A Century of the Standard Model of Schooling

Mal Lee

2020 marked a century’s use of the standard model of schooling.

Standardised across the developed world from around 1920 the core elements of the model adopted by schools then remain largely unchanged a 100 plus years on –  it long being accepted as the norm globally.

It is very easy to forget how long the model, and its core attributes have been in place and universally employed by the world.

Schooling is one of the few common concerted experiences shared by most of the world’s people, with near 7.5 billion having a working understanding  and expectations of the standard approach.

Indeed it is that universal acceptance that makes it so important that all educators better understand schooling’s heritage, the evolution of standard model, the concerted, on-going but largely ineffectual efforts to sustain significant change, and the lessons to be borne in mind by all contemplating major change.

Suddaby and Foster (2017) in their research on sustained organisational change underscore the imperative of all organisations, public and private sector factoring a historical perspective into the change process. 

That need is ever greater in those organisations lacking corporate memory; a reality in many schools, and particularly education authorities, where career public servants are invariably the decision makers. 

The history of schooling in the last century has seen billions spent on major school organisational change. Remarkably few of the structural changes have been sustained. Most rarely survived the change of head, or government. Those that sustained the change for more than 25 years remain a rarity. Look and you’ll find that virtually all the often considerable structural changes made post Sputnik in the 1960’s and 1970s have disappeared and the schools returned to the standard mode.

Notwithstanding the quest for school change continues unabated, at every level. Governments, education authorities, education reviews, individual schools, the idealists and the futurists all continue the quest. Invariably newly appointed ministers of education and superintendents seek to make their make their mark with substantial investment in a ‘revolutionary change’. Seemingly every new head must begin tenure with a set of organisational changes, even if it is only a return to old ways.

Teachers globally rightly complain of continual change but as Fullan and Stiegebauer (1991) rightly noted

The more things change the more they remain the same…(Fullan and Stiegebauer, 1991 p345)

The COVID-19 pandemic spawned a fresh batch of calls for major structural change.  The shift to a near fully digital operational base was seen to open the way to a host of new modes of schooling.

What most of the calls failed to do, including the more recent, was understand schooling’s heritage and appreciate why the standard model had weathered a 100 plus years obsession with change. 

History provides four key lessons;

  1. Major school structural change is incredibly difficult to achieve, and then sustain
  1. The standard school model has stood the test of time for very good reasons – despite its significant shortcomings
  1. That model, embedded as it is within contemporary society and modern economies, will remain the norm for many generations to come
  1. Major sustained school development and evolution can, and likely will only occur within the existing school structures. 

It is time to drop the obsession with structural change. History and experience says very strongly that far too much time, effort and money has been wasted on that quest. 

The existing structures are a given to work within. 

100 years says very strongly – before embarking on any quest for structural change adjudge the likelihood of achieving sustained enhancement and the degree of disruption of teaching that will occur, possibly needlessly if the change is implemented. 

In brief cease tilting at windmills and concentrate on where the likelihood of sustained enhancement is achievable.

History of standardisation

History informs us that the current model of schooling was standardised in the western world around 1920.

While the model had been existent for years it took until the 1920’s to standardise the approach.

The political skirmishes of the previous 50 odd years, the recognition of the need to better educate the young, the growing influence of a burgeoning middle class, the lessons of the Great War and the concerted efforts by a body of ‘educational experts’ combined to see developed nations like the USA, England, Scotland, Australia and Canada adopt a remarkably similar model of schooling (Campbell and Proctor, 2014) (Curtis and Boultwood, 1962), (McClure, 1971) (Tyack and Cuban, 1995). 

The ‘education experts’ within the new education bureaucracies – aided by the emerging education faculties – took charge of the schooling, deciding the mission, the structure of the schools, their location, organisation, curriculum, testing regime, staffing and operations (Tyler, 1971), (Tyack and Cuban, 1995.

They also took charge of teacher training, and teacher remuneration and working conditions.

The previous stakeholders, the community, parents and invariably the church, were eased out of the decision making.

The schools the experts created are those you know well.

The students attended a physical place called school, at set times, within state determined term dates, with the students organised into age cohorts and taught in class groups, invariably by a solitary teacher.

They moved in a lock step manner through their years at school, all taught using a common curriculum prepared by the ‘experts’, all assessed by paper based exams, with the major exams externally set.

The focus was strongly academic. Success equated with academic performance.

They were schools where the socially economically advantaged families of the society were further advantaged, and the marginalised, the labourers, indigenous, coloureds and migrants further disadvantaged. 

Core to the model was the sorting and sifting of the students, the schools charged with identifying the perceived future leaders while filtering out the lower quality and non-compliant students. 

The nature of the school buildings, with their corridors of teaching rooms, was much the same as today. Indeed, most schools built in the 1920s remain in operation today. Think of the schools in the older parts of the cities and the country towns, and note how many were built around the 1920s or earlier.

Structurally the schools were linear, strongly hierarchical organisations, that drew heavily upon Industrial Age manufacturing thinking and processes. The high/secondary schools particularly were segmented, loosely coupled (Weick, 1976), with a strong division of labour, where the subject teachers taught their speciality to students moving along the ‘production line’.

The principal was all powerful, using ‘his’ position and the hierarchy to unilaterally control every facet of the school’s operation. Teachers of that period were part of the educated elite, their word carrying immense weight in a poorly educated societies.

A century on most of these features still hold – now globally.

In 1995 Tyack and Cuban, in an aptly titled history of US schooling, Tilting at Utopia commented on what they termed the ‘grammar of schooling’.

The basic grammar of schooling, like the shape of classrooms, has remained remarkably stable over the decades. Little has changed in the ways schools divide time and space, classify students and allocate them to classrooms, splinter knowledge into ‘subjects’ and award grades and ‘credits’ as evidence of learning (Tyack and Cuban, 1995, p85).

……Established institutional forms come to be understood by educators, student and the public as necessary features of ‘real’ school. They become fixed in place by everyday custom in schools and by outside forces, by legal mandates and cultural beliefs, until they are barely noticed. They become just the way schools are (Tyack and Cuban, 1995, p86).

25 years later those observations still hold true of most all schools worldwide.

Indeed if anything the COVID – 19 experience has reinforced the standard model. The world has had underscored the critical social, economic and educational importance of the nation’s young physically attending a place called school most working days of the year. While significant strides have been made in the use of the digital, and opportunities with it abound, parents globally likely more than ever expect to send their children off to school in the morning safe in the knowledge that they can get on with their life and work.

It is time to better understand that reality.

