Category Archives: Schools as perpetual organisation

Schools as Perpetual Organisations. The Educational and Societal Implications

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

With many schools, already more than a century old, it is time to recognise schools are in the main perpetual organisations – that have been critical to local communities, and society at large for generations, and will likely remain so for aeons more.

While ever there are students in a community state schools will exist.

That perpetuity, and implications that flow need to be better understood. 

Moreover, it needs to be better understood by local communities, politicians, teachers, principals, administrators and vitally the media and governments.

For a century plus most state schools have been viewed as transitory organisations, institutions ‘owned’ by the ‘education experts’, that focus on the now, the immediate future and largely disregard their history and role within society. There has been little regard for their heritage, uniqueness, the way history has shaped that uniqueness and the education provided, their role within wider society or the extent to which for hundred years or more local communities have invariably been shut out from playing a genuine role in the evolution and growth of ‘their’ school/s. 

For too long the ‘experts’ – the school principals, bureaucrats and even governments – have ‘owned’ these critical community organisations, used them as their playthings, to advance careers and win votes, feeling free to do with as they wish, limiting the local community to largely tokenistic roles. Few principals today will question the ‘ownership’ of ‘their’ school. 

Historically as the ‘education experts’ took control of schooling from local communities at the beginning of the twentieth century and standardised the model of schooling (Tyack and Cuban, 1995) they by extension came to believe the schools were theirs to do as they wish, with the parents and wider community – the amateurs – having no role to play, other than that decided by the ‘experts’.

Typical of aged organisations the strong shaping vision, guiding principles and philosophies of the founding fathers, the Dewey’s, Froebel’s, and the ‘departmental’ visionaries gradually disappear, and public servants and political leaders with scant or no corporate memory take control, and make changes as they seek to make their mark without any regard to the organisation’s heritage.

The history of every school in the last century has been one of constant change, but no real change, except a growing focus on what the ‘education experts’ value at the expense of what the local community and parents value.

A hundred years on the core organisational and cultural features of schools in the 1920s remain in place, even though virtually every principal and government in taking office has made changes.

With the school head, the ‘expert’, like in 1920 still unilaterally deciding what will happen. It matters not if she throws out ten years work by the staff and school community, disregards the community’s views or wastes thousands on different technology. She knows best. It is ‘her’ school to do as she desires.  As a senior permanent public servant, she’ll never wear the damage or loss.

The irony is that a century on from the ‘educational experts’ insisting only they have the expertise to orchestrate continual school organisational change (McClure, 1971), (Tyack and Cuban, 1995) most schools and systems remain the same insular, site based linear hierarchical organisations, using Industrial Age structures and processes – albeit increasingly controlled by bureaucrats with no education background.

The history of school innovation globally 1920 – 2020 reveals relatively few schools or systems that have been able to make, or vitally sustain core organisational change over the decades (McClure, ed,1971), (Fullan, 1991), (Tyack and Cuban, 1995).

Schools continue, as Tyack and Cuban aptly described, ‘Tinkering Towards Utopia’(1995).

A related irony is that in the 25 years since the publication of that work the digitally connected families of the world, the amateurs, have outside the school, of their own volition and expense successfully digitally connected more than 70% of the world’s young (UNICEF, 2017), (Lee and Broadie, 2018) and readied their children being digital, while the educational experts have failed in that quest within the school walls. As the amount of information exploded, made accessible by first libraries and then the internet, schools have failed to ready young people for the connected world.

It is imperative all associated with the education of the nation’s young, but particularly governments understand state schools are perpetual organisations, that have and will continue to play a central role in the life, learning, economics and growth of local communities, and society in general.

Governments have long understood the perpetual nature of museums, art galleries and national parks. 

They, and their ‘educational experts’ need to appreciate the perpetuity of state schools, and the many implications that flow. The professionals working with and within those schools, like curators and rangers are but momentary custodians of an invariably long, important, unique and continually evolving heritage.  The experience of school and what is important about this connects the generations.

It is important they better understand and respect the custodial role they play, that their contribution will be relatively short, along with many others and that the growth and enhancement made should be aptly built upon by future generations of custodians. And that they are custodians of the total school experience young people will carry forward and impress upon their children.

One suspects that as soon as school staff, principals, administrators and governments accept their custodial role their mindset, and relationship with the community would begin to change. It won’t happen overnight. Power is rarely given up easily.

As custodians of a perpetual organisation it is important they appreciate the many critical roles schools play in modern society, but particularly within local communities.

The focus here is state schools, recognising in nations like Canada, New Zealand and England that also includes the parochial schools.

It is appreciated much of what is being said is applicable to all schools, but that invariably elite independent schools operate as insular, ‘stand-alone’ entities, catering solely for their slice of society, often having little to do with the local community.

