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Secondary School Organisation and the Implementation of Restructuring and Reform

Graham B. Dellar ©
Faculty of Education
Curtin University

Paper prepared for presentation at the Annual Meeting of the
Australian Association for Research in Education Fremantle,
November 1993.
Background and Rationale

With the number of restructuring and reform endeavours presently
confronting education systems in North America the United
Kingdom, Australia and elsewhere it seems timely to examine the
area of educational change management. Understanding the
dynamics and complexities of implementing reform appears critical
to the success of restructuring and school improvement
endeavours. Since the 1980Õs literature on educational change
has recognised that process of implementing restructuring and
reform is subject to the influence of many factors over a long
period of time. This realisation led researchers to consider not
only the characteristics of the innovation itself but also the
organisational, and contextual explanations of the change
process. In particular researchers such as Huberman (1983) and
Fullan (1985) view implementation as context dependent. These
writers advocate focusing on the school context or ÒmicroÓ
implementation process to understand change. Here implementation
is viewed as influenced by the social or cultural characteristics
of the setting. From this perspective, change involved
alteration to the cultural context, to the beliefs and practices
of its members, and to relationships among people within the
organisation targeted for change. In short, change can be seen
as the creation of a new setting. The adoption of this
perspective suggests that those with the responsibility for
formulating the policies and implementing change at the school
level need to view change as context and setting dependent.
Thus, understanding the nature of the school is critical in
facilitating the type of transformation required for

restructuring and school improvement.

This paper revisits literature on the nature of school
organisations and presents a view of schools, particularly
secondary schools, as complex social systems; that is an
association of people bounded together in mutually interdependent
relationships. This perspective represents a clear shift from
the conception of schools as bureaucratic-rational structures.
Based on this view of schools, research was conducted into three
secondary schools in Western Australian that were about to
implement school-based decision-making and planning procedures as
part of restructuring and reform. It was hoped that this
research would not only provide insights into the dynamics of the
change process but also provided an opportunity to assess the
appropriateness viewing schools as open social systems. Hence
data were sought to assess not only the impact of school
organisational characteristics but also the impacts of these
characteristics on the implementation of school based

This paper is organised around four sections. The first section
presents a brief overview of literature on organisational theory
in order to develop a rationale for the conception of schools as
open social systems. The second section focuses on research
methods employed to assess the possible impact of sub-system
linkage and the ÒopenÓ nature of the social system on the
implementation of school based management. The third section
offers a brief cross-case analysis of the three secondary
schools. To account for implementation actions, specific
attention is given to nature of the school's sub-system linkage
and participants use of information. The fourth and final
section presents some concluding comments and implications for

Theoretical Perspectives: Re conceptualising the Nature of

Since the end of World War Two, organisational thought has
largely reflected work derived from the behavioural sciences.
The behavioural science approach focuses on work behaviour in
formal organisations. Based largely on work done by Weber (1947)
schools are seen as a formal structure designed to achieve
specific organisational goals. The behaviour of individuals in
the organisation is thus viewed as purposeful, disciplined, and
rational and may be explained in terms of reaction to forces
within the organisation. During the 1970's and 1980's this
rational perspective has remained the dominant model for policy
makers, organisational theorists, and educational administrators.

Viewing organisations as rational systems has led to a
concentration on the adoption of supervisory style by
administrators as the key to effective change. This in turn has
seen the development of rational management models such as
"management by objectives" [MBO], (Kenezevich, 1973) and
"performance evaluation and review techniques" to facilitate
rational decision-making, and enhance efficiency and
effectiveness of the organisation.

As the research on change began to accumulate, particularly
within educational organisations, it became apparent that many
schools did not function as rational systems. According to
Baldridge & Burnham (1975), research during the 1970's indicated
that a school's goals, structures, activities, and outcomes were
not tightly and logically connected with clear lines of
communication, and that people were not rational actors guided by
what is good for the collective welfare of the organisation. In

short, schools were not rational systems. This led to the
adoption of a "natural" social system orientation to the analysis
of organisational behaviour. This orientation suggests the
organisation is made up of a collection of groups that
collaborate to achieve system goals on some occasions, and on
other occasions cooperate to accomplish the goals of their own
groups. Such a notion of flexible cooperation between members of
the school organisation prompted researchers to examine the
internal dynamics of the sub systems of schools.