Revealingly there are remarkably few publications that address that reality, which provide the historical perspective, and give school leaders the macro understanding of the evolution of school organisational structures needed to shape an effective change strategy.

There are thousands, likely millions of publications on the theory and practise of school change, and all manner of courses and post graduate programs which purport to provide the elixir to sustained change but few that address why a century on the standard model that emerged around 1920 remains the norm in near every country in the world.

Much of that research and analysis has yet to be done but the stress testing of the standard model occasioned by the pandemic already provides important insights.

Strengths and expectations

Unwittingly the pandemic has heightened our understanding of the models strengths – and shortcomings, what society expects of its schools and the opportunities the emerging digital technologies provide to enhance the model’s workings in the contemporary world.

The great and enduring strengths of the traditional model relate in the main to its facility to simultaneously develop and care for most of the nation’s young in a secure, safe physical site, for much of the year. The importance of face to face teaching and social interaction became increasingly apparent as the studies were undertaken, particularly for the very young and the already disadvantaged.

It frees young parents to work, to make a significant contribution to the national productively, while also providing families the monies to live their lives.

The importance of the latter was highlighted when economies worldwide were obliged to operate in a holding pattern until the physical places called school could re-open.

Tellingly the model performs that role relatively efficiently, combining as it does educational development, care, social growth and increasingly personal well-being.

The related strength is that the model continues to give society what it expects of schools. It is a politically and socially acceptable model. It is the model, with all its practises, rituals, ceremonies and traditions that generations have come to know, 

and importantly expect.

While the core structures might be difficult, if not impossible to change what occurs within them can, and does, in often significant ways. Some of the change will be a natural response to an evolving society but other can be readily school or system initiated. 

Today it would be impossible to move away from the northern and southern hemispheres school holidays or the expectation that the kids can be dropped off and picked up at set times most days of the year. That said schools can if they desire readily change such things as the learning environment and the culture, the nature of the teaching and the relationships with the students within the existing structures.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought to the fore  globally those schools which had been moving to a digital operational base. With all the staff and students ‘schooled’ in the art of using the digital astutely those admittedly exceptional schools were able to thrive and grow in full and part lockdown, and sustain the collaborative, all pervasive use of the technology on return to normal operations.

The key was that those schools understood they had to work with their parent expectations and the structures of the standard model.

Conclusion.

Understand the standard model is not about to change, and will continue to be used by the world for many generations to come.

Despite a century plus of crystal ball gazing and ‘futurists’ proclaiming dramatic change most schools will remain remarkably similar to that which you and your parents attended.  

That said it is possible to make and sustain significant changes within the existing structures if approached astutely.

One of the great, unheralded strengths of today’s digital technology is the facility to use it in teaching anywhere, anytime, be it in a heritage listed Victorian era building, an aged outback two teacher establishment, a school without walls or a modern flexible space complex.

  • Campbell, C and Proctor, H (2014) A History of Australian Schooling. Sydney. Allen and Unwin
  • Curtis, S.J and Boultwood, M.E.A (1962) An Introductory History of English Education Since 1800. London. University Tutorial Press
  • Fullan. M and Stiegebauer, S (1991) The New Meaning of Educational Change. London. Cassell. Second edition.
  • 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.
  • Suddaby, R and Foster, W.M, (2017) ‘History and Organizational Change’. Journal of Management.Vol.43. No. I 2017
  • Tyack, D and Cuban, L (1995). Tinkering Toward Utopia. Cambridge. Massachusetts. Harvard University Press.
  • Tyler, R.W (1971) ‘Curriculum Development in the Twenties and Thirties’. In 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.

The Traditional School Structures Will Never Change

Greg McKay

Mal Lee

The core organisational structures of schooling were standardised around 1920.

They remain the same today, with it ever more apparent they will never change. 

For the last century billions have been spent seeking to vary the standard structures.

It has born a veritable school change industry and the belief by governments globally that sustained school change is easy.

It is not.  It is near impossible.

The constraints at play are immense.

There have been some changes in exceptional situations that have been sustained for decades but a century on they remain the exception.

It is time for all associated with schools to recognise the structural constancy they are working with, to stop tilting at the windmills of structural change and accept successful sustained change is possible only within the existing school structures.

It is time for the many calling for revolutionary school change, particularly in light of the pandemic, to understand the reality and to work with the givens.

Societies, parents and governments worldwide expect the nation’s young to physically attend a place called school, most days of the week, at set times each day, most weeks of the year, breaking for the agreed holidays. 

They moreover expect them to be taught in class groups, based in the main on age, and for the students to move in a largely lock step manner through 12-13 years of schooling. 

The schools and teachers are expected to take prime responsibility for the children’s school time care and development, and the provision of an apt holistic contemporary education.

Those expectations were stress tested, like every other facet of schooling, by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic affirmed socially, economically and educationally worldwide the critical importance of the traditional school organisational structures. 

It also reaffirmed the imperative of the nation’s young being off their parent’s hands, and in schools for much of the of the working year. The nation, the economy and society can only ever operate in a hovering pattern while ever the young have to be tended by their parents. National productivity is dependent on both parents being able to work, knowing the exact times and dates their children will be at school.

Tyack and Cuban in 1995 talked of the ‘grammar of schooling’. They, like many eminent educators before them noted the constancy of schooling, and its inability to maintain sustained structural change (Lee and Broadie, in press).

The basic grammar of schooling, like the shape of classrooms, has remained remarkably stable over the decades. Little has changed in the ways schools divide time and space, classify students and allocate them to classrooms, splinter knowledge into ‘subjects’ and award grades and ‘credits’ as evidence of learning (Tyack and Cuban, 1995, p85).

A quarter of a century on the grammar of schooling remains as strong as ever.

Implicit in the analysis of the grammar of schooling, and the commentary on the constancy of the standard school organisational approach over a century is a criticism of the standard model, and a belief the structures must be fundamentally changed to achieve the desired school improvement.

Many, including the author have striven over the decades to make what were perceived to be essential structural improvements.  

Change to the standard model was perceived to be critical.

COVID -19 has done schooling globally a great service by seriously challenging that assumption, and demonstrating it is folly to continue pursuing that path. 

The pandemic has obliged all associated with schools to differentiate between the core organisational school structures and what can be done within those structures.

It has affirmed the core structures can never be changed.

But it also demonstrated substantial successful sustained school change can occur within those structures.

Indeed the pandemic has made it clear that successful school change must be done within the existing structures, giving society the constancy it desires while also providing the young the opportunity to have an apt contemporary education.

In forcing schools to go digital, in highlighting the critical importance of the physical place called school and giving teachers and schools a working insight into what was possible and desirable within a networked learning community the pandemic hopefully put to rest the now century old belief that core structural change is critical to school growth.

