Hungarian Conservative

‘We Count on Parents and Teachers as Partners in Education’ — An Interview with President of the Klebelsberg Centre Gabriella Hajnal

Tamás Gyurkovits/Hungarian Conservative
Instead of labelling it as a ‘Revenge Act,’ Klebelsberg President Gabriella Hajnal suggests it be called the ‘Career Path Act’ since it emphasises the importance of teachers and grants them a unique legal status. An interview about the National Core Curriculum, the burdens of teachers and the negative stereotypes around the new reform.

Gabriella Hajnal is a secondary school mathematics and physics teacher by profession. She taught in primary and secondary schools for over thirty years. She served as the head of the Tamási Áron Primary and Dual Language Secondary School from 2000 to 2017. She became Vice President of the Klebelsberg Centre in 2017 and served in that role until August 2018, when she was appointed President. She is the mother of two children.

The Klebelsberg Centre, originally Klebelsberg Institution Maintenance Centre (KLIK) was established in 2013 by the Orbán government with the aim of replacing uncertain local government funding to guarantee the stable operation of schools, orderly conditions for teaching and training, and the uninterrupted teaching of students. The centre essentially exercises financial and regulatory oversight of public schools.


The teaching profession is currently undergoing significant changes. Over the past few months, there has been a public debate about the so-called ‘Revenge Act’ governing the status of teachers, which was officially passed by parliament at the beginning of July. This particular label has been strategically employed by the opposition media to politicise the legislation. However, should one challenge this labelling, what alternative label would you assign to this law?

It is an enigma for me what critics mean when they label this law as a ‘revenge act’ or the like. The reality is that we have always said that there is a problem with teacher salaries, and that they should be raised. Such a raise would serve a dual purpose: fortifying the overall well-being of teachers and reinstating the prestige associated with the teaching profession. In my belief, the new law effectively addresses these concerns. It could aptly be referred to as the ‘Career Path Act’ for teachers, as it genuinely emphasises the importance of teachers. Under this legislation, colleagues are granted an independent legal status similar to that of doctors. So we definitely cannot describe it as revenge.

During the legislative process, how did the social consultation evolve, and what are your impressions of it?

To the best of my knowledge, the State Secretariat has been engaged in an extensive and quite lengthy consultation process involving various actors in this profession. Notably, there have been regular consultations with key stakeholders, including the Teachers’ Union (Pedagógusok Szakszervezete), the National Board of Teachers (Nemzeti Pedagógus Kar), experts from established churches of Hungary, and other professional bodies, to address the concerns surrounding the law. Based on my personal participation in some of these coordination meetings, I can affirm that the discussions were conducted in a thoroughly professional manner. However, one notable issue, as you alluded to in your previous question, stems from the fact that

many didn’t even take the time to read the full text of the draft law.

Instead, they formed their opinions based on what they heard or read about it in the opposition media. Even more concerning is that the recently adopted law received even less attention from the public than the previous draft. Personally, I strongly believe in the value of specificity when it comes to criticism. Constructive feedback should be grounded in concrete and real facts to enable thoughtful consideration of potential changes. Unfortunately, such well-founded criticism is not often heard. It is important to also acknowledge that significant changes have been made to the original concept, partly as a result of social and professional consultations.

Could you highlight some of the significant changes that were made to the draft law?

For one, we now have a legal status that applies to the entire teaching society, also including employees of both churches and private institutions. This has numerous advantages, especially for the latter groups,

as their employment status was previously governed by the Labour Code.

For example, the jubilee bonus will now be granted as a sort of public education employment bonus to anyone who has accrued the necessary period of professional practice in the public education sector, while also accounting for their previous period as a public servant. Likewise, the duration of the notice period has been extended. Additionally, the amount of available paid leave has been increased from 46 to 50 days, benefitting all teachers. All the rules that were supposed to grant teachers additional rights compared to the Labour Code have been preserved in the final draft of the law. Furthermore, there are new provisions in place that offer additional benefits for colleagues in the teaching profession.

Tamás Gyurkovits/Hungarian Conservative

Speaking of time, could you please elaborate on why working hours have become a topic of controversy?

The issue of working hours has indeed sparked division among teachers and within society as a whole, a sentiment that was evident during the public consultation process. Media reports portrayed alarming figures about the number of hours teachers would be required to be available and present at their workplaces. However, in reality, teachers do not necessarily spend more time at the workplace than representatives of other professions. During the consultations, the teachers’ unions advocated for a fixed and mandatory number of teaching hours, rather than a range between 22 to 26 hours [which was the regulation in place at the time]. They argued that it was unfair for one colleague to receive their full salary for 22 hours worked while another receiving the same for 26 hours. Their preference was for 22 hours, but ultimately, a compromise was reached in the law, setting the mandatory number of hours at 24. From my perspective, this decision strikes a reasonable balance.

