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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Administration and governance at local and/or institutional level


2.Organisation and governance

2.7Administration and governance at local and/or institutional level

Last update: 27 November 2023

Administration and Governance at Local and/or Institutional Level

In Iceland there is a two-tiered system, central government and municipalities. There is no administration of schools in Iceland at regional level. ‘Local level’ refers here to municipalities. 

In 2012 there were 75 municipalities in Iceland, ranging in size from towns to villages and rural area units. Municipalities are responsible for the operation of schools at pre-primary and compulsory level. Apart from being represented in the school boards of upper secondary schools, municipalities have no administrative responsibilities at the upper secondary level. They have no administrative responsibilities at the higher education level nor concerning adult education. A few of the larger municipalities, however, operate schools for adults. 


Local authorities are responsible for pre-primary school operations. Local authorities shall take the initiative of ensuring places for children in pre-primary school and are responsible for the general organisation of school operations of the municipality’s pre-primary schools, the development of individual pre-primary schools, housing and facilities, special solutions on offer in pre-primary schools, specialist services, in-service training of teachers, evaluation and monitoring, information collection and distribution and the implementation of pre-primary school activities in the municipality. Local authorities formulate a general policy for pre-primary school operations in the municipality and present it to its inhabitants. A pre-primary board, elected by the local authorities, is in charge of pre-primary school affairs on behalf of the local authorities. Pre-primary school head teachers, pre-primary school personnel and parents of the municipality elect each one representative and one alternate to represent them at board meetings, with the right to address the meetings and propose motions. 

Pre-primary education is controlled by the pre-primary board which supervises pre-primary education in the municipality concerned. The pre-primary board is comprised of representatives appointed by the political parties or organisations that have been elected to the local government. In addition, teachers’ and parents’ representatives are entitled to attend the pre-primary board meetings, with the right to address the meetings and make proposals. In municipalities where the same body is responsible for both pre-primary and compulsory education, a school board is appointed which supervises educational affairs at both school levels. 

Pre-primary head teachers are required to hold regular meetings with the staff concerning the functioning of the school and the welfare of each child attending them. 

Pre-primary head teachers are obliged to promote collaboration between the parents of the children attending the schools and the staff of the schools. Parents in all pre-primary schools elect representatives to a parent council. At least three parents sit on the parent councils. Elections for the parent council are to be held every September for a one-year term. The parent council defines its own rules. The pre-primary school head teacher can apply to the municipality for exemption from the obligation to set up a parent council if there are valid reasons for the exemption, such as a small number of pre-primary school children. The role of the parent councils is to comment on the curriculum guide and other plans for the school operations. They are also to follow closely the implementation of the school curriculum guide and other plans within the school, and its presentation to parents. The parent council has the right to be consulted regarding all major changes in pre-primary school activities. 

The pre-primary school board, or the school board where applicable, is in charge of the affairs of pre-primary schools in a local municipality, and parents’ representatives have the right to attend the board’s meetings, address them and make proposals

Compulsory Level 

All operation of compulsory schools is at the responsibility and expense of the local authorities. Local authorities are responsible for general organisation of school operations of compulsory schools in their respective municipalities, development of individual schools, housing and facilities special solutions on offer, specialist services, evaluation and monitoring, information gathering and distribution and for implementation of school activities in the municipality. They are also responsible for the in-service training of teachers. Local authorities formulate a general policy for school operations and present it to its inhabitants. Local authorities are to establish cooperation between pre-primary school and compulsory school on the one hand, and between compulsory school and upper secondary school on the other. 

It is the responsibility of the local authorities to ensure that children at compulsory school age who are legal residents of the municipality and children who have been placed in foster care with foster parents residing in the municipality, attend compulsory school.  A regulation was released in 2011 concerning compulsory schooling of foster children with the main goal to secure appropriate education for those children that often live temporarily in foster homes in other municipalities, and their schooling was often disrupted during foster care. This is a great improvement, organised in cooperation with other ministries and various stakeholders.