A closer focus on the nature of educational organisations
resulted in researchers such as March & Olsen (1976), and Weick
(1976) to describe such organisations as "loosely coupled
systems". By this they suggested that the organisation lacked
co-ordination within the various sub-systems that constituted the
organisation. This was especially so with respect to co-
ordination of the pedagogic sub-system, that is the sub-system
concerned with teaching and instructional activities. In
support, Deal and Celotti (1980) argued that due to such loose
coupling, the formal organisation and the administration of the
school do not significantly affect methods of classroom
instruction. That is, teachers in their classrooms function
largely independently from the administration of the school.

Although loose coupling theories are relatively new, more than
twenty years ago Bidwell (1965) analysed structural "looseness"
in school organisations. He noted that in order to deal with the
problem of variability in student abilities on a day-to-day
basis, teachers needed to have freedom to make professional

Teachers tend to resist official authority in the instructional
arena and to press for professional discretion. (Bidwell, 1965,
Similarly Mintzberg noted:

In the professionally bureaucratic setting relations between
teachers and administrators are ideally shaped by the notion of
professional expertness and excellence and are defined in terms
of structural looseness. (Mintzberg, 1979, p349)

This view of loose coupling between the administration and the
classroom is also supported by writers such as Clear (1970),
Schmuck & Miles (1971), and Dreeben (1973). Indeed, the
autonomy of teachers seems undeniable in schools given the
extensive research evidence that there is limited supervision of
a teacher's classroom activity (Lortie, 1975), and little teacher
accountability for their in-class activities (Cohen, Deal, Meyer,
& Scott, 1976).

The view of educational organisations being composed of loosely
linked parts has provided a focus for an increasing number of
researchers. Research conducted by Meyer & Rowan (1978), and
more recently by Firestone (1985), indicated that the view of
schools as loosely coupled systems is more realistic than the
traditional view of a rational-bureaucratic organisation.
However, while such looseness might well exist, the demand for
uniformity in product (student educational outcomes), and
comparability between schools requires a routinisation of some
school activities. Hoy and Miskel (1987) therefore view schools
as possessing two organisational domains. The first domain is a
bureaucratic one consisting of tightly linked institutional and
managerial functions. The second domain is a loosely linked
professional one concerned with the process of teaching and
learning. Deal & Celotti (1980) suggested that the lack of

linkage between these two domains might explain why the greatest
part of organisationally planned change targeted at teaching and
learning is seldom implemented, and the greatest part of change
in teaching and learning is not organisationally planned.

The view that schools are composed of distinct domains led
writers such as Hoy and Miskel (1987) to propose the existence
of at least three sub-systems within the school. These sub-
systems include a "technical" system concerned with teaching and
learning, a "managerial" system concerned with administration,
co-ordinating work, and an "institutional" system concerned with
connecting the school to its environment. According to Hoy and
Miskel, each sub-system exercises authority over its respective
decision-making arena.

In distinct yet related work Wilson and Dickson Corbett (1983)
focused on the relationships existing between sub-systems of
schools. Using the term "linkages" to refer to the degree to
which such parts of the organisation are able to function
independently, they identified three types of linkage:

1. Cultural linkages refer to the organisational mechanisms
that emphasise the creation or co-ordination of similar behaviour
patters through the development of shared definitions. The
establishment of agreed upon school goals promotes cultural

2. Structural linkages refer to the way by which a school
controls member's behaviour. There are two ways:
a) rules and their enforcement, the more rules are
enforced the greater the linkage;

b) limiting the discretion of members over the tasks they
perform. Less individual discretion increased linkage.

3. Interpersonal linkages refer to opportunities for staff to
interact about their work through discussion, and observation of
colleagues performances.

Importantly the focus on both cultural aspects and the structural
linkages does much to recognise and accommodate the competing
notions that schools be viewed as either structures or cultures.

