School Management Research Paper

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School management is in considerable disarray, if not turmoil, and is likely to remain so in the first decade of the twenty-first century. This is partly a reflection of sweeping transformations in society, mirrored in developments in education generally and in schools in particular. It also reflects failure to effect a powerful link between school management as a field of study and school management as a field of practice, so that each informs and influences the other. More fundamental is the concern that, in each instance, management is not connected to learning as well as it should be.

1. Definition Of School Management

Disarray is evident in the matter of definition. In some nations, notably the USA, administration is used to describe a range of functions performed by the most senior people in an organization, with management a more limited, sometimes routine set of tasks, often performed by those in supporting roles.

A conceptual difficulty relates to the distinction between leadership and management. The work of Kotter (1990) is helpful in resolving the issue. Leadership is concerned with change and entails the three broad processes of establishing direction, aligning people, and motivating and inspiring. Management is concerned with the achievement of outcomes, and the three broad processes of planning and budgeting, organizing and staffing, and controlling and problemsolving.

These difficulties are reflected in the role ambiguity of those who hold senior positions in schools, notably principals or head teachers. There is a generally held view that their work entails both leadership and management. They should certainly be leaders. In some instances managers will support them. There is concern when they act solely as managers. Kotter (1990) offers a contingent view that is as helpful for schools as it is for organizations in general. He contends that the emphasis and balance in leadership and management are contingent on two variables: the amount of change that is required and the complexity of the operation. Complex schools in a turbulent environment require high levels of leadership and management. Schools that are relatively simple but are faced with major change require leadership more than management. Schools that are complex in stable circumstances require management more than leadership. Simple schools in stable settings may require little of each.

2. School Management As A Field Of Practice

There are three important developments in school management that are evident in almost every nation (Caldwell and Spinks 1998). Schools and systems of schools vary in the extent to which each has unfolded. The first is the shift of authority and responsibility to schools in systems of public education. Centrally determined frameworks of curriculum, standards, and accountabilities are still in force but schools have a considerable degree of freedom in how they will meet expectations. This development is known as school-based management or local management or self-management, and is frequently accompanied by the creation of school councils, school boards, or other structures for school-based decision-making. Comprehensive reform along these lines is most evident in Australia, the UK, Canada, New Zealand and the USA, but most other nations have begun the process or are planning it.

Reasons for decentralization vary but are generally consistent with the changing view of the role of government that gathered momentum in the final decade of the twentieth century. As applied to education, this view holds that governments should be mainly concerned with setting direction, providing resources, and holding schools to account for outcomes. They should also provide schools with the authority and responsibility to determine the particular ways they will meet the needs of their students, within a centrally determined framework.

The second development arises from higher expectations for schools as governments realise that the knowledge and skill of their people are now the chief resource if nations are to succeed in a global economy. There is recognition of the high social cost of failure and the high economic cost of providing a world-class system of education. As a result, there is unprecedented concern for outcomes, and governments have worked individually and in concert to introduce systems of testing at various stages of primary and secondary schooling to monitor outcomes and provide a basis for target setting in bringing about improvement. In several countries, notably the UK and some parts of the USA, rankings of schools are published in newspapers. Comparisons of national performance are now possible through projects such as the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (Martin and Kelly 1996).

The third development is change in the nature of schooling itself. Driven to a large extent by advances in information and communications technology, much of the learning that in the past could only occur in the classroom can now occur at anytime and anywhere there is access to a networked computer. Students and their teachers have access to a vast amount of information. Interactive multi-media have enriched and individualized learning on a remarkable scale. This development is not uniform across all schools or across all nations, and disparities are a matter of concern.

There is growing anxiety on the part of government that structures for the delivery of public education that have survived for a century or more may no longer be adequate for the task. Charter schools made their appearance in Canada and the USA in the 1990s, and the number increased very rapidly, even though they are still a small fraction of the total number of schools. Charter schools receive funding from the public purse but are otherwise independent, operating outside the constraints of a school district. A schools-for-profit movement gathered momentum around the same time, with public funding enhanced by private investment through the offering of shares on the stock exchange, as instanced by the pioneering Edison Schools. In the UK, the Blair Government privatized the support services of several local education authorities and established a framework for public–private partnerships in the management of publicly owned schools. The number of private schools is increasing in most countries, reflecting growing affluence and loss of faith in the public sector. A contentious policy, gaining ground in a number of countries, is the provision of public funds (often described as ‘vouchers’) allowing parents to access private schools when public schools do not meet expectations.