Schools globally demonstrated during the pandemic their ability to operate as digitally mature organisations, to think digitally, to normalise the everyday use of the digital, to create dynamic digital cultures and learning environments, to use the networks to genuinely collaborate with their families and to grow ever richer digital ecologies – from within the existing walls and organisational structures.

An apt comparison are the many cutting edge businesses operating in traditional hours, within converted warehouses and factories. On first glance physically they look like dated organisations, but a closer look will often reveal the dramatic changes that have occurred within those aged walls.

The same holds with schools.

Some of the most dynamic will at first glance appear to be Victorian era establishments, with the students wearing much the same trappings as generations before, attending at the same time, participating in decades old rituals but venture within and one will soon see the dramatic change that has occurred in the learning environment, the culture, the teacher student relationships and the nature of the teaching.

One of the unheralded virtues of the digital technology is that it is not like paper, site dependent. It can be used as readily within that Victorian era building, an ancient two teacher rural school, a modern flexible designed suite of buildings, a train or coffee shop.

The key is to accept the traditional school structures will never change, nor will the core parent expectations but within those walls and expectations there are immense opportunities for on-going successful change and evolution.

  • Lee, M and Broadie, R (In press) Digital Teachers. Digital Mindsets 
  • Tyack, D and Cuban, L (1995). Tinkering Toward Utopia. Cambridge. Massachusetts. Harvard University Press.

COVID -19 and Digital Schooling

Sharing the experience

Mal Lee

Do you have a school, education authority, government review of how the school/s handled the COVID – 19 lockdown that we can share?

Indeed if you would like to publish a reflective on your school’s experience in going digital we’d be delighted to publish those thoughts.

Simply email Mal Lee at mallee@mac.com

The 2020 COVID – 19 pandemic obliged schools and their communities like never before to address the facility to move to a more digitally based schooling.

Notwithstanding we expect most schools, education authorities, teacher education institutions and governments to return as soon as possible to the standard model of schooling, still shaped by an analogue mindset, having no desire to go digital.

But we are also aware of notable exceptions worldwide that used the digital astutely, who grew as school communities during the pandemic and which will continue to grow as digitally mature organisations.

Our desire is to use this site to monitor and reflect upon the digital evolution of schooling. 

Serendipitously over the last year Roger Broadie and I have been focussed on readying a new publication on the digital for ACER Press Australia.

The challenge given by the Publisher was to address the reality that a quarter of a century on from the world going online the use of the digital in most schools worldwide remained peripheral.

While the digitally connected young and their families globally had normalised the 24/7/365 use of the digital most schools had not.

Could we write a book that addressed that challenge, and assisted teachers and trainee teachers normalise the use of the digital in their teaching?

We’ve written a book entitled Digital Teachers. Digital Mindsets.

It will be released early 2021.

The book takes as its premise that every teacher, K-12 should in 2020 to be a digital teacher, shaping their teaching with a digital mindset.

It reasoned that most every teacher in 2020 shapes their personal lives with a digital mindset. 

Teachers, like all of us expect to use our digital devices the moment desired, to connect instantly anywhere, anytime, at speed, 24/7/365, to use the personal devices they want, configured how they like, with the agency to use and learn with the digital as they desire.

The moment most of those teachers walk through the school gate they revert to using an aged analogue mindset. They assume learning with the digital must be tightly controlled, taught by specialist ICT teachers, with the students distrusted and disempowered, and needing to do and learn what the ‘experts’ believe best.  The focus is the technology, and the ‘right’ technology at that, with all students mastering the same skills.

The aim of the new book is to assist every teacher, at every level, in every area of learning normalise the use of the apt tools of the contemporary world in their teaching, shaping the use with a digital mindset.

The argument is the thinking, an apt contemporary mindset not the technology per se must shape the teaching and learning. 

Mid way through the writing COVID-19 struck, affirming the necessity of every teacher, in every school being able to operate from a digital base.

Tellingly the pandemic stress tested every facet of schooling, and in particular its ability to work digitally, remotely and with an apt shaping mindset.

While there were important notable exceptions most teachers, schools, education authorities and governments were ill-prepared.

The continued dominance of an analogue mindset, dependence on a century old ‘grammar of schooling’, focus on the basics and expectation that the digital would be used only within the existing organisational structures did little to ready teachers or schools to go digital.

As governments, education authorities, schools and education unions and professional associations review their performance during the pandemic and ‘stress testing’ we believe it important to make that thinking readily available and to critique the findings.

In the coming months – and likely years – we intend doing just that and monitoring the evolution of schooling, at the same time as we elaborate on the thinking within Digital Teachers, Digital Mindsets.

Below are links to two important pieces of research, both of which relate to equity of access to the digital.

The first is by Pew Internet, authored by Vogels, et.al – and released 10 September 2020 – 
https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/09/10/59-of-u-s-parents-with-lower-incomes-say-their-child-may-face-digital-obstacles-in-schoolwork/

Revealing is how few Americans believe governments should assist families in need with access to the digital.

The contrast with most developed and developing nations, and indeed the second study is pronounced.

The second is New Zealand, undertaken by the Greater Christchurch Schools Network. A copy is available at – https://www.gcsn.school.nz

It is an excellent comprehensive study of 150 schools all can learn from.

The study affirms New Zealand’s commitment to equity of access, but also highlights the exceptionally high level of digital resources and the very good connectivity in most student’s homes. 

A Century of Traditional Schooling. With More to Come

Mal Lee

Around 1920 the model of schooling we’ve known all our lives was standardised across the developed world.

A century later the structure of the model remains the same, with no hint it is about to change.

If anything, the permanence of what Tyack and Cuban (1995) aptly called ‘the grammar of schooling’ has solidified

Most schools in the future, on present trends, will be structurally the same as todays.

The model is so strongly woven into the fabric of most nations and economies it is likely the structure can never be fundamentally changed.

A 100 plus years of vast investment of thought and effort globally in school change has brought only the most minor of sustained variations. The major dents made, particularly in the 1960’s and 1970’s, have been largely been rectified, with the traditional model used worldwide.

Even a global pandemic, that obliged schooling for the first time in human history to abandon its traditional physical site-based operations, and to work digitally has been unable to change those structures.

Indeed, it has re-affirmed their global importance, and nation’s dependence on its young being physically within schools most days of the year.

What however Covid-19, and the experience online did reveal was how easy it was to use the 1920 structures to provide an apt contemporary education for all, in a rapidly evolving digital and socially networked world. 