Integrating the work of Hoy and Miskel with Wilson and Dickson
Corbett's notion of domains and linkage resulted in a view of
schools as an organised whole composed of sub-systems and
activities that interact with each other. As a multi-dimensional
social identity, the school also exists within change
environment.s These environments is defined as anything outside
the school that affects the knowledge and actions of members.
Since information and ideas flow between members of the school
and its environments, the boundary between the school and its
environments is not closed. However, in an attempt to maintain
internal stability, the interactions between sub-systems and
environments, control structures and procedures are established
to monitor these environments, control information flow and
promote common sense of purpose e.g. development planning; school
based management. Schools so characterised are stable yet
dynamic, flexible yet with tight and loose relationships among
sub-systems. The open social system characteristics of the
school are represented in Figure 1. Here the sub-systems that
comprise the school are seen as interacting with each other and
elements that comprise the environment.

The School as an Open Social System

Research Approach

Based on the conception of schools as open social systems a three
year study was undertaken concerning the implementation of
restructuring policies intended to devolve decision-making the to
school-site level Specifically these policies concerned the
establishment of participatory decision-making groups and
development planning procedures. As previously mentioned the
intention was not only provide insights into the dynamics of the
change process but also to assess the appropriateness of the open
social systems perspective. Consequently data were sought
regarding the affect of sub-system linkage and the ÒopenÓ nature
of the social system on the implementation process. To achieve
this, a multi-instrument approach was required, including
interviews with school level personnel, observation of meetings
and informal interactions, and the administration of

To assess the extent of sub-system linkage within each school, a
survey instrument was developed. Dimensions and items were
derived from the work done by Wilson & Dickson Corbett (1983),
and Knezevich (1984). A total of 18 items was used, six for
each dimension or sub-system. Respondents were asked to indicate
on a three point Likert scale [high, moderate, or low] their
perceptions about cultural, structural, and pedagogic linkages
that existed within the school.

Description of dimensions.

Cultural Linkage refers to the degree to which organisational
mechanisms create and co-ordinate shared goals and behaviour
patterns among members of staff.
A high score = High Cultural Linkage

Structural Linkage refers to the degree to which organisational
mechanisms control the behaviour of members of staff.
A high score = High Structural Linkage.

Pedagogic Linkage refers to the degree to which organisational
mechanisms co-ordinate and control the classroom teaching of
members of staff.
A high score = High Pedagogic Linkage

Examples of items used for each dimension:

Cultural Linkage
Teachers hold a shared sense of purpose
(goal sharing) at this school. [ H M L
Teachers' collaborate on joint activities. [ H
M L ]

Structural linkage
Teachers' roles [duties and responsibilities]
are clearly defined. [ H M L
Senior staff supervise teachers closely [ H M L

Pedagogic Linkage

Teachers have a great deal of professional
freedom. [ H M L ]
Teachers frequently observe their colleagues
teaching. [ H M L ]

This questionnaire was administered to the members of staff of
three senior secondary schools in Perth Western Australian.
Care was taken to ensure the inclusion of respondents from each
of the seven curriculum teaching areas operating in each school .
By using this sampling procedure, information more reflective of
individual teaching departments as well as the whole staff could
be gained. Responses for each scale were tallied and rated as
high, moderate or low. It is important to note that these
ratings were viewed as supporting data for information gained
through observations and interviews conducted with staff members
concerning linkage.

To assess the "open" nature of each school, attention was given
the factors affecting the implementation decision-making within
site specific planning committees. At each school these
committees were composed of representatives drawn from the school
staff and parents. The brief of each committee was to make
decisions regarding the structure and function of a school
decision-making group and to formulate guide-lines for the
establishment of such a group within the school. It was
anticipated that data collected about the interactions and
deliberations within each group would enable some assessment
about the "open" nature of each school. Specifically this
involved the analysis of communication patterns and the
observation of interactions of participants during these
meetings. This enabled information flows for each school to be
analysed and mapped.

In the case analyses that follow, data concerning sub-system
linkage and information flow at each school have been combine.
This has enabled a more comprehensive account of relationships
between secondary school organisation and the implementation of
site-based management.

