Friday, July 15, 2011

Bennett (2001) Organisational Theory

Bennett, N. (2001). Power, structure and culture : an organizational view of school effectiveness and school improvement. In Harris & N. Bennett (Eds.), School effectiveness and school improvement : alternative perspectives (pp.98-112). London : Continuum.

Bennett's basic premise for this chapter is that organizational theory can provide insights for schools and the ways in which to improve themselves, but this is often overlooked. The process of school improvement is often seen in terms of change of culture and then the problems will be fixed. Whereas the fundamental aspect - that schools are by the very nature organisations is overlooked and the academic fields writing on school improvementand organisational theory very rarely coincide and tend to be separate fields of endeavour. Bennett suggests that there needs to be a sharper focus on seeing connections between the two fields.

Just as with the attempt to nail down a definition of information literacy, it seems that the academics have "no clearly agreed view of what an organization is, nor how it should be analyzed". p.99. Given this claim, is it any wonder that the school improvement camp haven't really want to get into bed with the organizational theory mob!

Scott (1987) has three basic organizational systems identified:

  1. Rational systems - characterized by "highly formalised social structure"

  2. Natural systems - characterized by the "sharing of a common goal'

  3. Open systems - characterized by being "strongly influence by their environment", negotiated goals and/or coalition or interdependence with inputs - process - outputs model

According to Bennett "the school effectiveness movement rests on a rational open systems model". p 99

Bennett posits that "this makes it easy to see the process of educational activity as one of "adding value" to the "raw material" of the input". Possibly statements like these are the very reason why the two branches of research rarely intersect - for those with the effectiveness of educational organizations at the core of their vocation - this is an odious goal. Working in England during the early 2000s has given me a healthy aversion to the educational application of statements such valuing adding. Having students in your class AND the pay bonuses your receive at the end of the academic year dependent upon statistical analysis (solely upon this in the case of the pay bonus) was anathema to why I become a teacher. And yes Bennett wrote this in 2001 and talks about the debate over the "fairness of government league tables". The Daily Telegraph readers in the UK might think that league tables for schools is a good thing - try working in a school that is under OFSTED special measures or in a school that has an OFSTED report which suggests that if you value your child's life and education you want NEVER contemplate sending them to that school. As a teacher working under those perceptions it makes the primary focus of improvement the educational outcomes of your students nigh on impossible some days. My three years working the UK state school system was an eye opener and it is sad to see that Australia hasn't learnt from the mistakes of the Blair/Gordon government.

Removing emotion from the examination of schools as organizations - you can see why the RATIONAL OPEN SYSTEM is the model that the school effectiveness movement have hit open. The basic attributes of schools are:

  • schools' raw material - the students they receive each academic year

  • possesses a formalized social structure - for both staff and students this can be quite rigid

  • emphasis on a limited set of measurable outputs - NAPLAN, School Certificate and HSC results - school reports feed into this as well

  • lack of emphasis on process-related issues

Bennett outlines that with the OPEN SYSTEMS view of schools and colleges - analysis of the learning community to ascertain where improvement can be made may need to

  • stress a process as much as a product (TEACHING AND LEARNING)

  • stress the interdependence of different parts of the organization (structure) which can be fluid and dynamic (FLEXIBILITY, COLLABORATION)

  • stress the interdependence of organizations (WORKING WITHIN BROADER SYSTEMS AND CONTEXT)

  • stress the need to keep the organization in a "reasonably stable condition" (HARD UNDER CERTAIN POLITICAL CLIMATES???!!!)

  • stress the importance of each part of the organization is kept informed of what is going on elsewhere that might affect its work (COMMUNICATION)

  • see that organizations should be seen as STATIC forms but as DYNAMIC PROCESSES.

