Governance is an essential component in creating enabling conditions for quality learning and tackling inequalities in education. At the system level, education governance determines which policies and priorities are to be put in place, how they are implemented, how effectively they are monitored, how many resources are allocated to education and how they are distributed, managed and accounted for, what is the distribution of powers and functions across different layers and actors and to what extent they are accountable for their performance. At the institution level, governance ensures effective leadership and a qualified and motivated workforce. It also concerns the overall organisation of the learning process and in particular the quality and relevance of the curriculum and learning materials. Finding a balance between a normative framework – for example with regard to safeguarding the right to education for all – and an inclusive/consensual decision-making culture is an important issue in education governance. This may also involve finding compromises between the education requirements of the majority and the protection of the needs of minorities. Another challenge is how to ensure cohesion within a system of governance with multiple interdependent layers and actors.
While national governments continue to play the most significant role in coordinating education for many countries across Europe, the distribution of responsibilities, autonomy and degrees of authority have been changing towards more decentralised systems in response to calls for greater efficiency, effectiveness, accountability and transparency. It concerns the need to make education systems sufficiently flexible and innovative to adapt to diversity and change and allow for the active participation of learners at all levels in the educational process. It also has implications for school leadership and reforms in teacher education. Education systems that grant more autonomy for schools to define and elaborate their curricula and assessments, provided there are also appropriate accountability mechanisms in place, tend to perform better than systems that don’t grant such autonomy, even after accounting for countries’ national incomes.
Funding of education is an important element of governance. Education was among the first policy areas that faced budget cuts in the wake of the financial crisis in Europe, particularly in countries with large public deficits. What constitutes a sufficient level of investment in education and training is a primary question in any discussion about education funding. But the debate about how to allocate resources is equally important. It raises questions about whether and how to adapt funding to inequalities hindering the performance and experiences of disadvantaged learners.
It is important to achieve effective governance and smart investment at all levels of education: early childhood and school education, VET, higher education and adult education in a lifelong learning perspective. Powerful drivers in fostering social inclusion and delivering empowering opportunities for all learners are systems that provide access to all learners; uphold high standards of quality for all and ensure smooth transitions and continuity across and within different education levels; support autonomy, transparency and accountability; foster personalised, inclusive approaches; support early intervention and warning mechanisms; and promote partnership between relevant actors and cohesion across layers.