Case Analysis
Sub-system Linkage
Data tends to confirm the view that the school organisation is
composed of a number of distinct sub-systems. The extent to
which these sub-systems are interdependent or linked, varies
across school sites. Where sub-system linkage is weak, as in
the case of Jardine Senior High School (SHS), the sub-systems
tend to operate largely independently of each other. At Jardine
SHS responses indicated a lack of whole-school commitment and
divisions between teaching departments and the administration of
the school. Teachers indicated they operated independently from
their school administration. There was limited emphasis on
following policies and regulations in the school, and limited
supervision of teachers by senior staff. Further, teachers felt
free to question administrative decisions and did not feel bound
by any such decisions. This questionnaire data is supported by
both observation field notes, and interview transcripts. As the
following teachers noted:

Jardine is a school that operates almost independently from
any top down direction from the administration. I feel a definite
lack of pressure to live up to certain expectations. There are
those expectations but it is just assumed that you will do it.
(Teacher 1)

...It is a school where almost everything is left to run by
itself, there is very little overall co-ordinated leadership from
the top. (Teacher 2)
A significant factor affecting the characteristics of Jardine
Senior High School is the length of residency of many staff. As
the Deputy Principal points out:

This school has been running for thirty-two years on a
departmental line and everyone is fairly well entrenched. Some
of the senior staff have been at this school directing their
departments for 22-23 years. (Mervin)

It would seem this length of service at the school has created
for many staff, a sense of security, stability, self-reliance
and independence. As a consequence the teachers in this school
viewed the establishment of school decision-making groups and
school development planning as an administrative innovation
belonging to the structural sub-system and of little significance
to cultural and pedagogic sub-systems of the school.
Consequently minimal interest was shown in participating in the
implementation of school based management. Indeed for some
staff at Jardine SHS, concern was expressed that a school-based
decision-making group might reduce the autonomy of the pedagogic
sub-system by exerting influence over curriculum and instruction
issues. Further, there was some concern expressed about school-
based management serving as a mechanism to make teachers more
accountable at the school and Central Office level. Staff with
such concerns either rejected the innovation outright or sought
to participate in the implementation process with the aim to
restrict the intrusiveness of the change.

Data for Maylup SHS indicated a that linkage was tighter than for
Jardine SHS. There was a greater sense of shared purpose among
staff and the teachers indicated a moderate emphasis was placed
on following policies. Similarly there were some mechanisms for
influencing and monitoring the manner in which teachers planned
or operated in the classroom. However, these were not considered
intrusive. In short sub-system linkage at this school was

At Langley SHS, strong sub-system linkage was apparent. In this
case there existed a "whole-school" perspective shared by many
teachers and members of the administration. Staff could have
input to important school policy decisions and they held regular
meetings to discuss teaching methods and strategies. Both staff
and administrators viewed the establishment of school based
management would bring desirable changes to the whole-school.
This stance combined with subsequent implementation action by the
staff at Langley SHS, lends support the assertion by Rosenblum &
Louis (1981) and Wilson & Dickson Corbett (1983), that the higher
the sub-system linkage the increased likelihood of meaningful

Interestingly the organisational changes associated with school
based management such as participatory decision-making and whole
school planning, appear to have the capacity to enhance sub-
system linkage. However, the existence of weak sub-system
linkages within a school suggests preparedness to undertake
implementation will be reduced.

The importance of information in planning for implementation and
the manner in which such information was communicated to members
of the planning committee, played a critical role in determining
the implementation events at all three schools. Information
concerning the establishment of school-based decision-making

groups and development planning stemmed from a number of sources
and took different forms. Such information ranged from the
"official" Ministry of Education documents, through to statements
issued from organisations such as the Western Australian Council
of State School Organisations, (representing parent
organisations), and the Teachers' Union. In addition, models of
school-based management and development planning procedures also
flowed into schools from other schools and interstate.

