A theory and workshop manual for the modern school

6th June 1997 at 01:00
Re-engineering and Total Quality in Schools. Edited by Brent Davies John West-Burnham Pitman; Pounds 16.99

The management buzzword of the late Nineties is"re-engineering" just as "total quality" was the fashion earlier in the decade. Davies and West-Burnham open the book with a discussion of the two terms describing their origins and comparing the impact on organisations.

For those new to the concept, re-engineering has been defined as the fundamental re-thinking and radical re-design of organisational processes to bring about dramatic improvement in performance. The idea of total quality is morefamiliar.

There then follows a fascinating series of 10 case studies drawn from schools that have set about re-engineering aspects of their work or have implemented a total quality approach to leadership and management. The sample is biased in that it includes nine secondary schools and one middle school, eight of them in England and two in Australia. However, they do vary considerably in character including two newly opened schools, a city technology college, a large single-sex independent school and a variety of comprehensives.

Newness and independence from local authority control have sometimes facilitated radical innovations. For example, the CTC has a very different school year with five 8-week terms and a minimum 30 hours of weekly contact time for students. The relatively affluent independent school was able to provide a laptop computer for every student.

The more typical schools also provide some interesting examples of attempts to re-engineer and to implement total quality. For example, an under-performing comprehensive school in inner London has set about re-conceptualising learning from the students' perspective and, as a result, experienced a dramatic improvement in its examination results. Then there is a small rural comprehensive school struggling to make an open-access sixth form viable and yet still able to offer a broad range of courses. It has developed an effective method for delivering A- and AS-level courses using an exciting combination of distance-learning and video-conferencing. Even more familiar may be the situation faced by a small 11-16 school in Sheffield which worked its way successfully out of a budget deficit and towards an inspection by the Offfice for Standards in Education by applying total quality methods as a means to school improvement which focus on student learning.

Throughout the case studies, several principles emerge which we now know to be the bedrock for school improvement. They include the need for an explicit vision for the future; the empowerment of staff and students to create learning communities; risk-taking by those in positions of leadership; team-working and an unceasing effort to achieve consistency of standards across all aspects of a school.

The penultimate section of the book is probably the weakest. Although entitled international perspectives on total quality, it is limited to examples from only one other country, the United States.

Finally, Davies and West-Burnham attempt to map the future for schools. Having identified the main components of the fundamental changes - economic, technological and social - that schools are facing, they draw some general conclusions about leadership from the case studies.

Faced with the opportunity to make some significant changes to the management of my own college, I found the book challenging and helpful. Certainly, it stimulated some radical thinking. But will I have the courage to take some equally radical action? The answer is more likely to be Yes after reading the case studies about the achievements of other schools, often against the odds. It is a book to be recommended to all those involved with the leadership and management of schools.

* The writer is principal ofEggbuckland Community College, Plymouth, Devon

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