The legal basis for administration and supervision of schools in Austria is the Federal Act on School Supervision. It originates from the last big school reform in 1962; its most recent amendment is from 2008.
The supervision of schooling (“Schulinspektion”) is a federal responsibility which is exerted by civil servants of the school supervision service and teachers who are entrusted with supervision functions. The persons performing these duties are federal officers called “Inspektor”. Their function is part of the operation of “Landesschulrat” or “Bezirksschulrat”, thus, regional considerations and politics influence the practical operation of these officers which may result in variations in the practical work content and style, although they formally work on an identical legal basis.
The operation of the supervision of schooling is segmented not only by 9 federal offices with a number district offices, but also by school types. Thus, there are several “Landesschulinspektoren” in every federal state for “compulsory schools”, “academic secondary schools”, “vocational schools” and “upper vocational schools” who usually work in some independence of each other. Additionally, there are “Fachinspektoren“ (“subject inspectors”) who have their office within “Landesschulrat” and are responsible for special subjects in their region (e.g. Religious Instruction, Physical Education, Informatics).
Inspectors have supervision duties with respect to “their” system and individual schools within this system. Supervision (including consultancy, control, and development) of individual teachers is primarily a task of the head person of individual schools. Only in cases of “severe deficiencies” (or under specific administrative circumstances) do they also inspect individual teachers. Duties with respect to the whole district and all schools are:
- Leadership, planning and coordination for the respective area
- Contribution to Organizational and Personnel Development
- Quality Assurance
- Consultancy and Conflict Management
School inspections in the province of Styria
In this study only one of the newer experimental inspection models, “team inspection”, developed in the federal state of Styria will be included. There are similar, but not identical models in some other federal states.
The main goal of the team inspection is to support schools to constantly improve their quality, through:
- appreciation of the work of schools,
- unearthing potential for development,
- feedback to classroom observations
- and school improvement initiatives and also conversations with school partners,
- fixing specific measures of improvements in a three-year school development plan
- impulse and motivation to question the quality of the school by self-evaluation, am emphasised special culture of feedback and external support
- a process aim of the whole procedure is “enabling comparability for the authorities” which is achieved by agreement on procedures and guidance by special forms.
School inspections take place on regular intervals: in every Styrian school district 3 – 5 school inspections at “compulsory schools” (primary schools, Hauptschulen, Polytechnic Schools, and Realschulen) are to take place (according to the size of the district) every year.
A “team inspection” is done by the “district school inspector” of the respective district the school is located in and by another inspector. This may be a district inspector from another district, a (superior) state inspector, a subject inspector or a headperson of a special education centre. Usually, the team partner comes from a neighbouring district, however, it is also important that “the chemistry is right” since persons have to communicate a lot and should feel confident in the team.
The duration of the school visit by the inspection team is at least 2 days (1 day possible for Polytechnic Schools) or 3 days for a big secondary school of about 16 or more classes. For a bigger primary school, an inspector plans for a week of work including preparation and post-inspection work. The school visit includes classroom observations of all teachers, a group interview with parents’ representatives, a group interview with all teachers of the school, a group interview with students, a meeting with the headperson an interview with the mayor (since the community is the maintaining body for a school) and a site inspection.
Inspectors prepare a (public) written report explaining strengths and the potential for development with respect to the five quality fields: Teaching and Learning, Classroom and schools as a space for living, Partnership in schools and external relationships, School management, Professionalism and personnel development
School development and target agreements
Some days after the school visit the inspectors present their preliminary inspection report in a staff meeting or feedback conference to the school staff. Headpersons (in communication with staff) have to draw their conclusions from the inspection report and formulate objectives and measures for further development in a written “school development plan” which also includes a time plan. 4-5 weeks after the feedback conference the proposal for the “school development plan” is discussed and, if necessary, amended in a meeting of the headperson and the inspector of the respective district and signed by both parties.
The final version of the school development plan serves as a target agreement between headperson and inspector. After 1 – 3 years, the inspector checks the implementation of the development plan in a meeting with the headperson. There are no positive or negative sanctions (e.g. with respect to budget, personnel resources, in-service training hours) tied to the results of the inspection report
Studying school inspections in the province of Styria in Austria
The project runs for a total of three years (January 2011-December 2013); each year from September to November, principals in all the 504 primary and 193 general secondary and polytechnic schools and “neue Mittelschulen” (however, no academic secondary schools) in the Austrian State of Styria are asked to participate in an online survey, measuring the changes they implement as a result of school inspections. The results will be analysed using a time series design, in which the timing of the inspection visit in the three years of data collection is taken into account.
More information about the project can be found here.