Managing schools, managing complexity : using viable system modelling to develop learning capacity

  • David Justin Sausmarez CAREY

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


Education has always been amongst the highest of government's priorities and following devolution for Scotland in 1999, the government has shown a fresh enthusiasm for educational reform. Building on a major restructuring of the teaching profession, Government is now expecting further change in the primary and secondary sectors. This thesis considers some of these changes and argues that they are increasing the amount of complexity that schools have to deal with, both in terms of the amount of change and the rate of change. How secondary schools cope with complexity is examined through the lens of the Viable Systems Model developed by Stafford Beer. From evidence derived from a lengthy case study, it is suggested that far from encouraging change, Government initiatives with an emphasis on accountability and targets, are leading to defensive routines and practices that make change less likely and less effective. This resistence comes not from staff, but is a consequence of a failure to recognise and adequately manage complexity through a top down centralised planning process. Through a structure based on recursive systems, rather than traditional hierarchical relationships, it is proposed that schools should be given much greater freedom and autonomy to manage their own affairs. This, it is argued, would allow schools to develop in line with their own needs and priorities. To enable this, a framework linking individual learning to organisational learning and development is outlined. The thesis also suggests that the structural relationship between the Schools Inspectorate used by Government to monitor school performance should be changed. Instead of bypassing local authorities the School Inspectorate should be brought more within their control increasing local accountability. Keywords: Complexity, Systems, Viable Systems, Variety, Education, School Management., Individual and Organisational Learning.
Date of Award21 Nov 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University Of Strathclyde
SupervisorValerie Belton (Supervisor)

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