While the structures will remain constant the digital enables the teaching therein to readily change. That is if schools recognise the benefits of the asynchronous learning and don’t revert to only in-class teaching.

Standardising the model

By around 1920 the standard form of today’s schooling was in place.

While the model had been existent for years it took until the 20’s to standardise the approach.

The political skirmishes of the previous 50 odd years, the recognition of the need to better educate the young, the growing influence of a burgeoning middle class, the lessons of the Great War and the concerted efforts by a body of ‘educational experts’ combined to see developed nations like the USA, England, Scotland, Australia and Canada adopt a remarkably similar model of schooling (Campbell and Proctor, 2014) (Curtis and Boultwood, 1962), (McClure, 1971) (Tyack and Cuban, 1995). 

The ‘education experts’ within the new education bureaucracies, aided by the new university education faculties took charge of the schooling, deciding the mission, the structure of the schools, their location, organisation, curriculum, testing regime, staffing and operations.

They also took charge of teacher training.

The community, parents and invariably the church, were eased out of the decision making.

The schools they created are those you know well.

The students attended a physical place called school, at set times, within state determined term dates, with the students organised into age cohorts and taught in class groups, by a solitary teacher.

They moved in a lock step manner through their years at school, all taught using a common curriculum prepared by the experts, all assessed by paper-based exams, with all the major exams externally set.

The focus was strongly academic. Success equated with academic performance.

They were schools where the socially economically advantaged families of the society were further advantaged, and the marginalised, the labourers, indigenous, coloureds and migrants further disadvantaged. 

Core to the model was the sorting and sifting of the students, the schools charged with identifying the perceived future leaders while winnowing out the lower quality and non-compliant. 

The nature of the school buildings, with their corridors of teaching rooms, was much the same as today. Indeed, likely most schools of the 1920s remain in use today. Think of the schools in the older parts of the cities and country towns, and how many were built around the 1920s or earlier.

Structurally the schools were linear, strongly hierarchical organisations, that drew heavily upon Industrial Age manufacturing thinking and processes. The high/secondary schools particularly were segmented, loosely coupled (Weick, 1976), with a strong division of labour, where the subject teachers taught their speciality to students moving along the ‘production line’.

The principal was all powerful, using ‘his’ position and the hierarchy to unilaterally control every facet of the school’s operation. 

Throughout the 20’s and 30s the burgeoning university education faculties and bodies like the National Education Association (NEA) used their expertise internationally to assist the emerging education bureaucracies refine the model.

Simultaneously local, provincial and national governments and education authorities codified and entrenched the model. Legislation was passed, regulations put in place, operational manuals prepared, working conditions determined, pay rates struck, the curriculum mandated, teachers’ colleges opened, and school inspection and accountability arrangements implemented.

It bears remembering that until the 1950’s only the socio-economically advantaged young, most of whom were boys, completed high school and went to university. Most left school to work before 15.  

Permanence

The post Second World War years placed immense pressure on the model, but by the 70’s, fifty plus years on from the standardisation, it was apparent it had become so embedded that it would remain the norm for many more years.

The rise in births and social aspirations after the War, saw a surge globally in school building, teacher numbers and the imperative of schools educating an ever wider cross section of society.

Russia’s launch of Sputnik in 1957 sent shock waves through Western education, seriously challenging its ability to provide a schooling superior to the USSR. 

When combined with the imperative of better catering for a wider socio-economic profile schooling globally was obliged to examine closely the effectiveness of the standard model, and to test alternative structures.

Most were eventually found wanting, with the standard model being accepted as part of modern life, even with its recognised shortcomings.

Joyce writing in the then highly prestigious 1971 National Society for the Study of Education (NSSE) Handbook observed:

…It is not entirely outlandish to compare the giant education bureaucracy with the postal system except that instead of taking mail from one place to another, it receives people when they are children and delivers when they are young adults into the adult economic family, and the social and political systems. As in the case of the postal system things are delivered much as they are mailed (Joyce, 1971, p308).

In education, it is the characteristics of the children and parents that account for most of the character of the delivered product (Joyce, 1971, p308).

The children will be more, when they leave school, of what they were when they came to it (Joyce, 1971, p344).

A quarter of a century later, 75 years on from the standardising of the school model Tyack and Cuban (1995) noted the continued use of the core structures:

The basic grammar of schooling, like the shape of classrooms, has remained remarkably stable over the decades. Little has changed in the ways schools divide time and space, classify students and allocate them to classrooms, splinter knowledge into ‘subjects’ and award grades and ‘credits’ as evidence of learning (Tyack and Cuban, 1995, p85).

Indeed, the grammar of schooling had been accepted by societies globally to be what schools are (Tyack and Cuban, 1995, p85).

……Established institutional forms come to be understood by educators, student and the public as necessary features of ‘real’ school. They become fixed in place by everyday custom in schools and by outside forces, by legal mandates and cultural beliefs, until they are barely noticed. They become just the way schools are (Tyack and Cuban, 1995, p86).

In 2020 the century old core school structures remain the norm.

In 2019 its graduating group was still assessed, 100 years on by external hand-written exams.

Despite being stress tested in manner like never before by the Covid 19 pandemic the grammar of schooling remains as strong as ever, with societies worldwide better understanding the strength of the standard model’s structures, but also more aware of the opportunities within those structures to better educate all children 24/7/365 in and for a digital and socially connected world.

The Strengths

The great and enduring strengths of the traditional model relate in the main to its facility to simultaneously develop and care for most of the nation’s young in a secure, safe physical site, for much of the year. 

It frees young parents to work, to make a significant contribution to the national productively, while also providing families the monies to live the desired life.

The national importance of the latter was highlighted during the 2020 pandemic, with economies worldwide obliged to operate largely in a holding pattern until the physical places called schools could re-open.

Importantly the model performs that role relatively efficiently, combining as it does educational development, care, social growth and increasingly personal well-being.

The related strength is that the model gives society what it expects of schools. It is a politically and socially acceptable model.

Importantly, as evidenced by the changes over time, and during the pandemic, while the structures might not change what occurs within them can, in often significant ways.

Opportunities

The digital allows teaching to readily transcend the physical site called school, and to be networked, without having to vary the school structures or plant.

The digital enables schools to significantly change their shaping vision, learning environment, culture, staffing, modus operandi, relationship with their community, resourcing and to abandon their insularity without changing the standard model, building new schools or needing to tackle the mass of legislative, legal, cultural and historical constraints inhibiting structural change.

When obliged in early 2020 to go digital most schools in retrospect handled the crisis remarkably well.

Revealingly few watching the world’s young readily use their home digital ecosystem made any comment. It had become the new normal.

