Tallinn won't start losing high school facilities to state high schools

Nõmme high school.
Nõmme high school. Source: tng.tln.edu.ee

While in other local governments the construction of a state high school means the closure of that part of the high school previously operated by the local government, then an exception applies in Tallinn. Both the Ministry of Education and Research and the Tallinn Board of Education confirm that the four planned state high schools will all come in addition to the existing city high schools, as the number of students will increase in the coming years.

With the new Basic Schools and High Schools Act adopted in 2010, the state assumed the obligation to maintain high schools. Since then, a network of state high schools has been established all over Estonia.

As state high schools are established via the funds of the European Regional Development Fund, and are large schools with hundreds of students, the state is able to offer a wide range of study programs to upper secondary school students. However, this also includes the requirement that the local government where the state school will be established will close its current high school part. This is exactly what is happening in autumn on Saaremaa, where instead of two high schools that were operating in the island's capital, Kuressaare, the state opened one consolidated one.

As of 2023, according to the school network program, there must be 24 state high schools in Estonia, at least one in each county. More are planned within larger local governments, such as Harju County and Tallinn.

According to the latest plan, four state high schools are slated for Tallinn: Pelgulinn, Tõnismäe, Mustamäe and also Lasnamäe. However, whereas the opening of a state high school includes an obligation for other local governments to close the municipal high school, an exception will be made for the capital and no one will be forced to close their doors.

"The logic of the school network program has been that if a state high school is established in the macro center, the local government will stop running the high school. The situation in Tallinn is a bit different because, in the near future, there will be no training places in the capital. Therefore, it has been decided that a state high school is an additional possibility in Tallinn," Undersecretary of the Ministry of Education Robert Lippin, said.

In the perspective of five to ten years, there will be about 4,000 high school places in Tallinn. There are almost as many high school places in public schools, in addition to more than 300 teacher places.

"The number of high school students will increase in the next five to seven years. There is no concern that some schools will have to close the high school section because state high schools will be established," Andres Pajula, the head of the Tallinn Board of Education, confirmed. "In parallel with the opening of the high school, we do not plan to close any high school classes for the time being."

Although the state has decided to keep high schools by law, Paljula confirmed that the city will not hand over the high schools parts of its schools to the state.

"The state is not able to accept them today. Many schools in Tallinn will definitely continue as full-cycle schools because the plan does not currently foresee building more than the already existing four high schools," Pajula said.

The issue of wages may become acute

Public high schools are able to pay good salaries to teachers because they make use of full-time teachers. If a local government does not have its own high school next to it, there will be no competition. In Tallinn, however, there is a danger of the state high schools' teachers getting bulk of the planned wage amount, while the municipal high schools will get the rest.

Andres Pajula conceded that the issue of money is acute, and not only in the context of state high schools and wages He considers that if the funding model has set a capitation of €1,069 per student, plus €57 for the purchase of teaching aids, the funding for the state upper secondary school should be on the same basis.

"Our interest, desire and will is to see how public high schools are financed. Teaching money, money for wages comes from the state budget to schools run by private, state and local governments. It is not just a question of creating competition in local governments, but also in private schools," Pajula said.

Robert Lippin said that the logic of teachers' wage levels in the state high school is the same as in the rest of the schools.

"But a state high school can offer teachers a full-time position because these are bigger schools. They will receive a full salary. When there are several schools with 15 students in a class, the local governments don't have the money to pay a competitive wage," Lippin.

Lippin said that it is still too early to say what teachers' income will be in Tallinn state high schools because the construction of school buildings has only just begun. He added that there are several good examples in Estonia where local governments pay state high school teachers a salary supplement, which enables them to increase the income of teachers. However, Tallinn may not follow this model.

Pajula said that while elsewhere the state high schools were looking for a principal in cooperation with the local government, Tallinn state schools were looking for leaders on their own.

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Editor: Roberta Vaino

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