  • see the organization as being possessed of members rather than tasks - more organic in which members see the organization as having the capacity to adapt and grow in relation to its environment

Bennett demonstrate that if writers focus upon RATIONAL/TECHNICIST view of organizations emphasis the following:

  • detailed task specification

  • routinized work

  • uniform procedures and consistency

  • see management as oversight - ensuring that routines are correctly adhere to and procedures (not processes) are followed

  • quality control rather than quality assurance

  • see the organization as being possessed of tasks rather than members - in which members of the organization see change being instituted by management decisions (an activity rather than a collaborative process)

Bennett suggests that despite which view of organizational theory you follow there are "certain basic propositions about organizations that would probably gain widespread acceptance " p 101 Organizations:

  • have members;

  • have a purpose, which gives rise to both the core tasks of the organization and the technology or technologies through which it is carried out;

  • have to acquire and retain resources;

  • required some sort of structure through which to ensure that the tasks are carried out and the purpose met.

  • are both identifiably similar and different - something makes one distinguishable from another.


Fundamentally - members ARE the organization.

School could be classified as "total organizations" (those which key members had not choice over membership or right to leave). Certainly in the climate of the raised school leaving age - with the "captured" students who are trapped at school until they are 17 - would certainly argue that schools are "total organisations".

Membership to the organization can often be enunciated through rules and regulations to which the members have to adhere. In schools these are articulated in very tangible ways for both students and staff - code of conduct is oft cited in New South Wales Department of Education school and just watch for the eye rolling when you bring up the subject of school rules - classroom, playground, uniform or otherwise with students.

Rules and regs can take the form of:

  1. informal norms

  2. informal expectations

  3. officially sanctioned norms and expectations

  4. whole organization (universal)

  5. limited to specific tasks or areas of work


"Schein (1992) points out that organizations are artefact's: human creations, not naturally occurring phenomena" p 102 "In addition, organization purposes, tasks and technologies may be influenced, if not indeed defined, by agencies external to the organization itself."p.102 Anyone working in modern educational systems would resonate with that statement. Education is a political hot button issue which invariably becomes a foundational plank in any political party's mandate to be elected. Policy initiatives are then required to be undertaken by school, which often rarely gets a say in the agenda setting process.

Also - "schools are widely recognizable within and indeed across societies and those that do not conform to those wider institutional norms come under enormous pressure to do so." p. 102 - being a political football is another side issue!


"... often understood as either financial resources or as "raw material" to be processed. ...range of expertise that can be purchased within the financial resources that are obtained. .... include members ..." p.102

Looking are resources from a dispassionate angle, they can be costly or cheap (depending on availability), skills, knowledge and expertise are all resources which can be financially acquired, used effectively and efficiently OR NOT depending on the output of the organisation.


tasks = fulfilling the purposes of the organization

structure = created to exploit its resources so as to deliver the activities involved in fulfilling its purposes

"Structures imply that tasks and responsibilities are allocated and that resources reach the right place at the right time" p. 103

Structures all mean members are influenced or directed, and ACCOUNTABILITY.

"Mechanistic views of organizations see structures as fixed, static entities that only change as a result of specific decisions by those who control them" p. 103

"Organic views see structures as capable of developing in an almost living way." p. 103

Bennett remind us that "structures only function because of the actions of the organizational members who work they shape. Membership can change and with it the ways in which the structure operate. Purposes can change, as can what is externally defined as legitimate, and these can affect the structuring of the core task. Technologies available to members in discharging those core tasks can also develop, placing structures under pressure."

So how does this relate to being a TL in a school. A TL can be central to the teaching and learning context if the structures within the school allow it be so, the members of the school (students and teaching staff) see as a place in which teaching and learning can take place. If membership changes - new year group needs to be enculturated into the ways of the library, and new staff need to see that the library and TL are important and helpful in their core purpose. Purpose can change - the principal may determine new roles for the TL or cut the library program altogether (it happened in LA!) and of course, the ever-changing technologies all impact on the organization structure of schools and libraries - as TLs we need to adapt the structures to the new technologies - easier said than done. As Bennett contends "Structures, then, should be seen as dynamic entities, even when there is no change apparently taking place." p 103.

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