Headmasters at Czech schools most overburdened by administration in EU, study shows

Illustrative photo: Lucie Hochmanová / Czech Radio

Underpaid and swarmed with paperwork, headmasters at Czech schools do not have it easy. At least according to a new study published by CERGE-EI, the Economics Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences. It found that directors of Czech schools have the highest administrative burden compared to their counterparts in other EU countries. Partly a result of excessive decentralisation, the study claims.

Illustrative photo: Lucie Hochmanová / Czech Radio
Jan Šindelář is the headmaster of Říčany’s Bezručova primary school. He says that a pile of administrative documents on his desk are a sight he has become acquainted to every morning.

“I’ve got attendance sheets here I have to sign, as well as travel orders, liquidation sheets for invoices, or the requests of my colleagues for new gear. It is certainly quite a lot of stuff.”

It takes him five hours on average to tackle the paper mountain that faces him every working day. The rest of his time he dedicates to school pupils and colleagues.

His is the plight of the administratively most overburdened headmasters in the European Union. At least according to a study titled “International comparison of school principals: Czech administrative hell”, published by CERGE-EI in November.

The author of the study, education specialist Dr. Miroslava Federičová, says that this is the result of a decentralisation process that started in Czech schools sixteen years ago.

“It has transferred a lot of decision making and responsibilities to lower-management within the system, especially the headmasters.

“Since 2003, all schools have been separate legal entities, no matter how large they are. That has given headmasters new levels of autonomy and responsibility, but also a larger administrative burden.”

Decentralisation and the subsequent rise in administrative tasks is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, when headmaster’s jobs in the EU 28 are a ranked in this category, the Czech Republic is closely trailed by countries including Norway, Sweden and Finland – states generally regarded as having some of Europe’s best education systems.

There is a general trend currently prevalent in many European countries where schooling is decentralised, says Dr. Federičová. In part, because school headmasters can better assess their pupil’s educational needs.

Illustrative photo: Filip Jandourek / Czech Radio
However, there is a difference in how this is carried out.

For example, in Nordic countries small schools are grouped together under one ‘super-headmaster’, who handles the administration while individual school directors focus more on educational leadership.

This is not the case among their Czech counterparts, who lack such a centralising administrative figure and therefore have to deal with various ministry’s and regional officials on an individual basis.

This problem is further exacerbated by the fact that headmasters are not given sufficient training before they assume their tasks, nor is any support provided to them from regional authorities, says Dr. Federičová.

She believes that technical and legal support should be offered to local schools in order to ease the burden of headmasters. In larger schools, she suggests dividing the position into an educational and technical director.

Whether these specific measures are implemented or not, it seems likely that some sort of systemic change may be needed eventually, as the latest report from the Czech School Inspectorate shows that among half of all the headmaster positions offered last year, only one applicant was registered.