This is more hours than what the unions were asking for…

Yes, but we have to start somewhere. I’ve been a staunch advocate of implementing a fixed number of teaching hours. This stems from my 17-year-long personal experience as the head of an institution. During those years I encountered the challenge of managing teachers with varying weekly teaching hours—some would teach 22 hours while others 26. I am convinced that the fixed number of hours is a serious step forward.

Can it be further reduced?

Of course, there could be fewer mandatory teaching hours; that’s what the unions want. But I hold the view that 24 hours is a reasonable and acceptable number given the current circumstances. In fact, the unions themselves often emphasised that the average number of hours taught by teachers is ‘sky-high’, hovering around 26 to 27 hours per week. On the other hand, based on our fact-based data, the average for this school year was around 25 hours. This change is bound to reduce the overall workload for teachers, and those whose hours exceed this threshold will receive a higher salary accordingly.

Speaking of the burdens of the teachers, let us talk about another divisive topic, the teacher evaluation system. What is your position on this?

Indeed, there are objections from some regarding the teacher evaluation system. The primary purpose of teacher evaluation is to ensure that performance is reflected in the salaries,

that is to financially rewarding quality and efficient work.

Personally, I find it challenging to comprehend the protests. Not only teachers but also many headteachers would like to have the ability to differentiate among their staff, recognising that not everyone operates at the same level within the faculty. Just like in other workplaces, there are individuals who take on more responsibilities and act as the driving force in the staff, while others may only focus on fulfilling the mandatory minimum. It seems only fair that differences in the quality of work should be acknowledged with corresponding differences in salaries.

Does the current legislation deal with this issue? If so, how?

Yes. The system under discussion is continually evolving, encompassing both objective and predetermined aspects while also incorporating the insights and experiences of institutional managers into the evaluation process. We make every effort to include as many objective elements as possible within this system. The latter may involve evaluating how effectively teachers communicate with parents, the level of preparation they invest in their lessons, the quality of their interactions with students, and their ability to facilitate improvements in the students’ performance. Additionally, the system takes into account how accurately and up-to-date teachers maintain the data in the KRÉTA system (Editorial note: KRÉTA is a Hungarian-developed digital system used in most schools in Hungary to document children’s performance and attendance, and to facilitate communication with parents).

What are the major challenges that need to be addressed even after the new law comes into force?

One of the major challenges we face is

the uneven distribution of teachers across different areas and regions of the country.

This issue cannot be ignored or overlooked. Looking ahead, a crucial task will be to find effective ways of inspiring and guiding young individuals towards pursuing a career as teachers and, ultimately, retaining them in this marvellous profession. Fortunately, there are plans in place to address this concern and encourage more young people to choose teaching as a career path. I would like to highlight that the government has taken significant steps to support aspiring teachers by making the second degree of the short-cycle teacher training programme free, regardless of the number of semesters activated. Another challenge lies in the interpretation of the National Core Curriculum (‘Nemzeti Alaptanterv’, NAT) and other content regulations, and the related developments. Similar to the discussions surrounding the ‘Career Path Act’, I have observed few critics who have voiced their opinions in the media or on other public platforms have actually read the NAT. Yet, many seem to believe that they understand it without thoroughly examining its contents. This attitude can be likened to what we, Hungarians can all observe when discussing football: everyone feels they are an expert, even without deep knowledge of the game.

Tamás Gyurkovits/Hungarian Conservative

Could you dispel some stereotypes?

One common misconception is that the curriculum has become more extensive. However, this notion can be completely refuted, particularly in the field of natural sciences, although it applies more broadly as well. A major expectation towards education in schools is that it is designed to align with the requirements of the modern age. The NAT is based on the fundamental principle of supporting and enhancing experience-based or experiential learning. It places emphasis on project-based education, collaboration, and fostering both individual and group development. Contrary to the stereotype, the NAT is not centred around frontal education with rigid, prescriptive regulations.

How much do you believe teachers are commanded by the NAT? I’m thinking of pedagogical freedom in this context.

When reading the NAT, it becomes evident that

it guarantees full pedagogical freedom to teachers.

