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 School Improvement:  Why Quality
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The right philosophy
In 1992 the author of this website discovered 'quality' as a strategy quite by accident. A lack of holiday reading prompted the purchase of 'The Deming Management Method' - Mary Walton from a bargain box in a local bookstore. A book full of philosophy, theory, strategy & tools (and statistics)!

  • The philosophy was spot on and overlapped with what was already in place at RPS
  • The theory was intriguing and comprehensive and contain so many new concepts rich with potential
  • The strategy was intuitively right but 'unorthodox' in terms of the  practices at that time - the gap has widened around the world as we have entered the corporatist era with its almost exclusive focus on short term outputs
  • The tools were obviously scientific but daunting - and they still are -  the book was written largely for the industrial context with its attention to  physical processes - and to this day the author continues to work on the translation of the approach from the management of physical processes to those processes that are inherently human, eg, thinking, learning doing and relating.


The people
The people in the quality movement at that time were the most profound proof of its potential. They were

  • purposeful:
    • they had deep insights into what they were doing, why and how ...
    • they knew how to make sense of their experiences
    • they knew how to respond realistically
    • they knew whom they served and
    • they knew to what they should give their attention
  • confident:
    • they knew how to solve the problems
    • they knew they could do things better and better
    • they knew how to work on tasks
    • they knew how (and why) to attend to both task and people
  • not blaming:
    • they knew they could find where the bulk of the problems originated
    • they knew problems rarely came directly from the people with whom they worked
    • they had strategies for involving people in the solutions


More with less
The overwhelming imperative at that time, and ever since, has been to do more with less. RPS had, along with all Tasmanian government schools suffered a 15% cutback in staff and other resources between one year and the next. We were involved in an enormous struggle to maintain all the good things we were already doing.

Quality was a strategy based on reducing costs by

  • attention to people and
  • attention to systems & processes and thus
  • reducing variation in the provision required
  • reducing rework & waste
  • minimizing the need for inspection (less management) and
  • applying continuous improvement (less management and better outcomes)

And it works.  For example: in 1999 RPS (enrolment 660) was able to apply 97% of it teaching resource (the school hours of the Principal, senior staff and all other teaching staff) to working directly with children. 


Quality of life
The cutbacks in the early 1990s presented an enormous challenge. We were very keen to preserve all the good things that we were doing. At the same time we were already working very hard. Quality provided an approach that attended to people as well as tasks and outcomes. The people of RPS are

  • confident: - they well informed and clearly part of something bigger than themselves
  • purposeful - they know that the work they are doing is important and highly valued
  • well supported - by the school, the community and their own collegial teams

Everyone still works hard but stress is much lower than in many other schools. Our work is meaningful, collaborative, productive and satisfying


Reality is the safest way
The quality approach is much more than just a management philosophy.  It is based on what is really happening, here and now . It is highly scientific. Data is important. The data gathered is processed intelligently.  Decisions are well founded. Policies are few, negotiable and couched in terms of reality.


A comprehensive approach
Our initial encounter with the quality was like something out of science fiction. Discovering the quality movement was like discovering a 'parallel universe' that had been there all along. The paradigm was very different from mainstream management but is was more comprehensive and well founded than anything other body of organisational knowledge the author has encountered before or since. Quality offered an rich set of well integrated

  • philosophy (concepts, principles)
  • theory
  • strategies
  • tools
  • practices
  • supporting literature and
  • supporting community

Sadly the literature on quality in 1992 was largely addressed to large scale industrial contexts. Culturally it was more focused on 'engineering' than education. It was strong on the quantitative and visual and weak on the qualitative. Translating the notions from engineering to education has been a major effort.

  • Getting the concept of 'customer' right (the next person) was an enormous challenge for RPS.  If the parents were the customers then the school was in danger of doing things to the children for the parents.  Not acceptable. Prepositions are very revealing words.
  • Understanding the difference between roles and relationships has been crucial and liberating.
  • Understanding & documenting processes was liberating and enlightening

Yet, somewhat ironically, teachers have found it easy to adopt the principles & practices. PDSA has been easy for them to accept and this alone is sufficient to underpin the ongoing implementation of 'quality' at RPS. (more...)