Statskontoret (The Swedish Agency for Public Management) has been commissioned by the government to conduct an agency analysis of the Swedish National Agency for Education (Skolverket). We have carried out a general analysis of the conditions, operations and results of the National Agency for Education. In addition, we have put forward a number of proposals to the government and to the National Agency for Education.
The National Agency for Education needs a fresh start
Municipalities and independent schools are responsible for the education being carried out in the Swedish education system. The government’s ability to directly influence the development of schools is limited, and the National Agency for Education is an important agency for the government's schools policy.
However, Statskontoret has found shortcomings in both the government's management of the National Agency for Education and the agency's management and monitoring of its operations. This impairs the agency’s chances of achieving good results and using its resources in the best possible way. Statskontoret therefore considers that the National Agency for Education needs a fresh start. The government needs to change its governance, and the National Agency for Education needs to develop its organisation, management and monitoring.
Micromanagement creates an inefficient agency
The government has managed the National Agency for Education through a large number of commissions, often very detailed. The large number of government commissions disrupts ongoing operations at the National Agency for Education, such as monitoring the development of the education system. The government's micromanagement also results in the agency’s initiatives being less effective, and the government's school policy thus becomes less effective.
The government has also largely controlled the National Agency for Education's funding by earmarking funds for specific government commissions. This locks funds and is an obstacle to the National Agency for Education using the funds efficiently. The agency's administrative appropriation only covers about one-third of its operating costs, which has implications for the agency's skills provision.
The micromanagement of the National Agency for Education has led to the government's expectations of what the agency should do and achieve becoming unclear. Through its micromanagement, the government has in effect taken over the main responsibility for the planning and coordination of operations at the National Agency for Education. This makes it harder for the government to hold the National Agency for Education accountable, if the agency does not achieve good results.
Development of operations is neglected
The National Agency for Education has grown considerably in recent years and its commission has changed as school policy has changed over time. The agency must therefore be flexible and continuously develop its operations. The National Agency for Education has not given adequate priority to its own development of operations and has only slowly adapted to its changing commission. The organisation no longer fulfils its operational needs. Functions such as finance, procurement, IT and performance monitoring have not developed in step with the expansion of the agency. The National Agency for Education has an accumulated need of developing its operations in order to carry out its commission in the best way.
The agency needs to develop governance and organisation
The National Agency for Education has evolved into a mainly assignment based organisation that carries out its operations in project form. At the same time, the agency is a line organisation in which projects are mainly staffed and operated within the units. This impairs the use of the agency's overall expertise in the best way and hampers its coordination of the many and often similar government commissions. The management, however, controls the agency mainly through a large number of projects and other tasks. For these reasons, the management has difficulties in controlling and monitoring operations.
The National Agency for Education's governance of its IT operations has long been problematic which hampers its ability to run operations efficiently. For example, the agency lacks sufficient IT systems to handle government grants and statistics. The agency’s long processing times for certification of teachers are also partly due to the difficulty of developing IT systems for such processing.
The agency needs to improve its reporting of results
Performance reporting by the National Agency for Education is fragmented and the agency rarely reports on the effects of its operations. That is partly because the government’s large number of requirements which determines the agency's reporting. The agency's monitoring and evaluation of operations do not give the government sufficient information to assess whether the agency achieves good results. This makes the government’s strategic management of the agency more difficult.
The form of management could be developed
The National Agency for Education is a director-general governed agency. According to the government's criteria it would however be better suited as an agency governed by a board. Statskontoret also considers that a board would be a support for the Director-General, both in the internal process of change and in the dialogue with the Government Offices.
The National Agency for Education has a Deputy Director-General appointed by the government. Such a Deputy Director-General has a difficult role in the chain of command, and only a few agencies have a Deputy Director-General. Statskontoret sees no special reasons for the government to continue to appoint a Deputy Director- General for the National Agency for Education.
Statskontoret proposes that the government
- clarifies and specifies what is expected of the National Agency for Education,
- reviews the National Agency for Education's ordinance with instructions and appropriations directions,
- clearly prioritises what commissions are given and how detailed these are,
- reviews the funding of the National Agency for Education and
- considers revising the form of management.
Statskontoret proposes that the National Agency for Education
- finds methods for continuous operational development,
- implements its organisational review,
- improves its performance monitoring and
- improves its annual report.