A new normal that couldn’t have occurred a decade ago, when in early 2010 there were no iPads, Chromebooks, Zoom, Android apps store, little national broadband connectivity and very few primary age students having normalised the use of the digital. 

Conclusion.

In 2020, as the Covid 19 pandemic affirmed schooling is well placed to move to a digital operational mode, but it will have to do within the existing century old school structures.

  • Campbell, C and Proctor, H (2014) A History of Australian Schooling.Sydney. Allen and Unwin
  • Curtis, S.J and Boultwood, M.E.A (1962)An Introductory History of English Education Since 1800.London. University Tutorial Press
  • Joyce, B.R (1971) ‘The Curriculum Worker of the Future’. In 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.
  • 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.
  • Tyack, D and Cuban, L (1995). Tinkering Toward Utopia. Cambridge. Massachusetts. Harvard University Press.
  • Weick, K (1976) ‘Educational organisations as loosely coupled systems’. Administrative Science Quarterly21 1976

Corona Virus, Schools and Smartphone Bans

Mal Lee

Should education authorties persist with their school smartphone bans at a time when nations are rolling out their corona virus contact tracing apps?

Why shouldn’t medical authorities be able to trace potential corona virus contacts among the young in schools, by using the smarts of the technology?

As governments globally promote the benefits of students learning from home, come to better understand the many benefits of using the student’s digital devices and debate how best to minimise the risks associated with reopening schools is it not time to revisit the bans many governments placed on smartphones in schools?

Virtually overnight the pandemic has obliged educational decision to markedly rethink the contribution the digital can make to the education and well-being of the nation’s young.

Part of that rethink should be the critical part the young’s personal devices play in their 24/7/365 development, learning and well-being in a digital and socially networked society.

A related aspect is the imperative of school decision makers recognising in 2020 schools are part of an increasingly interconnected and networked world, where smartphones are the device no one, and most assuredly the young can do without.

It is surely time for all to understand that the highly sophisticated smartphones in the student’s hands are devices of enormous power and potential – that require smart minds to realise that potential.

The corona virus tracing app is but one example of how the devices can be used for the good.

There are endless other possibilities.

But none will be realised while ever the Luddite stance is maintained and teachers’ ability to explore those possibilities is denied.

Corona Virus, Schools and the Window of Opportunity

Mal Lee

Overnight the corona virus has obliged society and the educational decision makers to rethink the nature of schooling in a connected world – in a way few other events have. 

There is a societal focus on the role of schooling, and online education the world has rarely seen.

It has opened the window for the serious consideration of how schools might better genuinely collaborate with their families in the education of the young in a networked society.

The irony is that where only months ago governments were banning digital devices, and supporting schools unilateral control of teaching today that are reliant on those personal devices, the family digital ecosystem and are seemingly wanting to collaborate with the families in the ‘schooling’ of the nation’s young. 

Presently the young experience two types of learning with the digital. The structured tightly controlled linear teaching of the school, that distrusts and disempowers the young. And the highly laissez approach used 24/7/365 outside the school walls, where near on 3 billion digitally connected young (UNICEF, 2017) have largely taken control of their use of and learning with the digital (Lee, Broadie and Twining, 2018).

They are diametrically opposite, with the young outside naturally adopting the approach used by 4 billion plus of the worlds digitally connected (ITU, 2018).

Schools and systems globally have seemingly dismissed, or have not noted that global phenomenon, in the main making no effort to recognise, build upon or complement the global connectivity or universal nature of the approach learning employed.

The virus provides the chance for more schools to enhance the nexus between the two, now parallel approaches, and to collaborate with and provide astute support and leadership for the world’s digitally connected families.

But it is only a momentary chance. Already parents, the wider society and teachers are desperately wanting to return to the schooling they know.

Globally there is a small cadre of schools, that after years of astute preparation are demonstrating what is possible.

There are another group doing their utmost with the online despite that lack of preparation.

And likely globally there are schools where the teachers are going out of the way to continue their teaching with a mix of paper and digital resources.

However, most governments and education authorities in announcing the arrangements for their schools during the virus proclaimed they were taking schooling online. 

They were taking a 1920 model of schooling, which is strongly site based online, from Kindergarten to Year 12, in every area of learning.

The claim sounded highly assuring in a time of crisis.

The trouble was that in most instances it was a myth, convenient spin. 

Literally overnight, with no planning, consultation, staff or community preparation, or infrastructure testing total education systems were through some magic wand waving to move from a wholly site based operation to working online.

Some exceptional schools, that have done the years of preparation have handled the challenge well.

Most however have struggled, with both the concept of teaching in a digital mode, and the logistics of teaching wholly online. One example sighted sought to unilaterally impose a 1920 model of teaching on the lives of all its families, specifying to the minute when students were to switch subjects, and the sanctions that would be applied if they did not. 

Glitch after technical glitch has been experienced by near all.

Little is the wonder most are wanting to return to the established ways.

That said maybe this is the cock-up schooling and particularly governments had to have.

What is now patently obvious from the pandemic experience is that physical attendance at a physical place school must be core to schooling forever.

The virus has daily underscored the critical role schools play in allowing young parents to work.

A related reality is that a century of unsuccessful school change has affirmed that the core structure of schooling will rarely, if ever be changed.

It is possible to make and sustain change within those 1920 structures, but – and it is a vital ‘but’ – it is virtually impossible to achieve sustained structural change in schools. History over the century has continually affirmed the attitudinal, political, structural, educational, legislative, legal, cultural, logistical and societal constraints to be overcome.

While it is pleasing to note is the number of commentators urging schooling take advantage of the virus to introduce fundamental change all fail to grasp how tightly the standard model of schooling is woven into the fabric of modern society.

Change can, and has been made within the existing structures. 

That is where to take advantage of the jolt provided by the corona virus. The culture can be changed, a digitally based school ecosystem grown, control of the teaching and learning can be distributed, genuine collaboration can occur between the schools and families and a greater nexus established between the in and out of school use of the digital.

Work on the reality that society will expect the kids to go school, and return home at a set time each day, five days a week, for X days of the year, and break for holidays in the same weeks each year. 

And just maybe some of the opportunities opened by the pandemic will be realised.

Just maybe governments will better understand how central personal devices, family digital ecosystems and digitally connected families are to the 24/7/365 learning of the young, and just maybe when schools return to the standard model governments will still want to genuinely collaborate with the families of the young.

  • Lee, M. Broadie, R and Twining, P (2018) Your Kids Being Digital. A Guide for Digitally Connected Families.Armidale Australia Douglas and Brown
  • UNICEF (2017) Children in a Digital World. UNICEF December 2017 – https://www.unicef.org/publications/files/SOWC_2017_ENG_WEB.pdf

Home schooling or home education?