An additional type of information stemmed from participants
situational knowledge of the school setting. This information
was often not made explicit within the planning committee. It
was the type of information that was acquired through an
association with the school either as a parent or a member of
staff. In each steering committee there were participants who
had more that five years of direct association with the school
and had acquired a knowledge about both the operations of the
school and the nature of the community it the school served.
Such tacit information served to shape perceptions not only about
what was desirable for the school but also what was possible
within the given environment. In addition, some information
about the characteristics of the school setting was made explicit
through verbal descriptions by participants or through data
derived from surveys conducted by the school.

The flow of information stemming from sources external to the
school has been mapped for each site. The relative importance
of each type of information about the implementation process is
indicated by the thickness of the flow lines. Relative
importance was assessed by analysing the use of particular
information by members of the committee both during their
deliberations and for specific decision points related to
implementation action.
Information flow Langley SHS

Information Flow Langley SHS

For the steering committee at Langley SHS the most influential
information was obtained from the Ministry of Education, the
District Office, an imported model of school development planning
developed by Caldwell and Spinks (1988) and the State School
Teachers Union (SSTU). For the co-ordinator of the steering
committee, the Caldwell and Spinks model appeared to match the
type of Ministry documents relating to development planning and
resource management.
As the co-ordinator speculated:

I suspect that what we are going to be told to do by the Ministry
will reflect pretty much some of the stuff that constitutes the
Caldwell and Spinks Model.

In addition to the documents and models obtained from outside the
school, further information concerned with development planning
was also obtained by survey instruments issued to staff.

Information Flow Jardine SHS

Information Flow Jardine SHS

For Jardine, official documents relating to the structure and
functions of a school decision-making group, coupled with

information derived from experience, served to direct the
Principals stance on the type of group to be established. From
the first meeting of the planning committee the Principal
presented a "model" detailing the possible structure of school
based management. For parent representatives, information
disseminated from WACSSO appeared the most influential. Such
information, coupled with the enabling legislation, offered
support for the creation of a school decision-making group that
functioned as a standing committee of the existing Parents &
Citizens body (P&C). A decision-making group established in this
way would ensure that the P&C would retain its power base and
limit the impact this new group might otherwise make on the
existing operations of the P&C. Dominating all other sources of
information was that supplied by the State School Teachers Union

Information Flow Maylup SHS

Information Flow Maylup SHS

For Maylup, the information of most influence in the
implementation process stemmed from other schools, rather than
from the Ministry of Education. The committee members opted for
the establishment of a properly constituted school decision-
making group to be known as the Maylup School Board. The
Chairperson of the steering committee was given the
responsibility of drafting such a constitution. Subsequently
the Chairperson obtained a copy of the constitution of an
Independent school's council and used this as a basis for the
Maylup School Board. As with both Langley SHS and Jardine SHS
information stemming from the State School Teachers Union was to
exert most influence of the planning process.

In addition to the type and origin of information the carrier or
communicator of the information appeared to influence the manner
in which the members of the planning committee responded to the
information. All official Ministry of Education information was
disseminated to the school and members of the planning committees
through the Principal. This dissemination procedure permitted
the Principals to screen and selectively communicate ideas to
members of the planning committee. All Principals, but
especially those at Maylup SHS and Langley SHS, used the
"authority" of such Ministry information to direct the planning
process. When staff or parents forwarded ideas about possible
functions of the school decision-making group that were contrary
to those held by the Principal, the Principal would counter and
limit such ideas with a general reference to "stated Ministry of
Education intentions".

The Principals at both Maylup SHS and Jardine SHS relied heavily
on information about school-based management obtained from their
previous schools. Such information in the form of "preferred
models" were promoted and discussed in detail within the planning
committee. Lack of consideration of alternative models or
information related to school-based management did not appear an
issue at Langley SHS or at Maylup SHS, where participants
appeared to readily accept suggestions proposed by the Principal.
However, in light of the Principal dominance of these planning
committees, the existence of effective participatory decision-
making is questionable.