Taken together, these developments have created conditions that call for high levels of leadership and management at the school level. Schools are more complex and are experiencing greater change than ever before. A particular challenge is to prepare, select, place, appraise, and reward those who serve, and there is growing concern in some countries about the quality and quantity of those who seek appointment. Some governments have created or are planning new institutions to address this concern, illustrated by the establishment in England in 2000 of the National College for School Leadership. There is evidence of a loss of faith in the university as an institution to shape and inform approaches to school management, and to prepare those who will serve as leaders and managers in the future.

3. School Management As A Field Of Study

School management has emerged relatively recently as a sub-field of study within the broader field of educational management (administration). There were few formal programs and little research on the phenomenon until the 1950s. Prior to that, approaches to the management of schools paralleled those in industry. Indeed, it was generally recognized that management in education was largely a mirror image of industry, with the creation of large centralized and bureaucratized systems of public education. The knowledge base was drawn from the industrial sector.

Departments of educational administration made their appearance in universities in the US in the mid-twentieth century and soon proliferated. They were established in the UK soon after, with many other nations following suit, drawing on the US and, to a lesser extent, the UK for their intellectual underpinnings. The first quarter-century, from the early-1950s to about the mid-1970s was characterized by efforts to build theory in educational management, modeling to a large degree the discipline approach of the behavioral sciences. In the USA, Educational Administration Quarterly was an attempt to provide for education what Administrative Science Quarterly has done for administration (management). In the UK, a seminal work edited by two pioneers in the field had the title Educational Administration and the Social Sciences (Baron and Taylor 1969).

Separate sub-disciplines were created in fields such as economics, finance, governance, human relations, industrial relations, law, planning, policy, and politics. Large numbers of students enrolled, and departments of educational administration became a major source of revenue for schools of education.

The theory movement in educational management was the subject of powerful attack in the mid-1970s, notably by Canadian scholar T. B. Greenfield (1975). However, it was not until the late 1980s that a systematic response was mounted by the University Council for Educational Administration in the 1987 report of the National Commission on Excellence in Educational Administration (NCEE 1987). The critique was largely directed at efforts to build a scientific theory of educational management; the separation of management from learning and teaching; and fundamental considerations of context, culture, ethics, meaning, and values. Blueprints for reform were drawn up but the field was still in ferment at the turn of the twenty-first century (see Murphy and Forsyth (1999) for a review of efforts to reform the field). Evers and Lakomski have developed a new conceptual framework (‘naturalistic coherentism’) in an effort to bring coherence to the fields of educational administration and management. Lakomski (2001) argues that leadership ought to be replaced by better conceptions of organizational learning.

On a more pragmatic level, the critique of educational management as a field of study lies in its failure to impact practice on a large scale, and to assist in a timely manner the implementation of reform and the resolution of concerns. A promising approach to unifying the field is to place learning at the heart of the effort. This means that policy interest in the improvement of student outcomes should be the driver of this ‘quest for a center,’ as US scholar Joseph Murphy (1999) has described it. Murphy classified the different stages of development in the ‘profession’ of educational administration, as summarized in Table 1.

School Management Research Paper Table 1

Much momentum was gained in the 1990s with the establishment of the International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement (ICSEI), which made its mission the bringing together of policy-makers, practitioners, and researchers. The periodical School Effectiveness and School Improvement quickly established itself as a leading international journal.

The integration of policy, practice, and research to achieve school improvement is becoming increasingly evident, illustrated in approaches to literacy in the early elementary ( primary years). The examples of Australia and the UK are interesting in this regard. Levels of literacy were considered by governments in both nations to be unacceptably low. Implementation of approaches in the Early Literacy Research Project led to dramatic improvement in the state of Victoria, Australia.

Concepts such as ‘whole school design’ emerged from this integration. Hill and Crevola (1999) formulated a ‘general design for improving learning outcomes’ that proved helpful in parts of Australia and the United States. It has nine elements: beliefs and understanding; leadership and coordination; standards and targets; monitoring and assessment; classroom teaching strategies; professional learning teams; school and classroom organization; intervention and special assistance; and home, school, and community partnerships. The implications are clear as far as educational management is concerned: there must be high levels of knowledge about learning and teaching and how to create designs and formulate strategies that bring about improvement. This contributes to a particularly demanding role where decentralization has occurred, as is increasingly the case in most nations.