It is also understood the concept of ‘local community’ is a tricky one, particularly so in an increasingly socially connected world; that the sense of community can be plotted on vast continuum from nought to immense, and is an issue of growing concern for town planners and governments globally (Putnam, 2000). It is moreover likely more apparent in geographically discrete rural and regional villages and towns than in vast rapidly expanding, often inhumane cities.

That said there are likely few anywhere who wouldn’t advocate for a greater sense of local community.

Ask most any ‘educational expert’ their views on the role of schools today and you’ll find most will focus solely on the in-school educational agenda, rarely seeing any other role for the school.

That has not always been so, with the writings of John Dewey, and the NEA (National Education Association) in the early 1900’s emphasising what they saw as the vital roles the school and community had to play in the apt, holistic education of the young, with schools always needing to ensure its formal curriculum was informed by the ever-evolving informal curriculum (Dewey, 1916). In the last seventy plus years that bond has been increasingly forgotten as successive generations of ‘experts’ took unilateral control of ‘education’, dismissed the importance of the informal education and focussed on the learning within the physical place called school.

While school’s in-house educational remit should and will continue to be core and vital, a custodial mindset obliges educators to revisit the provision of a holistic education, the contribution of parents and acknowledge the other vital roles schools do, and should play.

Schools allow both parents to work, to contribute to the growth and productivity of the national and local economies, and to shed the vast expense of pre-primary child care.  Over the century as the school leaving age crept up from 14, to 15, to 18, and the Year 12 retention rates rose from below 10% to near all the cohort so the facility for all parents to work accelerated.

Schools now play an important part in enabling young parents to contribute to the growth of the national economy and its productivity, while at the same time assisting them live the life style they desire.

All modern economies are profoundly, often unwittingly impacted by school operational times and vitally school term dates, with the northern and southern hemisphere summer holidays being an integral, unchanging facet of life, learning and economic activity.

Society expects the young to be safe at school.

Rightly or wrongly schools are the facility society’s use to create conforming citizens, to sort, sift and credential its young (Labaree,1997), and to reduce unemployment figures.

Over the decades, local schools have become increasingly critical to the life, esprit de corps, learning, heritage, economics and continued viability of local communities. Close the sole school and the community suffers, in rural and regional areas often terminally. 

In likely most communities the school/s will involve around a quarter of its people (Tyack and Cuban, 1995).

In more recent years with the decline of organised religion the local state school/s have increasingly taken on many of the community roles once played by the church. Astutely led state schools have become strong bonding agents, adding to the sense of community. Look to the conduct grandparent days, fetes, mothers’ and fathers’ day breakfasts and carol singing they already run and one will appreciate how governments and local communities could readily, at little expense use these core perpetual organisations more effectively.

In recent years, most state schools globally have come to play an increasingly greater role in the mental well- being and social welfare of communities, they invariably being one of the lead agencies. It doesn’t require a great deal of imagination to envision how local state schools, with local community and government support could, with other bodies simultaneously care for all families, while enhancing well-being and the sense of community.

One could continue, and discuss the role of schools in drawing migrants into society, but the point is made, schools as perpetual organisations are, should be and will always be, far more than the playthings of the educational ‘experts’ susceptible to the latest whims of transient principals, administrators and ministers.

They are an integral part of modern societies, that should in their continuing growth and evolution genuinely involve the local community, and not simply the educators.

How that ‘local community’ is best involved is a study that has yet to be done.

What is critical is the viewing of state schools, be they are hundred, or but a few years old, as perpetual organisations, where the custodians must assist grow not only the young but also the total local community.

Conclusion

Understanding schools are perpetual organisation shaped by their history, with an operational brief that far exceeds a narrow, test driven educational agenda, should go a long way towards creating schools that can better serve their communities, continually build on their rich heritage and provide an apt contemporary education while markedly lessening whimsical, ineffectual and wasteful short term change.

  • Dewey, J (1916), Democracy and education, New York Macmillan
  • Fullan, M and Stiegelbuaer, S (1991) The New Meaning of Educational Change. London Cassell
  • Labaree, D. F. (1997). How to succeed in school without really learning. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
  • Lee, M and Broadie, R (2018) Digitally Connected Families. And the Digital Education of the World’s Young, 1993 – 2016, Armidale, Australia, Douglas and Brown – http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/–  
  • McClure, R.M (1971) The Curriculum: Retrospect and Prospect.The Seventieth Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education. Chicago. University of Chicago Press 1971.
  • Putnam, R.D (2000).Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. NY. Simon and Schuster.
  • Tyack, D and Cuban, L (1995). Tinkering Toward Utopia. Cambridge. Massachusetts. Harvard University Press.
  • UNICEF (2017)Children in a Digital World. The State of the World’s Children 2017. UNICEF December 2017 – https://www.unicef.org/publications/files/SOWC_2017_ENG_WEB.pdf