Saturday, July 16, 2011

A Model for Managing an excellent school

Beare, H., Caldwell, B. J., & Millikan, R. H. (1989). A model for managing an excellent school. In Creating an excellent school : some new management techniques. (pp. 125-150). London : Routledge.

This article is over twenty years old, and establishes itself with the purpose of creating a model of Managing an excellent school. A worthy intent. It outlines that leadership is required, policies need to be formulated, priorities set, plans made, resources allocated along with "systematic appraisal of the programme". p 125. All fundamental requirements which seem very hard to argue against. So if twenty years ago Beare et. al. were earnestly writing about school improvement and excellence - why is that this still isn't being achieved in every school?

Perhaps the previous reading by Bennett (2001) suggests that there are essential aspects of the paradigm which are being overlooked - structures, culture and power.

21c educators would agree that any organisation or learning community needs to be founded upon the sharing of the same values or mission. This why school formulate values statements and policies are crucial to establishing and articulating the clear purpose and values that each member of the organisation holds in order to achieve the purpose the organisation was created to do. In schools' case - that is to educate the students in the care.

The aim of collaborative decision making is a noble and worthy one - which in reality gets hi-jacked by external factors of legislation and being in a sector which is impacted upon by so many government decisions and electoral cycles. The pace of change for those working in educator is increasing and the lack of funding is almost now a given, with the accountability of each role with the sector ratcheting up daily - or least that is what it feels like. As much as everyone working within a learning community would love to partake in collaborative decision making - it very rarely becomes a reality. Schools function in a manner which runs counter to the giving of individual teachers the "responsibility and authority in determining the exact means by which the address the problem of increasing academic performance." (p. 126) This does not and cannot happen because of the multitude of structures and cultures in place which prevent it. If teacher says I would like to spend a whole term focusing on blah - the curriculum and external examination intervene, the over crowded curriculum and the time poor practitioners are going to say - it can't be done.

Grant Beare et. al suggest that for the five factors they have identified for managing an excellent school

  1. purposing

  2. values

  3. school-site management and collaborative decision-making

  4. leadership density

  5. institutionalising the vision

then MANAGEMENT OF CHANGE will need to occur. DERRRR! So how do you ensure that they change that you want to institute is going to be successful??? These are generally described as "school improvement", "school effectiveness" or "teacher effectiveness".

Four preconditions are written in red, the rest are factors

  1. leadership

  2. school autonomy

  3. staff cohesiveness

  4. good programme / fit

  5. power-sharing - tend occur after major decisions about programmes but critical for success

  6. rewards for staff - empowerment of staff was important

  7. visions

  8. control over staffing

  9. control over resources

  10. staff willingness/initiative

  11. evolutionary programme development - or "a strong bias towards steady adaptation"

  12. external networks - both internal and external networks meant needs of the school could be met, sustained working towards success.

  13. coping - with problems 'was important if implementation was to be successful"

  14. 'good implementation'

  15. institutionalisation

  16. organisational change

Beare recommend the Collaborative School Management Cycle of Caldwell and Spinks (1988). The cycle has six phases (see pp 133 - 135)

  • goal-setting and needs identification

  • policy-making, with policies consisting of statements of purpose and broad guidelines

  • planning of programmes

  • preparation and approval of programme budgets

  • implementing

  • evaluating
In the Collaborative School Management Cycle the policy group looks after

  • goal-setting and needs identification

  • Policy-making - purpose and broad guidelines

  • approval of budgets

  • evaluating (shared with programme teams)

the programme teams looks after

  • planning of programmes

  • preparation of budgets

  • implementing of programmes

  • evaluating (shared with policy group)

Beare feel that a "feature of the model which provides for power-sharing with a "critical mass" of actively engaged people and "leadership density". ... The model thus affords a framework wherein a school can exercise control over the allocation of resources, subject to the limits of school autonomy." p 135.