Roger Broadie

Whatever other impacts the covid-19 virus may have on education systems, there will be a big impact on parents which is likely to change attitudes.

Children going to school has allowed parents to take a more or less peripheral interest in their childrens’ education. While most parents are interested and helpful, they largely just go along with what the school decides their children should learn and with how this learning should happen.

With many children now not going to school parents are discovering how willing their children are to do work set by the school and how engaging and possible they find this. And without peer incentives or the structure of classes children will dictate the pace of days. There will only be a few parents who manage to impose anything like a ‘school day’ at home. That kind of expectation needs to be built from birth, it cannot suddenly be imposed on a ‘normal’ family relationship.

Many parents will question the purpose of schools attempting to get their pupils to follow some kind of school curriculum at home. And many will question the value of aspects of that school curriculum, reflecting on whether they still remember learning such things and whether they have any current importance in their life.

Once through the first week of attempts to do as school asks, with very mixed success, I strongly suspect parents’ concern will move to the matter of how to keep their children gainfully employed for at least part of the day. This will be reinforced by their children regularly proclaiming “I’m bored!”, and perhaps by their own boredom as well. Watching TV palls after a while.

As this process works through, what should parents be advised to do?

I suggest we should first of all make it clear to parents that schools will inevitably have to re-teach things required by tests and exams as these get re-instated, which will reveal just how important many of the things schools teach actually are. And which just get ignored.

And to suggest to parents that what is most important is to help their children maintain desire to learn and confidence in their learning and creative abilities. A sensible plan for parents could be:

  • Establish a definite getting up time. And a standard of dress, not pyjamas.
  • Require something to be produced during the morning; writing, a drawing, a lego or cardboard model, a search history of something being researched, a video that explains something (even if it’s an analysis of where the cat likes to sleep). And shown to parents just before lunch.
  • Require some household job to be done during the day – there is bound to be something that needs cleaning.
  • Lunch, as a fixed point in the day, at a set time, with some real food eaten. And possibly some creative help in making lunch an interesting moment in the day, with their help in producing it. Artistic arrangement of food on a plate works well.
  • In the afternoon, establish a time to talk about “something I have learnt today”. And to make a plan for tomorrow. It’s good to wake up knowing there is something you intend to do that day.
  • In the evening some multimedia reading, on screen or paper; you can find out about anything on YouTube. With a standard question in the morning, what did you read/watch/listen to last night? And with the parent listening with interest, even if what was read was my little pony or something about violent films – this is part of seeing them up and dressed in the morning, enjoying a bit of breakfast.

Perhaps when parents have done this for some weeks they will become more aware of, and more questioning of the curriculum the school provides, and whether it provides a good education, or just schooling to fill the school day.

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

The Uniqueness of Sustained School Organisational Change

Greg McKay

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

The art of sustaining, and in time revitalising core organisational change in schools, and school systems is unique; markedly different to that in other organisations.

It is an emerging reality all interested in school development should consider. 

While there are many similarities to all other organisations in the sustaining of the change it is critical to understand what sets schools apart, and not perpetuate the mistake many have made trying to apply in toto the tenets or models of organisational change in business, and indeed the public service, to schools.

Schools, and school systems are unique organisational forms, requiring apt sustaining and revitalisation strategies.

The school organisational change literature not only doesn’t recognise the marked difference between making the initial organisational change and its sustaining (Lee and Broadie, 2019) but also doesn’t acknowledge schools organisationally differ in at least six fundamental aspects to all other organisations, private and public sector.

Their remit, the societal dependence on them, the time spent developing the nation’s young, school’s perpetual existence, government’s political control, and invariably ownership, and their need to balance ‘normalisation’ with evolution combine to set them apart.

No school can be independent of the education system they are part of, be it local, parochial, provincial, national or international. All must work within the established parameters, address the set targets and meet an array of obligations.

The same combination of factors, plus the many others that impact organisational change make core school, and system change, and the sustaining of that change very challenging, with history revealing the odds strongly favour the retention of, and invariably the return to, the traditional organisational form.

  • Remit

Businesses exist to make money, schools to educate, and to care for the nation’s young, within a physical place called school.

The young, their parents, the wider community, and vitally the electorate expect those schools to play those roles day after day, year after year.

While accepting schools will be efficiently and effectively managed, and make good use of the funding provided schools are not perceived to be profit making enterprises.  

  • Societal dependence

Rather they exist to serve their society, they been given the prime responsibility for educating the nation’s young, and caring for and nurturing them while the parents work.

They are moreover expected to play that role in the contemporary world in a consistent manner, on a specified number of days each year, within given hours, and break for holidays on approximately the same dates year after year – advertising the school term dates several years in advance.

Globally modern societies, and indeed economies build their lives and workings around those school operating times and term dates, with there been virtually no likelihood of ever varying the term dates. Life in the northern hemisphere is for example still profoundly impacted hundreds of years on by a pattern of school holidays that emerged out of the agrarian year.

Societies’ dependence is invariably strengthened by governments’ mandating that all the nation’s young attend school for X years of their lives.

150 plus years on society has also come to expect – rightly or wrongly – schools to ready compliant citizens, ensure the ‘right’ material is taught, sort and sift the students, and certificate the student’s ability. 

  • Time spent developing the young

Schools must factor into any strategy that seeks to sustain change, and particularly to revitalise that change the responsibility they have for educating each age cohort of students over a long, invariably twelve plus year period, and doing so in a lockstep, linear manner.

While most organisations, private and public sector have only a brief interaction with the clients, schools work with them every day, for years, each year taking in a new cohort of students, while exiting another. To create a significant change in the learning behaviour of say nine year olds, it may be necessary to start that change with the children when they are only five.

Approximately 20% of the nation’s young’s learning time annually will be spent at school.

Core organisational change invariably has thus to be phased in, and the change continued with until the last student cohort departs the school.

Schools can’t like most other organisations make, and even markedly refine a core change the moment it thinks apt. They have work with the givens. 

  • Perpetual organisations

Schools as organisations will continue their operations while ever there is a community for which to cater; an electorate to satisfy. While non-government schools might come, and go governments must ensure communities have a school

Schools have literally existed for hundreds of years, and are on track do so for many more.

In marked contrast to business that must operate at the cutting-edge to remain viable, the viability of most schools is seldom under threat.

While it is highly desirable schools provide a quality apt contemporary education in many respects it matters not how poorly run or how dated and irrelevant is the teaching. The government schools will continue while ever there are students wanting to attend.

