The Swedish Agency for Public Management
Meny

Gender equality in education. Evaluation of the special assignment of the Swedish National Agency for Education 2008–2014 (2015:7)

Under the authority of the Government, Statskontoret (the Swedish Agency for Public Management) has evaluated and analysed the Government's initiatives to promote gender equality in the education system. The assignment has entailed analysing the measures which have been implemented by the National Agency for Education since 2008.

The efforts of the National Agency for Education have covered five special government assignments which they received over a period of seven years. For implementing the assignments, the National Agency for Education was assigned approximately SEK 145 million, of which approximately SEK 130 million has been used.

Statskontoret's evaluation primarily covers three types of efforts which are prominent within the framework of the initiatives we should evaluate: in-service training, local development projects and research-led supervision.

Have the initiatives promoted gender equality in the education system?

Our evaluation shows that the Government's initiatives contribute to creating the prerequisites for attaining the Government's goal of gender equality within the sphere of education. However, we assess that this contribution became less than what the Government intended.

In order to be able to assess the effects of the initiatives, we have focused on the three steps which are necessary for attaining the intended effects:

  • The efforts reach out to the intended target groups.
  • The efforts provide greater knowledge of gender equality and how you can work to promote gender equality.
  • The acquired knowledge is used and disseminated further.

If any of these steps are inadequate, we have reason to believe that the initiatives are not fully resulting in the intended effects.

In the first instance the efforts reach those who are already convinced

When it comes to reaching out to the intended target groups, we believe that the outcome is satisfactory. To a large extent, the efforts of the National Agency for Education have focused on developing knowledge of teachers and heads of operations. In this way the efforts have succeeded in reaching out to the intended target groups. However, those who have been reached are primarily persons who are already convinced that gender equality issues are important, have good knowledge of the area and already work actively with the issues. This means that the efforts have reached less committed and less knowledgeable persons to a lower degree. However, as the efforts have been voluntary, it is difficult to see that the National Agency for Education could have impacted this to any greater extent.

The National Agency for Education's efforts have contributed to greater knowledge…

The efforts have provided greater knowledge on gender equality and gender equality work, at least to the participants who were not already very familiar with the issues. Therefore, we assess that the outcome is satisfactory even in this respect.

…but the dissemination and use are limited

It is more doubtful whether the National Agency for Education's efforts have resulted in the knowledge being used and disseminated to any large degree. We see relatively weak results for all the efforts here. However, a comparison between the efforts shows that the development projects to a slightly greater extent result in that the knowledge will be used and that guidance efforts to a slightly higher degree result in the knowledge being disseminated.

It is important to have reasonable expectations

For assessing the results of the efforts, it is important to see the efforts in their context and have reasonable expectations on the outcome of individual initiatives. Many factors affect the outcome. It is therefore important to be attentive to which factors can both stimulate and prevent the work.

Municipalities and independent responsible authorities are liable for education, within the frameworks specified by the Swedish Parliament and the Government. This division of responsibilities entails that the State probably has limited opportunities to improve the gender equality work of individual municipalities, schools or persons through compulsory measures. Therefore, the State needs to find ways to identify the pre-schools and schools with the greatest need for gender equality promotion measures, and also to give them incentives to participate in the efforts.

The National Agency for Education's implementation has been satisfactory

Our view is that the National Agency for Education's work with the five gender equality promotion assignments has been characterised by a competent and serious approach. The agency has conducted extensive activities which have mainly been relatively well-received by participants from the education system. At the same time, there have been certain deficiencies in the National Agency for Education's implementation of the assignments.¬ Their monitoring of the efforts has primarily been inadequate.

All in all, we are of the opinion that the National Agency for Education has implemented its assignments in a satisfactory manner. However, despite this our overall assessment is that the Government's initiatives to promote gender equality in the education system do not fully result in the intended effects. We assess that this is more the result of the prerequisites which applied for the Government's initiatives and the National Agency for Education's assignment, rather than deficiencies in how the National Agency for Education has implemented the assignments.

Keys for efficient efforts

Both our empirical studies and research within the area show that certain factors are important for creating efficient efforts for gender equality. Several of these factors are such that you may generally need to take into account in order to have an impact for political initiatives.

Generate attention and reach out

Special initiatives have a signal value which subsides with time

The Government's special initiatives for gender equality in the education system have had a signal value as they have shown that the Government views the issue as being important. The initiatives have also clarified that the education system has a gender equality assignment. However, the signal value is temporary and probably diminishes over time, even if new similar initiatives are conducted. The signal value is also affected by how many other initiatives are conducted in parallel. In this case, the initiatives have competed for attention with many other special initiatives within the education system.

Voluntariness restricts the reach

The National Agency for Education has a promotion assignment within the education system, while municipalities and independent responsible authorities have the main responsibility for the activities. In its promotion activities, which we have studied, in general the National Agency for Education works with voluntary participation. Our evaluation shows that voluntariness has restricted the reach of the initiatives. In the first instance, this is mainly because those who are already committed and knowledgeable have participated.

If the efforts are to reach further than these persons, the Government probably needs to consider other methods of control than voluntary promotion initiatives. Examples of such methods can be found within other policy areas where the State wishes to influence activities which municipalities are responsible for. For example, we see that the State and the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions, SALAR, in certain cases conclude so-called 'national agreements' to attain goals which they have agreed on together.

Create a long-term approach in the work

Should be possible to combine permanent assignments and special initiatives

Both the actors of the education system and the National Agency for Education have permanent assignments within the area of gender equality. At the same time there is a significant signal value in being able to conduct special initiatives and being able to highlight issues which are particularly politically prioritised. In order to create a long-term approach in the work, it should be possible for all relevant actors to combine these two assignment forms in a constructive manner.

The Government should consider how many special assignments should be given over a certain period, so that the permanent assignments are not outcompeted and so that the signal value of special initiatives is not lost. If the Government believes that continuous promotion of gender equality in the education system should be a part of the National Agency for Education's tasks, then according to our opinion there are reasons to consider writing this task more clearly in the agency's instructions.

Our study shows that the National Agency for Education has had organisational problems with handling the initiatives which we have evaluated, as they have had many other assignments to handle simultaneously. Statskontoret assesses that this type of problem may arise if an agency is given an unexpectedly large number of special assignments over a period.

At the same time we assess that an agency should be able to cope with receiving a large number of special assignments if that is the preferred governance of the Government and if they receive the assignments with a certain level of long-term planning. Both the Government and agency can work to create as good a dialogue as possible on future assignments, so that the agency is aware of the assignments in a timely manner and can thereby prepare.

The large number of initiatives also affects the actors of the education system. The gender equality promotion efforts have competed for time and attention with many other initiatives. They have also been voluntary. This may have contributed to the National Agency for Education finding it difficult to fill places for some of the efforts.

Target the ordinary processes of activities, not the real enthusiasts

Research shows that successful gender equality work is generated through knowledge, commitment and responsibility which is shared by many persons in the activities. The work needs to be conducted continuously and in an integrated manner within the framework of the ordinary processes of the activities. The presence of real enthusiasts can certainly attract attention to the issue, but is not enough to create a long-term approach in the work.

The efforts which we have evaluated have mainly focused on individual knowledge development. This primarily applies to in-service training, while research-led supervision and development projects have been closer to the ordinary processes of the education system. Large focus on individual knowledge development risks being less efficient in the long-term than efforts which focus directly on the ordinary processes of the education system. The survey which we conducted also shows that on average research-led supervision and development projects are perceived as more efficient by the participants.