At Jardine SHS, parent members of the planning committee sought
alternative information about the possible structure and
functions of school-based management. This alternative

information, especially that obtained from State Organisation of
Parent and Citizen body (WACSSO) was used by parent members of
the planning committee to support their views about the structure
and function of school-based management and to oppose the
Principal's model. Subsequent meetings became conflicted rather
than collaborative, and lead to hostility and intransigence among

A critical external intervention affecting the implementation
process at all three schools was the industrial action taken by
the Teachers' Union during the latter part of 1989. This action
was to effectively bring to a halt to planning for the
implementation of school based management in all three schools
under study. There appear several factors that prompted the
Union to impose a ban on the implementation process. The first
factor involves union concern over what it saw as inadequate
consultation between the Ministry and the Union about the key
aspects of the restructuring program. While the Union was
represented on early working parties associated with policy
formulation, they took a contrary stance on several core aspects
of the program and were soon excluded from policy development
process. Isolated from a direct collaboration in the planning
for implementation, the Union was forced to adopt a relationship
based more on negotiation that participation.

The second factor, involved the Union's concern about the impact
implementation of school based management was having on the
working conditions of its members and the disruption it was
causing the educational operations of schools. Accordingly the
union issued a directive to all members to cease participation in
the implementation of both school decision-making groups and
development planning.

The impact of such industrial action on the implementation
process in all three schools not only reinforces the concept of
schools as open social systems but demonstrates how susceptible
the implementation process is to external political

Concluding Comments and Implications for Action

The data derived from the three case studies confirms that view
of Crossley (1984) and Huberman & Miles (1984) that schools
operate as open social systems. As social systems, schools are
comprised of a complex pattern of relationships. It is the
nature of these relationships that forms the context in which
restructuring and reform takes place. At secondary school level
the organisational character of the school is strongly affected
by the existence of separate subject departments. This
organisational feature tends to foster strong "department
allegiance" among teachers. This pedagogical sub-system thus
becomes more weakly linked with the structural and cultural sub-
systems of the school. In such situations' teachers view their
subject department as the base for formal and informal influence
over decision-making. The introduction of participatory
decision-making through school based management can be perceived
to threaten the autonomy of the pedagogical sub-system.

Strategies designed for the implementation of innovations in
secondary schools should take account of the existing sub-system
linkage. Linkage may be enhanced by targeting the subject
department level and providing opportunities for intra-department
and whole-school collaboration to be developed. Principals,
senior administrators and teachers require skills to move from
individual subject orientated thinking to collective, whole-
school thinking; to move from isolated decision-making patterns

to group decision-making. In short, members of the school
community must begin to see their roles as school-referenced.

The notion of an organisational culture existing in secondary
schools appears under question. Data derived from the sub-system
linkage questionnaire related to the cultural sub-system,
indicate several alternative and competing cultures might exist
with the school. These cultures tended to operate around the
different teaching departments and reflected markedly different
beliefs, values, and relationships. Viewing secondary schools as
multi-cultural social systems might provide greater insight and
understanding about the nature of these complex communities.
Certainly such a perspective seems to warrant further

As open social systems, schools are not only exposed to ideas and
information stemming from the general and specific change
environments, but is also affected by political and ideological
turbulence occurring within those environments. While such
information and external interventions clearly impact on the
change events, it appears school characteristics such as sub-
system linkage appears to influence the type and range of
information used and the particular change strategies employed.

While the flow of alternative information has potential to cause
confusion and differences of opinion among steering committee
members, it also holds benefits. Under a participatory decision-
making approach the quality of decision outcomes often depends
upon the consideration of viable alternatives. Information about
such alternatives must be accessible to all members. That is,
information must be available to all and in a form that is useful
to the decision-makers.

Consequently action needs to be taken to ensure that the
information flow between participants in the implementation
process to needs to be multi-directional. A communication
network should be established that facilitates information
sharing from Ministry of Education to school, within schools,
from school to school, school to community and back again.

In conclusion the unique nature of a school's organisational
characteristics appears to not only influence a schools
preparedness and capacity to undertake restructuring and reform
but also type of information used and the change strategies
employed to implement change. To gain an understanding of the
dynamics and complexities of the implementation process, it seems
essential to view change as context dependent. At both Ministry
of Education and school level, close attention needs to be given
to the nature of the school as an organisation as well as the
characteristics of its environment. Through such an approach to
change, appropriate support and strategies might be developed
that better facilitate the type of organisational transformation
that is intended to promote school development and create self
managing schools.


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