The demand on their ‘child care’ role, particularly at a point in history where both parents work, will see most average, and even poor schools continue to operate.

It is difficult to imagine any democratic government, wanting to stay in office opting to take up Perelman’s (1992) suggestion of closing the schools, and teaching solely online.

The perpetuity of the organisation, its longevity means staff appointed to schools will, likely unwittingly, play a custodial role in preserving and growing the history of the school, for what invariably will only be a relatively short time in the organisation’s operations. They will play their role and leave it to others to continue and hopefully grow their work. It is not unusual for there to be a 20% plus turnover of staff annually, and only rarely will the teachers stay in a K-12 school the same length as the students.

The same holds at the system level, probably even more so, particularly in those organisations that staff the central office with limited term contracts. 

Interestingly, aside from staff in schools with a long history, the authors’ strong impression is that most teachers, administrators and even politicians don’t see schools operating in perpetuity, or the staff being custodians of but a period in the organisation’s history. While greater research is needed, the authors combined 80 year plus association with schools and systems points to a focus on the now, and the immediate future, that combined with a lack of corporate memory and documented history likely sees few staff regarding themselves as custodians of a heritage. The contrast with role played by staff in a museum, or even the police or fire services is likely marked, with the shortcoming needing to be factored into any change sustaining or revitalisation strategy. 

Schools linked to religious organisations are also invariably limited in the degree of change they can implement by the usually conservative tenets of their governing bodies.

  • Government control, ownership and politics

Another great difference between sustaining, and particularly revitalising organisational change in business and in schools is that schooling is controlled by government, in most instances the schools are owned by the government, and any core change will always depend on its electoral, political and government acceptance.

Globally governments, be they local, provincial or national control the operations of the nation’s schools – even if not directly owning them. While the nature and degree of sway varies the control of such variables as the overarching legislation, working conditions, pay rates, the funding, the curriculum authority, the examination’s board/s, teacher registration, school accreditation and teacher training ensures the government of the day will always have a powerful voice.

The power is amplified many fold when they own the schools.

With government control/ownership there will always be the continuing, often very quick turnover of the senior decision makers. Governments only have limited tenure, the ministers of education even shorter and system chief executive will on experience rarely stay more than six years.

The limited tenure, the electoral imperative to impress in the short time and the constant jockeying for power strongly inclines governments, ministers of education and their bureaucrats to favour shorter term initiatives, and to shy away from change likely to alienate the electorate.

School systems in contrast to business, invariably have senior decision makers who aren’t versed in the business at hand. Contemporary educational administration is highly likely to have a minister, political advisers and heads of the administration with no training in or experience in high level educational change. Most moreover will have little or no corporate memory.

Their expertise is politics and providing the electorate what it finds acceptable.

Sustained change must be electorally acceptable, preferably owned by the community to the extent that successive governments will be wary of intervening other than to enrich the change.

Any major revitalisation of the original core organisational change, such as shifting from a paper to digitally based operational construct will need to be electorally attractive, be embraced by the teachers and school leadership and vitally provide wins for most of the senior decision makers, the political advisers, the minister, the system executive, and in many situations also the union/s. 

While accepting small ‘p’ politics is important in all sustained organisational change with schools the facility to play the small and capital ‘P’ political game is paramount.

  • Accommodating ‘normalisation’ and evolution

Schooling has the immense, and growing challenge of ‘normalising’ the everyday school experience while simultaneously evolving its form to ensure the schools continue to provide an apt contemporary education, and meet their society’s rising expectations.

Much of the business literature regards normalisation as an anathema to sustained organisational change, Lewin as far back as 1947 commented on the necessity of ‘unfreezing’ the organisation. Normalisation is considered by the many of the change theorists to be a sign of failure, an indicator that the organisation had ossified and moved to a state of evolutionary equilibrium.

Those theorists reveal they don’t understand the unique nature of sustaining organisational change in schools.

Swift acceptance and ‘normalisation’ of the change by the students, staff, parents and the wider community is imperative in schooling if the core change is to succeed and be sustained over the decades. In keeping with the above mentioned factors the change needs to be perceived to be successful, and accepted by the electorate for it to have any hope of being sustained as governments and senior executive come and go.

That normalisation needs to be astutely engineered, with the electorate, as well as the staff, students and particularly the parents being educated on the merits of the core change. 

But in so doing the community needs also to understand that in a time of accelerating digital evolution and organisational transformation ‘normalisation’ should be viewed as a continually evolving – not static – concept, a phenomenon where the ‘old normal’ is regularly replaced by the ‘new normal’. This is particularly apparent in the daily use of rapidly evolving digital technologies where the old ways are continually being superseded by the new, without a moment’s thought. It is however apparent in near every facet of life, work and learning where what was normal ten years ago has been supplanted.

This iterative normalisation is particularly important to the evolution of schooling, where a host of often seemingly small enhancements can combine to ensure apt adjustments are made for the evolving context; refinements readily accepted by the students, staff, electorate and government.

We’ve identified six attributes that set schooling apart for other sustained organisational change. There might well be others.

Conclusion

The point remains schools are unique organisations.

That uniqueness needs to be better recognised in shaping the strategies to sustain core school and system wide organisational change, and when appropriate to build upon and revitalise the core change.

While schooling should draw upon the general thinking and research on general organisational change it is imperative the decision makers contextualise their thinking and appreciate schooling is unique.

Sustaining School Organisational Change

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

The art of sustaining, and building upon core organisational change is very different to that of making the initial change.

That is something that is slowly being realised in the general organisational change literature.

It doesn’t appear to have been widely grasped in school organisational change.

Rather the focus there continues to be on the initial change, the innovation, with seemingly little thought given to the practicalities of sustaining and growing the change for decades thereafter.

The history of core school change worldwide, of school innovation is characterised by the failure to sustain and grow the change. Only a small portion of the changes of the last fifty years have been sustained, let alone built upon. 

Organisationally schools, aside from some notable exceptions, haven’t as indicated in an earlier post (Lee and Broadie, 2019), fundamentally changed in the last century. Most schools remain site based, linear, hierarchical, paper based constructs, still characterised by Industrial Age thinking, structures and processes.

Part of that shortcoming likely lies in schooling’s failure to successfully sustain, and grow well-conceived, well implemented change. While very aware of the many constraints on, and daily threats to core organisational change and the paucity of the implementation with much change the failure to sustain apt change lies with the decision makers, and often the inability of generations of decision makers, to nurture, sustain and evolve the initial change.

