Reforming Educational Organisation and Leadership

Until recently, educational governance and management structures have been primarily bureaucratic in their mode of operation, based on centralized and top-down control, from systems to districts to schools to departments to teachers to students. More recent organizational theories and practices, however, suggest that more effective organizations afford greater degrees of self-management and lateral collaborations, tempering and reforming the vertical chains of command that characterized bureaucratic school management.362 The general trend has been towards devolved responsibility, allowing schools greater scope for self-management, communities which schools serve broader opportunities to become involved in school governance; and the empowerment of teachers to take professional responsibility for the learning that goes on in their classes.

These changes in the organization of schools in recent decades have at times been varied and extensive, from systems-mandated standards which allow teachers to use their professional judgment to determine the particular approach that would be best for their students to meet the requirements of those standards, to the spread of charter schools which allow a great deal of self-management at the school level. However, these changes have often produced disappointing results, when, for instance standards are implemented with textbook dominated learning and teaching to the test, or when charter schools work in ways that are themselves bureaucratic and produce results no better than the schools they displaced.

Here are some principles for the new school governance:

  • Cede managerial responsibility, but with more rigorous accountability and greater transparency, cascading down (or perhaps trickling up?) from broad educational objectives set by education systems, to self-managing school governance structures at the local community level, to the leadership responsibility of superintendents and principals, to the learning design and student welfare responsibilities of the professional teacher, to the learning responsibilities of students.
  • Recognize that the public/private distinction is increasingly being blurred, in which personal energies and resources supplement public schooling and private schooling is open to public scrutiny.
  • Build organizational structures which encourage and reward educational innovation and entrepreneurship, and which provide diversity offerings and choice without prejudice to the comparability of learning outcomes.
  • Create a flexible range of learning offerings: hours, sites, modes of access (such as in person and online), shaking off the historical constraints of institutional sites, local geography, and even differential resourcing based on local property values and taxation revenues.
  • Develop holistic approaches to education and its complementary social agencies, with proactive identification of risk and resilience factors amongst learners.