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Image: Mattias Pettersson

Published: 2018-11-26

A day at the Head-teacher Training Programme

FEATURE Educations for school leaders such as head teachers and principals have long been offered at Umeå University. Since 2009, the Head-teacher Training Programme is a credit-awarding second-cycle programme.

Six institutinos of higher education offer the programme, but to cover for the needs across the nation, Umeå takes responsibility for Northern Norrland and Southern Götaland.

"Our organisation is the biggest out of the six higher education institutions that offer the programme," says Helene Ärlestig, head of the Centre for Principal Development. "Counting all the 27 courses we are responsible for, all at various levels in their training, nearly 800 course participants are active this autumn."

The course is offered over three years consisting of twelve course instances, two per term over two to three days of residential education. This means a lot of travelling for the teachers at the Head-teacher Training Programme at Umeå University, particularly since Skåne, Blekinge, Öland, south Småland and south Halland are included in the catchment area.

"All higher education institutions weren't allowed to offer the Head-teacher Training Programme," says Peter Högstadius, lecturer at the Centre for Principal Development. "That's why we also took care of regions in south Sweden."

Beside Umeå University, the other universities offering the programme are University of Gothenburg, Karlstad University, Mid Sweden University, Stockholm University and Uppsala University.

If you work as a head teacher, and was hired after 15 March 2010, it is mandatory to take the programme, given that you haven't previously taken an older version of the education. You must start the education within a year of taking your new role and you must complete the education no later than four years after taking on your role as head teacher. To be accepted, you currently need to work as head teacher, be head of a
preschool, or be deputy head teacher.

In the middle of all travelling, from Norrbotten in the North to Skåne in the South, Aktum spent a day with the Head-teacher Training Programme. In Piteå.

Peter Högstadius is process leader for a group and follows it from start to finish, while the subject expert Björn Ahlström is accompanied by different process leaders each time he meets a course group.

Peter Högstadius has also worked as head teacher, and his assignment at the programme has been twofold, first between 1990 and 2001, and now since 2012. He should perhaps have already retired, but he is needed as staff resources are scarce. Björn Ahlström has worked on the programme since 2011.

"I'm spending six weeks on the programme this academic year," says Björn Ahlström, who came to the course in Piteå as a subject expert for students on the third year of the programme.

The subject was 'Steering towards goals and results through systematic quality assurance procedures', and the participants, who travelled from Kiruna in the North to Lima in Dalarna in the South, participated in lectures and workshops.

The courses are often offered in Umeå, but for this occasion, Björn Ahlström and Peter Högstadius took the car from outside the Department of Political Science, more specifically the Centre for Principal De- velopment in Umeå, and travelled to Piteå. The three-day-course covered Tuesday to Thursday.

All in all, there are 25–30 members of faculty and staff working with the Head-teacher Training Programme at Umeå University. They represent a number of occupational groups.

"It's an interdisciplinary centre, but we're understaffed," says Helene Ärlestig hoping that more people will be interested in working with educational leadership issues. The programme is growing, at the same time, we're in a generational change. We're trying to find staff interested in leadership from other departments such as the departments of Education or Sociology.

There's a great turnover of head teachers, and hence they are scarce. This spring was the first time that the Swedish National Agency for Education received more applications to the Head-teacher Training Programme on a national scale than they were able to admit. For each term, the Swedish National Agency for Education has 550–700 applicants to distribute over the six universities.

"Not only head teachers at public schools can apply for the programme, it's also open to private schools and adult education, which means more applicants," says Björn Ahlström.

Among the head teachers in Piteå, a majority work at primary schools. But the rest range from head teachers from preschool to adult education.

Schools register their applicants to the Swedish National Agency for Education who in turn distribute participants to the universities that have expressed their interest and been approved by the same agency. Universities get to register their interest every six years. Participants are expected to use 20 per cent of their working hours to complete the education. The Government pays for the universities' costs related to the education whereas the schools pay for the participants' salaries during the education. The schools also pay for travel and accommodation to course instances and course literature.

"I like this education and want to complete it even though I moved from the region," says Karin Flygar. She worked in Tärnaby for ten years and has been head teacher for three years, but in December last year she moved back home to Lima. "It's handy to learn more about law, not just the Education Act. I also like that lectures are mixed with teamwork."

Annelie Lindgren Skjemstad is head teacher at the village schools in Näsåker and Resele in Sollefteå municipality and likes the fact that course participants come from different places, schools and stages.

"We sometimes visit other course participants at their schools to take a closer look at a particular decision they've made. Those types of exchanges are always interesting."

The idea is for everyone to complete their training and file for their degree certificate after completing the twelve course instances. That's why regular check ups in the form of examinations are made.

Although courses are offered all across Sweden, teachers do not travel every week. Twice per term, the teachers at the programme have travel-free weeks during which they plan practical details and discuss the content of the education. The idea is to reach equivalence in the education and a high minimum quality level.

"We also learn from these courses," says Peter Högstadius. "We compile reviews after each meeting and perform a more in-depth survey after a year. We are open for discussion, without prestige. That's a condition for high quality."

"I learn something new at each new encounter," Björn Ahlström agrees. "The course participants are the experts and can tell us about reality. They are our peephole into the schools."


The Head-teacher Training Programme is an in-service training at academic level providing new insights, creating networks and starting processes for development. The studies cover 30 credits and three fields: school law and exercise of public authority, management by objectives and results, and educational leadership.

Teaching primarily takes place through two- to three-day-long sessions with overnight stays, individual work from home, and course literature. Head teachers need to devote around 20 per cent of their working hours to the education over three years. The training is a part of a head teacher's work assignment.

The objective of the training is for the participants to gain sufficient knowledge to
• take responsibility for students and children getting equal and legally certain education,
• create the conditions for goal attainment on individual and organisation level, and
• be responsible for developing the organisation as a whole.

Source: The Swedish National Agency for Education

Text: Inger Nilsson
Translation: Anna Lawrence
Photos: Mattias Pettersson

This article was first published in the magazine Aktum no. 2 2018.