (OECD, 2018[16]).

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