4. The Future Of School Management

The picture that emerged at the dawn of the twenty-first century is one in which school management does not stand in isolation. Leadership and management, as conceptualized by Kotter (1990) are both important, and their focus must be on learning, integrated in the notion of creating a coherent and comprehensive whole-school design. Those who serve in positions of leadership are operating in a milieu of high community expectations in which knowledge and skill are the chief determinants of a nation’s success in a global economy. Rapidly increasing costs of achieving expectations mean a capacity to work in new arrangements, including innovative public–private partnerships. High expectations mean a commitment to core values such as access, equity, and choice. All of this unfolds in an environment in which the nature of schooling is undergoing fundamental change.

There are major implications for universities and other providers of programs for the preparation and professional development of school leaders. An interesting development in Victoria (Australia) and the UK is that governments are turning to the private sector to specify requirements and offer a major part of training programs. Governments in both places commissioned the Hay Group to assist in this regard. The target population in the UK is serving principals, numbering about 25,000. The program has been very highly rated by both principals and employers. The most recent contribution of the Hay Group has been the specification for Victoria of 13 competencies and capabilities for school leaders. The focus is school improvement and there are four components: (a) driving school improvement ( passion for teaching and learning, taking initiative, achieving focus); (b) delivering through people (leading the school community, holding people accountable, supporting others, maximizing school capability); (c) building commitment (contextual know-how, management of self, influencing others); and (d) creating an educational vision (analytic thinking, big picture thinking, gathering information).

These developments suggest that training will be a shared responsibility in the future, with a limited role for universities unless they can form effective partnerships with the profession itself and work in association with private providers. Universities will have a crucial role to play, especially in research, but again that is likely to be in a range of strategic alliances if it is to be valued. The role of the university in philosophy and critique of school management will be more highly valued to the extent that the disjunction is minimized (between study and practice and between management and learning).

A fundamental issue that awaits resolution is the extent to which those who work in school management are not weighed down by the high expectations. It was noted at the outset that applications for appointment are declining in quality and quantity. There is even a concern in well-funded schools in the private sector. Part of the solution is to infuse leadership and management throughout the school and generally build the capacity of all to work in the new environment. The concept of ‘knowledge management’ is likely to be become more important, so that accounting for the resources of a school will extend beyond financial and social capital to include intellectual capital in the form of the knowledge and skill of staff. This may go only part of the way, given that schools are in many respects still operating with a design for an earlier era. Innovation in design must extend to the creation of a work place that is engaging for all that work within it. What should be retained and what should be abandoned in current designs is the challenge for the first decade of the twenty-first century. Drucker’s concept of ‘organized abandonment’ (Drucker 1999) is as important for schools as it is for other organizations.


  1. Baron G, Taylor W (eds.) 1969 Educational Administration and the Social Sciences. Athlone, London
  2. Caldwell B J, Spinks J M 1998 Beyond the Self-managing School. Falmer, London
  3. Drucker P F 1999 Management Challenges for the 21st Century. Butterworth Heinemann, Oxford
  4. Greenfield T B 1975 Theory about organizations: A new perspective and implications for schools. In: Hughes M G (ed.) Administering Education: International Challenge. Athlone, London, pp. 71–99
  5. Hill P W, Crevola C A 1999 The role of standards in educational reform for the 21st century. In: Marsh D D (ed.) Preparing our Schools for the 21st Century. ASCD Yearbook 1999. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, Alexandria, VA
  6. Kotter J P 1990 A Force for Change: How Leadership Differs from Management. Free Press, New York
  7. Lakomski G 2001 Management Without Leadership: A Naturalistic Approach Towards Improving Organizational Practice. Pergamon Elsevier, Oxford, UK
  8. Martin M O, Kelly D L (eds.) 1996 Third International Mathematics and Science Study. Technical Report. Vol. 1: Design and Development. Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA
  9. Murphy J 1999 The quest for a center: Notes on the state of the profession of educational leadership. Invited paper at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Montreal, April
  10. Murphy J, Forsyth P (eds.) 1999 Educational Administration: A Decade of Reform. Corwin Press, Newberry Park, CA
  11. National Commission on Excellence in Educational Administration 1987 Leaders for America’s Schools. University Council for Educational Administration, Tempe, AZ
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