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Understanding School Ethos. ‘How Good is Our Ethos?’ Conference. 7 June 2005. David McMurtry The University of Aberdeen Telephone:

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Presentation on theme: "Understanding School Ethos. ‘How Good is Our Ethos?’ Conference. 7 June 2005. David McMurtry The University of Aberdeen Telephone:"— Presentation transcript:

1 Understanding School Ethos. ‘How Good is Our Ethos?’ Conference. 7 June 2005. David McMurtry The University of Aberdeen d.c.mcmurtry@abdn.ac.uk Telephone: 01224 284623

2 2 ‘…. is now a convenient word to use about a school ‘as long as one doesn’t define it.’ (Hughes K, 1993, page 57). ‘It remains a term which is very resistant to satisfactory definition and, thus, effective empirical explorations. This generates a number of problems when discussing the issue of school difference…’ Donnelly, C (2000) page 134

3 3 ‘a..self conscious expression of specific types of objective in relation to behaviour and values’ and ‘..the characteristic spirit and belief of an organisation..’ Torrington and Weightman (1989), both page 18. ‘Ethos for me is a term which refers to the underlying deep structure of a culture…. I’m trying to communicate a sense of ethos that’s deeper and more fundamental…’ Eisner, E, 1994 p4-5

4 4 ‘What is ethos? The dictionary definition defines ethos as, ‘the guiding beliefs, standards or ideals that characterise or pervade a group, a community, a people....the spirit that motivates the ideas, customs or practices of a people’. This definition is helpful because it highlights first of all the pervasive nature of ethos. In a school, ethos touches on all aspects of its operation but its very pervasiveness means that it is hard to pin down. It can be part of the ‘taken for granted’ about school life. Secondly, the definition makes it clear that ethos affects our practice. It is not an abstract idea but something which affects what we do and how we do it. So it helps us to understand why we act in particular ways and why our actions can be different in different schools.’ Munn, P (2002), p5.

5 5 The aims of the empirical research….. To ascertain the views of Head Teachers on several aspects of school ethos and to assess the extent to which there is consensus in their views. How ‘school ethos’ is defined and understood The characteristics of a school with a desirable ethos Strategies for achieving and maintaining a desirable ethos Views on the how initiatives are encouraging or limiting the development of ethos in schools

6 6 The participants Head Teachers of 12 schools, 6 men and 6 women, 6 primary schools and 6 secondary schools. Other factors considered in the selection: urban or rural ? Area of high socio-economic deprivation or relative affluence ? Local authority or independent ?

7 7 Research approach and methodology Qualitative, descriptive and interpretative Key informant interviews Anderson and Arsenault (1998) ‘free-association narrative interviews’ Holloway and Jefferson (2000)

8 8 That ethos is an atmosphere that is perceived in the school environment (schools 1, 5 and 7) That ethos is both theoretical or abstract and practical, encompassing practice and action (schools 1, 8, 11) Ethos is defined by the relationships in the school (schools 3, 5) Ethos is the sense of purposefulness with which pupils apply themselves (school 3) Ethos reflects the underlying beliefs or values of the school (schools 3, 4, 6, 11) Attainment and achievement depend upon ethos and come from it (school 7)

9 9 Statement 1: A definition of ethos which covers all the uses and meanings given to the term, must be tripartite.

10 10 Defining ethos…. 1The perceived atmosphere or environment 2The underlying beliefs or values – the culture 3Practice, action or activity to ‘build’ ethos

11 11 Statement 2: We need a shared, formal definition of ethos which is commonly used to inform and drive practice.

12 12 Social Theory Organisational Learning Organisational Theory Organisational Climate and Culture School Effectiveness School Ethos Fields of relevant inquiry… slide 14

13 13 Statement 3: We must learn about ethos by considering a wide range of related fields of inquiry. Slide 12

14 14 Organisations are rational systems… ‘Organisations are collectivities orientated to the pursuit of relatively specific goals and exhibiting relatively highly formalized social structures.’ (Scott, 1992, page 23)

15 15 Organisations are natural systems… ‘..arenas in which people try to satisfy their needs for happiness, social recognition, prestige, money, self-interest and power. Informal social relationships within the organisation create a shadow structure that has a life of its own, which may have positive or negative consequences.’ (Handel, 2003, page 3)

16 16 Organisations are open systems… ‘Organizations are systems of interdependent activities linking shifting coalitions of participants; the systems are embedded in – dependent on continuing exchanges with and constituted by – the environments in which they operate.’ (Scott, 1992, page 25).