Despite the hype, and vast outlays of monies and effort most change hasn’t lasted more than a decade or two, with much not lasting beyond the change of head, or government. In Australia for example, as likely elsewhere, virtually all the structural innovation of the 1960s and 1970s has disappeared, with most schools regressing to their traditional form.

The marked propensity in the general organisational change literature has like schooling been to focus on the initial change, and to assume the change will naturally be sustained. As Buchanan and his colleagues (2005) note it is only in the last couple of decades has greater attention been accorded the sustaining and growing of the change, and the distinctiveness of that facet of the change process.

One will struggle to find in the school change literature any reference to the art of sustaining organisational or cultural change. The challenge of sustaining the change twenty, thirty years will seldom be mentioned. Likely part of that shortcoming lies in the lack of successful, long term case studies to study.

That shortcoming is seemingly perpetuated on the ground, with generation after generation of change architects concentrating on the introduction, its initial implementation and its promotion. The funding of the change has been invariably short-term, only rarely with monies allocated for the long-term. 

There is an all – pervasive sense that once the change has been made the organisation can move on to the next project.

History underscores the danger of that thinking, it likely guaranteeing failure.

In researching The Creation, Sustaining and Revitalisation of the ACT Secondary College Model (Lee, 2019), a core system change that has been sustained forty plus years, it soon became apparent that after several decades the executive with operational responsibility for the change had little understanding of, or interest in its origins or the philosophical underpinnings of the original innovation. Rather the focus was on the enhancement of the now and the immediate future, done without regard to why the initial change could have been made, why the model had been sustained or why it was, after decades of use, still strong enough to build upon.

There was no sense of history, or desire to draw upon a successful heritage in shaping the future.

At a time, globally where accelerating organisational evolution and transformation is the norm, where increasing use is made of generalist senior executive, staff turn-over is high, corporate memory is often lacking and the analysis of current data is all pervasive it is ever more important for schools and systems to couple the current data with a historical analysis and understanding, and ensure future enhancement is consonant with the principles that underpinned the original change.

It is time to reduce the time, effort and monies wasted, and the inordinate disruption caused by ineffectual short-term change that has little or no ties with the initial core change.

That entails better understanding the total scene, the past, the now and the desired future. 

It moreover obliges decision makers consider the distinct nature of sustained organisational change in schools. While there are many elements common to sustaining and building upon the core organisational change in business and other public sector organisations the signs point strongly, as we discuss in our next post to schooling having to work with a suite of the unique givens.

The understanding those givens can only be gained through historical analysis, the history of the original change, the context, aspirations, shaping philosophy, guiding principles and ascertaining why the initial change had been accepted and normalised, or why the change was never embraced. It requires understanding why the change has lasted, and ascertaining if it has the strength to be built upon and given an extra lease of life.

Importantly only historical analysis can, as Suddaby and Foster (2017) and his colleagues have recently observed identify the key long term and emerging trends, in and outside the school and system, the challenges that emerge from those trends and the lessons to be learned. Data analysis alone can’t at this stage provide that insight.

While still early days and appreciating much more research is needed there is already a suite of lessons school organisational change designers can draw upon, lessons that have emerged out of the inordinate number of failures and the rare successes.

  • Most core school, and system organisational change will not be sustained. Despite the daily hype, and claims about the ease of change it is immensely difficult to achieve and sustain.
  • Very few schools or systems globally have sustained most core organisational change more than thirty years, and successfully revitalised that change.
  • Most core system wide innovation will likely regress to a state of evolutionary equilibrium, and gradually disappear. Likely the pace of regression will accelerate as memory in the executive of the guiding principles wane, and decisions are made that slowly but surely weaken the thrust of the initial core change.
  • Sustained long term organisational change must continually grow, be nurtured, refreshed, attuned to the changing context, and periodically be significantly revitalised.
  • Mistakes will be made. Ineffectual change leaders will be appointed. Poor strategic decisions will be taken. Politicians will meddle. Some mistakes will be fatal, others addressed rapidly will become part of the learning in a long journey. In brief organisational construct change is an immensely challenging, complex, multi-dimensional exercise that is in practise very difficult to pull off. It needs the best people to succeed, not just anyone. 
  • The signs are that the hardest and most expensive part in successful sustained change is getting the start right. Get every facet of the totality right and accepted, and the indications are that the sustaining, and even the periodic refreshment can be done readily and relatively inexpensively.
  • Successful sustained change will move through a series of stages, from the initial start- up, to normalisation, maturation and refinement, and in some instances to revitalisation and further maturation and enrichment.
  • The one organisational change seemingly readily accepted and sustained globally has been the move to add another year or two of schooling. In most instances the move hasn’t dramatically changed the nature of the schooling.
  • Sustained change requires it be normalised and accepted electorally, with the signs suggesting that must be achieved within the first year or two.
  • Allied is the likely reality that the teachers must embrace the change and the guiding principles from the outset, and naturally pass that acceptance orally from one generation of teachers to the next if the change is to be normalised and sustained.  
  • The key attributes of, and the challenges with each phase will likely be remarkably common globally, with the factors underpinning the sustaining of the change and its revitalisation being markedly different to most in the initial phase.  

The research undertaken on the near universal failure of schools globally to move from a paper to digital organisational construct, and the historical analysis of the ACT secondary college (Lee, 2019) provides an important insight into what those factors likely are, but other case studies will be needed to hone the thinking.

Conclusion

The most important insight historical analysis provides is that changing the core organisational structures of schools is damn hard.

It is immensely difficult within individual schools.

It is even harder at the with a system.

It is likely appreciably more difficult to sustain that change and do so over the decades.

The challenge of sustaining while simultaneously also evolving the organisational change is an art few have clearly mastered.

It is a markedly different art to that of making the initial change.

While the theory is important the sustaining, and the opportune revitalisation of the core change is an art that requires a macro understanding of whole school change and a recognition that this very much a political exercise. Sometimes it is small p political, but in mostly it is likely capital p political.

Ultimately it is about orchestrating electoral acceptability, governments winning and retaining office and the executive decision makers securing personal ‘wins’; an imperative rarely mentioned in the school or even the general change literature.

  • Buchanan, D, Fitzgerald, L, Ketley, D, Gollop, R, Jones, J.L, Lamont, S.S, Neath, A, and Whitby, E. (2005) International Journal of Management Reviews. Vol. 7, Issue 3. 2005
  • Lee, M (2019) The Creation, Sustaining and Revitalisation of the ACT Secondary College Model. Armidale, Australia, Douglas and Brown – http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/–  
  • Suddaby, R and Foster, W.M, (2017) ‘History and Organizational Change’. Journal of Management.Vol.43. No. I 2017