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 School Improvement:  More on Systems
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There are two kinds of systems

(a) 'mechanical' (eg, production line)
(b) self-organising (eg, community)

It is important to distinguish between these types.  Each system may be placed on a mechanical ….. self-organising continuum


Systems in Schools

  • Curriculum
  • Financial
  • Personnel
  • Recreation
  • Assessment
  • Student support
  • Staff Appraisal
  • Enrolment
  • Maintenance
  • Planning
  • Reporting
  • Supervision
  • Teaching
  • and many more ...


Mechanical Systems  Mechanical systems are improved by reducing variation in

  • suppliers & inputs,
  • (physical) processes,
  • outputs, and recipients
  • Identify causes of variation
  • Stabilise (reduce special causes)
  • Improve system (reduce common causes)

Managing the right aspects of schools as mechanical systems saves a great deal of time, effort, and helps ensure the right people are doing the right tasks in the right order at the right time….

Managing the wrong aspects of schools as mechanical systems diminishes cooperation & initiative and increases the need for supervision & control


Self-Organising Systems are improved by attention to

  • meaning
  • knowledge, values, principles & purposes
  • relationships & commitments
  • skills (ability to act in the circumstances)

Managing the right aspects of schools as self-organising systems increases cooperation & initiative and decreases the need for supervision & control

Systems & culture

Everyone works in one or more systems. The task of the manager is to improve the system with the help of the people in the system

Improvement is any change in a system which makes it easier for people to do their work well


Common management illusions

  • Mechanical systems can be controlled. In fact all systems exhibit variation.
  • Self organising systems are unstable. In fact they may be somewhat unpredictable but highly stable & have deep coping capacity)
  • Managers can choose whether the system will be mechanical or self-organising.   In fact the illusion of being mechanical is often supported by a systems' self organising nature)