Within each municipality, matters concerning compulsory schools come under the authority of the school board, which is in charge of educational affairs in the municipality in question. The school board is elected by the relevant local authority at the beginning of each elective term. The Local Government Act and agreements made with the municipality in question apply to school board elections and operations. School board alternates are to be of the same number as principal board members and be elected in the same way.  Head teachers, compulsory school teachers and parents in the municipality vote for their School Board representative and alternate to sit in School Board meetings with the right to speak and propose a motion.

All compulsory schools are required to operate a school council, which is a forum for cooperation between the head teacher and the school community regarding school operations and activities. The school council participates in policy making for the school and in devising and developing the school culture. The school board, given the consent of the local government, can assign certain additional projects to the school council of individual schools. 

The head teachers of a compulsory school are to hold meetings of the teaching staff as often as necessary. Teachers and other specialised school personnel are required to attend meetings of the teaching staff. Consultation between heads of age cohorts and heads of subjects in compulsory schools takes place during regular meetings. 

Under the Compulsory School Act from 2008, a pupils’ associations are to operate in all compulsory schools. The head teachers are responsible for their foundation. The pupils’ associations functions include addressing pupils’ interests and social and welfare issues, and the head teacher are to ensure that they are provided with all necessary assistance. 

The pupils’ association in each school is to set its own rules, e.g. regarding elections to its board and the election of its representative to the School Council. At least twice each year, the head teacher of a compulsory school is requred to hold a joint meeting of the teachers’ council, parents’ council and pupils’ council to provide them with information on school activities and discuss matters of concern to these bodies. 

Under the legislation concerning on compulsory education, all compulsory schools are to have a parents’ council. The head teacher is responsible for its foundation and for ensuring that it is provided with all necessary assistance. The role of the parents’ council is to support school activities, ensure pupils’ welfare and promote relations between school and home. The parent council of each compulsory school shall set its own rules, e.g. regarding elections for its board and election of representatives to the School Council.

According to the Compulsory and the Pre-primary School Acts of 2008 municipalities may cooperate in operating a compulsory school, pre-primary school and music school managed by one head teacher, given the consent of the relevant School Boards. The director of such an institution is to be certified to work as teacher at pre-primary or compulsory school level. Local authorities may decide that a parent council and a school council operate jointly as one council. The cooperative school is to be operated in all other respects according to legislation for the relevant school levels.

Upper Secondary Education Level 

Under the Upper Secondary School Act from 2008, the daily administration of upper secondary schools is managed  by the head teachers,  who ensure that school operations comply with acts, regulations, national curriculum guidelines and other existing statutes at any given time. He or she is also responsible for adhering to the budgetary plans of the school. The head teacher serves as director of the school board, and hires administrative staff, teachers and other school personnel in consultation with the school board. The head teacher is responsible for devising a financial plan and ensuring that the school budget is followed, he or she shall take initiative in formulating the school curriculum guide and organise developmental work within the school.

In every upper secondary school there is a school board with five members: three representatives nominated by the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture and two representatives nominated by the municipality. There are three non-voting observers, with a right to address meetings and propose motions, one nominated by the teachers’ assembly, one by the pupils’ association and one by the parents’ council. The head teacher attends school board meetings as a non-voting observer with the right to speak and propose a motion. The school council provides consultation and assistance to the head teacher. The head teacher serves as chairman of the school council, which, in addition to the head teacher, consists of the head teacher’s assistant and representatives of teachers and pupils. 

Upper secondary schools are required to organise a school assembly at least once every school year. All school personnel and pupils’ representatives, according to further decision by the head teacher, have a right to sit in the school assembly. The school assembly discusses school matters. 

The head teacher is obliged to summon a school assembly if one third of permanent staff so requests. Upper secondary schools must organise a teachers’ assembly at least twice every school year. The head teacher summons the assembly, proposes a schedule and chairs the assembly, or delegates the chair. Minutes of teachers’ assemblies are to be presented to the school board. Teachers’ assembly in upper secondary schools is to cover policy making for school activities, such as organisation of study, methods of instruction, the structure of the school curriculum guide and the structure of examinations and study assessments.