It was found through studies conducted in Tasmania and South Australia that "highly effective schools ... had adopted approaches to resource allocation which involved a clearly identifiable and systematic approach to matching resources to educational goals and students needs, with opportunities for staff and often community involvement in the process." p. 136

Beare et. al. place heavy emphasis upon the need for "vision for excellence" within the examples of excellent school and that this vision rests in the principal in most cases. That the principal can be solely responsible for the excellence of a school is probably true in some cases, and the importance of leadership cannot be understated in this cases. But to diminish the contributions of everyone else within the learning community is somewhat harsh. And it would lead to what Bennett would describe as "alienative compliance" in the worst cases (those particularly resistant and resentful) or instrumental compliance (those who are only doing it because they have to, they might agree that it is correct!) where as the leadership should be aiming for cognitive compliance which rises out of commitment to the changes that are being implemented. "Accomplishing ...change of attitude is the essence of transforming leadership and the hallmark of excellence" p. 137 Which according to Beare et. al. can be achieved through 'use of rewards, choice of language and careful attention to design of activities such as school ceremonies" Whilst all this is built upon an commonly held philosophy. In my experience, the commonly held philosophy is tacitly agreed upon but very rarely debated and enunciated to the point where everyone agrees. Possibly this is where school run into difficulty of creating the change to achieve the vision - everyone's idea of the the vision and how to achieve is different - meaning that people are rarely pulling together in the same direction.

Beare et. al. posit that goals need to reflect the vision and philosophy of the learning community AND everyone is the committed to these goals. An important aspect is identification of needs - this is where there is a shortfall in desired outcomes or resources to achieve those desired outcomes. "The discrepancy between what is and what ought to be." p 139. Once those needs have been identified then this feeds into setting of priorities.

Once the need has been identified then policy-making can be instituted where the policy acts as a statement of purpose or can be guidelines on how the purpose can be achieved. p 139

Simple policy documentation can take place when the non-contentious issue (there exists general satisfaction with current practice) with an agreed format - normally no longer than one A4 page - describing the guideline, free of jargon.

More complex policy documentation takes place when contentious issues need to have clear guidelines and agreed upon practices implemented. This should be developed through the working party (a representative body of those stakeholders and those with expertise in the area). The desired outcome is consensus on a policy which is both desirable and feasible. p. 140

Once policies are in place, priorities set, then PLANNING can start (corporate, strategic, programme, curriculum, instructional etc) - which is a continuous process which links goal-setting, policy-making, short and long term planning, budgeting and evaluation. p 140

  • corporate planning - often for three years, whole school in nature, strategies for achieving the desired outcomes and priority to be assigned to each initiative

  • strategic planning - an aspect of corporate planning - involves assessment of needs, identification of desired outcomes and assignment of priorities

  • programme and curriculum and instructional - specialised planning involved often with external factors which dictate changes to be incorporated - for example, the implementation of the national curriculum and its impact on the classroom programme and curriculum offered at the school

  • programme planning - how a programme is to be implemented

  • curriculum planning - detailed specification of intended learning experiences

  • instructional planning - how the individual classroom teacher will carry out the programme and curriculum requirements.

Beare points out that planning present many opportunities for empowerment of staff and "leadership density". p. 144

Budgeting is of course an important part of the model for managing an excellent school but it does often feel that for the individual working at the coal face - from the principal down ,there is little influence that can be made in terms of the budget. Increasing educational needs of students have to be met with seemingly ever-decreasing pots of money - or pots of money which have strings attached. This obviously only increases the importance of planning the use of the monies in a school to best meet the identified needs and ensure that each student receives the best bang for the educational buck that is allocated to them by external parties - IE the government if you are in a state school.

Evaluation is not a discrete activity carried out in isolation from other phases of management. p 148. Evaluation can be done regularly, annually or in three - five year cycles - but an appropriate time-framed cycle for the type of evaluating being undertaken needs to be instituted. Depending on the extent of the evaluation - a unit of work - a single to couple of teachers, to major evaluation - needs to be have representative group associated with the process including members of the policy group.

All very straightfoward, very noble and worthy and all happening in schools to a large extent - but models are fine in theory. What happens when you try to put them into practice - you come up against individuals who can wield their personal power to either help or hinder the process of managing change to achieve the goal of an excellent school. What this article and model doesn't really take into account is what Bennett discusses in his article -and there is too much reliance on the leadership from the mangagement of the school being able to garner the support and commitment from the rest of the school staff to achieve the changes needed. Too much of a wing and prayer for my liking. Beare et. al. say that the model should be consistent with "outstanding leadership" - what happens if the "outstanding leadership" isn't there. And yet power-sharing is a key component of the model they put forward - it seems counter-intutitive to place so much importance on the leadership of the principal yet want to have the horizontal organizational power-sharing structure to achieve the goals.

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