The NAT is not a prescriptive curriculum; instead, it outlines the developmental directions and educational objectives while providing the basic content frameworks that ensure a consistent educational outcome. In essence, the NAT should not be perceived as a ‘command’ but rather as an interpretative framework. Moreover, it’s important to acknowledge that when it comes to the actual subjects, the framework curricula, which are also part of the NAT, offer recommendations for each part of the curriculum within two-year intervals. It’s worth emphasising the word ‘recommendations’ here, which means that teachers have the freedom to decide when and what to focus on. Furthermore, the NAT includes only recommendations as to what the number of lessons taught should be, which was not previously part of the framework curricula. These methodological aids offer alternative approaches to fostering student development, moving away from traditional frontal teaching methods.

And how would you attract young people, how would you motivate them to pursue a career in teaching?

The most prominent aspect of the reform is the focus on raising wages and providing greater support to young individuals. The new law outlines a clear career path that showcases the benefits available, and I trust that we will secure the necessary resources for both these measures and further wage increases in the future. I would like to highlight the Klebelsberg Training Scholarship Programme to all current or future student teachers as well. This programme offers an additional monthly scholarship of 25.000–75.000 HUF to those participating in teacher training and meeting the specified criteria. It is also worth noting that those who mentor students are entitled to teaching fewer hours as a compensation. But let me emphasise one thing: in this profession, it is hard to achieve anything without dedication. Teaching is not a job one takes up for the money that is in it; it requires a genuine passion for working with children and a love for daily interactions in the classroom. Financial incentives alone will not suffice;

a deep affection for the profession and a genuine desire to make a positive impact on young lives

is equally if not more important for ensuring effectiveness and preventing burnout.

One of my colleagues, our copy editor has a teaching background, and we would like to share her comment with you. The way she sees it, streamlining the curriculum and teaching certain subjects (such as physical education, form teacher’s class, drawing, and visual culture) in blocks could result in a reduction of classroom hours per week for both teachers and students. This, in turn, would allow for more time to be allocated to meaningful non-classroom activities, school events, or extracurricular activities for students. What are your thoughts on her proposal?

I agree with her. Currently, however, the system is not fully prepared to implement her suggestions. And this applies to both parents and teachers. It is challenging for the profession to reach a consensus on what should be included in the curriculum. When considering curriculum reduction, we encountered repeated instances where colleagues and experts were hesitant about reducing the number of hours or topics covered within their respective subjects, even though there was an overall agreement on the need for streamlining. There seems to be some contradiction in this regard…

Tamás Gyurkovits/Hungarian Conservative

What is the solution?

The key aspect here is to explore how subject groups can be effectively taught together. It is crucial to move away from rigidly applying the subject structure and instead identify the connections between different scientific fields. The primary focus should be on fostering students’ comprehensive skills while building upon fundamental knowledge. One potential solution to achieve this objective is through the implementation of an integrated science subject in the seventh and eighth grades. We have also conducted measurements to determine the number of schools currently adopting this integrated approach. What do you think, how many are there?

I’d rather not guess.

Only a couple. The majority insist on keeping the long-established subject structure that has been in place for decades. Despite removing certain material parts from mathematics, some teachers continue to teach the subject in the same manner as they did five, 10, or even 15 years ago.

A shift in attitude is necessary to embrace change.

There is a growing concern about the heavy workload placed on students, and I find this valid. While I can envision a further reduction in the number of taught hours, it requires not only educational management’s efforts but also the cooperation and understanding of parents and teachers. It is essential for parents to realise that if they advocate for numerous special courses, extra hours, and additional activities beyond the mandatory lessons, it may lead to overburdening students, potentially causing other problems to arise.

You mentioned the notion of ‘parental pressure.’ Is there a specific approach for incorporating parental perspectives into education? If so, how can parents contribute to supporting teachers’ work, and conversely, how can teachers collaborate effectively with parents?

There are multiple channels for this. Parents can offer support to the school at the local level by actively engaging in the parents’ work community, where they can share their suggestions and concerns. Additionally, school district councils, as advisory and consultative bodies provide a platform for representing parents’ interests at a broader level and dealing with strategic matters. However, the most effective approach lies in cultivating a partnership atmosphere within the school, where both parents and teachers collaborate and support each other’s efforts for the benefit of the child.

Instead of labelling it as a ‘Revenge Act,’ Klebelsberg President Gabriella Hajnal suggests it be called the ‘Career Path Act’ since it emphasises the importance of teachers and grants them a unique legal status. An interview about the National Core Curriculum, the burdens of teachers and the negative stereotypes around the new reform.