17 17 SOCIAL CONTROL HIGH LOW HIGH SOCIAL COHESION LOW SURVIVALIST SCHOOL CULTURE FORMAL SCHOOL CULTURE WELFARIST SCHOOL CULTURE HOTHOUSE SCHOOL CULTURE Hargreaves’ Typology of Schools taken from Hargreaves, D, 1999, page 51.

18 18 -a proactivity capability or having a can-do philosophy, relishing challenge and so looking ahead positively, taking into account the long term as well as short- term view. This capability generates optimism and confidence. -a resource deployment capability, auditing the full range of the school’s resources (human and intellectual as well as material and financial) and directing them to the key purposes of the school. If these deep capabilities – which reflect, respectively, the spatial, temporal and resource dimensions of organizational life – are visible through the school’s culture, then the school is probably well placed to enjoy continuing effectiveness in an unstable and changing environment.’ Hargreaves, D in Prosser (ed) 1999, page 65. ‘- a monitoring capability or scanning the school’s internal and external environment for pressures and problems, for opportunities and for partnerships. Slide 33

19 19 Social Theory Organisational Learning Organisational Theory Organisational Climate and Culture School Effectiveness School Ethos Fields of relevant inquiry…

20 20 Becker and Greer (1971) Manifest or operative culture Latent culture

21 21 ‘What are the key characteristics of a school with a desirable ethos?’

22 22 Furtwengler (1990) Structure and order Social acceptance Mission and vision Academic emphasis Dedication Professional self worth Problem solving Cultural and symbolic management

23 23 Hanson and Childs(1998) Having positive policies The ‘personality of place’ Participatory processes Having attractive programmes People as partners

24 24 Sense of identity and pride in the school Reception and atmosphere Pupil and staff expectations and use of praise Promoting an ethos of achievement Sense of equality and fairness Pupil/staff relationships A strong feeling amongst pupils, parents, staff and visitors that they were valued HM Inspectorate of Education (2002) Count Us In – Achieving Inclusion In Scottish Schools. Edinburgh: Scottish Executive.

25 25 The school has a collaboratively created and clearly expressed statement of shared values. Good communication between all school members and stake holders There is a welcoming ethos upon entry to the school. Effective leadership promotes collegiality. Pupils’ rights and responsibilities are emphasised. The school surroundings are attractive. There is a participatory ethos involving staff and pupils in learning and decision-making.

26 26 What characteristics of a school with a desirable ethos are emphasised by selected HTs? 33 characteristics were mentioned only 2 were prioritised by a majority 1 characteristic was prioritised by 50% of the participants 18 of 33 characteristics were mentioned by only 1 of the 12 participants.

27 27 Key Characteristic SchoolsNo of times mentioned Relationships between all in the school are good; good relationships are the norm. 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,9,10,1110 A sense of belonging to the school community is fostered and encouraged. 1,2,3,5,9,10,117 There are high expectations of pupils to achieve and attain. 1,2,3,7,11,126

28 28 ‘What strategies and/or activities do/would facilitate each of these characteristics?’

29 29 From 35 to 1 suggested strategies were given for each of the prioritised characteristics. No strategy or activity was prioritised by more than 3 participants

30 30 Statement 4: Staff, parents and students in every school should regularly determine what are to be the key characteristics of their school’s ethos and how they are going to be achieved, for themselves, by themselves.

31 31 ‘Are any current educational initiatives aiding the development of good school ethos? ‘What do you see as problems or limitations that you/schools face in the creation and/or sustaining of a good school ethos?’