The school board, the head teacher and the school council can appeal to the teachers’ assembly regarding other matters.

At the beginning of each autumn semester, the teachers’ assembly is to elect representatives to the school council. The teacher assembly  also elects a non-voting observer to the school board. 

All upper secondary schools are to operate a pupils’ association. The pupils’ association manages pupils’ social activities, their welfare and general interests. It sets its own rules regarding composition, role and working methods. Each upper secondary school is responsible for the operation of its pupils’ association.

Occupational councils for occupational groups or individual occupations are appointed for four years at a time by the Minister of Education, Science and Culture. Each Occupational Council is comprised of five to nine representatives, of which two to four are nominated by federations of employers, two to four by federations of employees from the relevant occupations and one representative jointly nominated by the Association of Icelandic Upper Secondary Schools and the Icelandic Teachers’ Union. 

The Occupational Councils advise the Minister regarding vocational education at upper secondary school level in their respective occupations. Their roles include proposing general study objectives and defining the needs for knowledge and skills for the respective occupations as part of the national curriculum guidelines, and making proposals on learning outcomes. The councils shall also devise criteria for the division of study between school-based and workplace learning and make proposals regarding structure and content of examinations for individual occupations. 

Occupational councils can establish professional councils for each occupation or occupational groups with representatives from individual occupations and vocational teachers and/or other specialists. The professional councils provide advice on innovation and development within the relevant occupational fields and proposals on particular pilot projects and development projects. 

The chairs of the occupational councils constitute a special occupational committee which role is to advise the Minister of Education, Science and Culture regarding policy making and the implementation of vocational education, to serve as platform for collaboration and coordination for the occupational councils, and to comment on the categorisation and division of occupations between occupational councils. 

A parents’ council is to be operated in each upper secondary school. The head teacher calls its inaugural meeting. The role of the parents’ council is to support school activities, tend to pupils’ interests and collaborate with the school in strengthening cooperation between the staff and the parents or legal guardians of underage pupils in the school. Members shall be parents of pupils in the upper secondary school. The parent council nominates one observer to sit on the school board. The parent council sets its own rules. 

Higher Education Level 

Under the Higher Education Institutions Act, the administration of public higher education institutions is in the hands of the Senate and the vice-chancellor (rector). Vice-chancellors are appointed by the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture on the recommendation of the Senate. There are no provisions in the framework laws that prescribe how higher educational institutions’ boards are composed. However, there are provisions on access for staff and students to institution meetings, which shall be held by all institutions at least once a year. The objective is to ensure that interested parties, teachers, students and other staff have a say in the institutions’ academic policy making. The Higher Education Institutions Act provides for the independence of institutions. The purpose of laying down this autonomy in law is to ensure that the government does not interfere with academic work within institutions and respects freedom of research and academic independence. It is, however, the institution’s duty to set conditions and be responsible for the activities that take place under their aegis. 

Faculties are autonomous in their internal affairs, within limits specified in the laws and regulations of each institution. The administration of faculties is in the hands of the deans, faculty meetings and faculty councils.  

No provisions are made in the Higher Education Institutions Act of 2006 on who is to be consulted at the level of higher education. It is however stated that parties concerned, such as students and staff, should be represented in the institution’s meeting. The Higher Education Institution Act is a  framework law that includes a provision to the effect that the public higher education institutions are governed in accordance to specific codes of each institution. 

The higher education institutions have relationships of various types with parties in society and the labour market. Some institutions regularly set up developmental committees with representatives from the public sector and industry. 

The private higher education institutions have representatives from the commercial sector on their boards. 

Through research institutions and liaison offices, higher education institutions also work to strengthen ties with external parties such as industry. Research liaison offices maintain a register of the fields of expertise of the higher education institutions’ staff and distribute information on the research activities of the institutions to Icelandic businesses and organisations. The offices also negotiate and draw up contracts between the higher education institution and businesses.