The national examinations have now been conducted in Estonian schools for about ten years. The examination results are publicly available for each school and sometimes these stimulate discussion about whether the schools that have pupils with higher results in the national examinations are more successful. There is no consensus about this matter, but as there is little or no evidence or statistics about other fields of school success, some pupils and teachers tend to choose schools where pupils get higher examination results. These schools are also very beneficial for pupils who want to study at university because national examination results are an important criterion for entrance into universities in Estonia.
As the school administration1 is responsible for the school's performance, in various respects it seems reasonable to find out how the national examination results relate to the school administration's understanding of that performance. It is important to find out what areas of school management may contribute to the pupils' academic achievement and how important the school administration actually believes them to be.
The aim of this article is to explore how attitudes of school administration towards school performance criteria are related to pupils' national examination results. The results of the study will provide the school administration with information about areas of school management that need special attention and so may lead to higher examination results and pupil competency in Estonian schools.
In the following review, we will discuss how school administration attitudes, and according to that the chosen leadership practices, may influence academic performance among pupils. In the empirical part we will introduce an instrument that allows us to measure attitudes about school performance criteria in a reliable way and explore the relations between the attitudes of the school administration and national examination results. The final part discusses the results of the study and offers proposals for school management.
2. The influence the school administration has on academic performance
2.1. School leadership
School leadership has its unique characteristics. Childress et al. (2006) suggest that school leaders should not apply the same methods as business managers because schools have to serve all customers (pupils) regardless of their interest in academic achievement. Therefore, there is a need to adapt both business and nonprofit sector strategies and create a unique approach to leadership in the school context. The Harvard Business School and Harvard Graduate School of Education launched the Public Education Leadership Project (PELP) in 2003. The PELP team worked to identify effective leadership and management practices for urban public schools in the US, and PELP partnered schools gained noticeable advantages by applying the gained knowledge.
Cranston (2002) brings out some changes in the roles and skills of school principals, claiming that the leadership through visionary, attitudinal and cultural change has become more important in recent decades. Due to the increasing diversity and complexity of their work, principals need more interpersonal skills for communication, collaboration, negotiation and conflict management. As in the business world, school principals also handled more administrative and management tasks before, but now there is a greater need to focus on the implementation of leadership qualities (Neil et al. 2001). Good leaders do not simply administer organizational structures and tasks, but first of all concentrate on the people carrying out these functions (Huber 2004).
The role of school leadership in terms of school effectiveness (often defined via pupils' academic performance) is widely discussed in academic literature (e.g. Leithwood 2005, Gurr et al. 2005, Huber 2004, Gibbs and Slate 2003, Neil et al. …