32 32 29 current educational initiatives were said to be aiding the development of school ethos 24 problems or limitations which negatively effect the creation and/or sustaining of school ethos were identified by the participants 2 of the 29 beneficial initiatives were identified by a majority; 21 of these were mentioned only once None of the 24 problems or limitations was identified by a majority; 18 of them were mentioned only once

33 33 A ‘Formal’ School Culture We regard ourselves as a well disciplined school which sets store on ‘traditional’ values. The Head and senior management team run a ‘tight ship’ with high expectations of staff and pupils. There is a strong emphasis upon learning and an expectation that exam results will be good. Everybody is proud of our achievements, not only academically but also in sport, music and art. We expect pupils to be independent and to stand on their own two feet, whatever their background. We are clear about what the school stands for. We’re naturally suspicious of new ideas and put more trust in what’s been shown to work best through past experience. A ‘Welfarist’ School Culture We are proud that we are a caring school. We see education as being about individual development, which is far more than just passing exams. We have a relaxed, open and friendly atmosphere where pupils are given space to grow, develop and learn. We see it as very important to create a nurturing environment; life skills are at least as important as high grades in courses and exams. The staff are committed to a child-centred philosophy of education. Relationships amongst the staff and between staff and pupils are very good. The Head and senior management are decisive but not in a dictatorial way; decision-making is collaborative and participatory. A ‘Hot House’ School Culture Our school is a very forward-looking, modern place that you feel is ‘going somewhere’. All the staff and most of the parents and pupils are very committed to the school and to education. There is lots going on – innovative ideas for learning and teaching are always been tried or discussed in some department and there are lots of extra-curricular activities. The staff are close and there is a lot of collaborative team working. Staff and pupil relationships are very good. There are high expectations of pupils in terms of academic achievement and their behaviour and personal development. The Head and senior management do not overtly ‘pull rank’ but we all know what is expected and when we have fallen short! A ‘Survivalist’ School Culture. Our school is not exactly thriving at the minute. There are lots of problems that are not being tackled. The Head and senior management are trying to turn things around but there are so many problems which need overcome – poor behaviour, low morale, under-achievement, under-funding, lack of support from parents - that it is hard do something that makes a difference. Relationships between staff and pupils are often not good; there is a lot of confrontation. Many pupils feel bored and alienated. The staff themselves are divided; there is tension between ‘cliques’ and little collaborative working or unity. There is a high rate of staff turn over. Getting supply cover is very difficult. I suppose we’d be described as a ‘failing school’. It feels like we are living from one day to the next at the minute Adapted from: Hargreaves, D (1999) Helping Practitioners Explore Their School’s Culture in Prosser, J (ed) School Culture. London: Paul Chapman.

34 34 Hothouse Welfarist Formal Survivalist Slide 19

35 35 A definition of ethos which covers all the uses and meanings given to the term, must be tripartite. We need a shared, formal definition of ethos which is commonly used to inform and drive practice. We must learn about ethos by considering a wide range of related fields of inquiry. Staff, parents and students in every school should regularly determine what are to be the key characteristics of their school’s ethos and how they are going to be achieved, for themselves, by themselves.

36 36 References. Anderson, G & Arsenault, N (1998) Fundamentals of Educational Research (2nd ed). London: Falmer Press. Becker, H & Geer, B (1971) in Cosin et al (eds) School and Society A Sociological Reader (2nd ed). London: Routledge & Kegan Paul/The Open University Press. Donnelly, C (2000) In Pursuit Of School Ethos in British Journal of Educational Studies, vol. 48, no. 2. Eisner, E (1994) Editorial in School Climate and Ethos Conference Report. Dundee: Scottish Consultative Council On The Curriculum. Furtwengler, W (1990) in Moles, O (ed) Student Discipline Strategies, Research and Practice. Albany: State University of New York Press. Handel, M (2003) The Sociology of Organisations Classic, Contemporary and Critical Readings. London: Sage. Hanson, J M & Childs, J (1998) How Leaders Influence The Culture Of Schools in Educational Leadership, vol. 56, no 1. HM Inspectorate of Education (2002) Count Us In – Achieving Inclusion In Scottish Schools. Edinburgh: Scottish Executive.

37 37 References. Hargreaves, D (1999) Helping Practitioners Explore Their School’s Culture in Prosser, J (ed) School Culture. London: Paul Chapman. Hollway, W & Jefferson, T (2000) Doing Qualitative Research Differently. London: Sage. Hughes, K (1993) School Ethos And Its Relationship With Contemporary Trends In The Secondary School in Aspects of Education, Secondary School Management In The 1990s, Challenge and Change. Hull: The University of Hull. Munn, P (2002) Preface in Murray, J (2002) Building On Success; Case Studies of Ethos Award Winners 1997-2001. Edinburgh: Scottish Executive. Scott, W R (1992) Organizations Rational, Natural and Open Systems (3rd edition). New Jersey: Prentice Hall. Taguiri, R & Litwin, G (eds) (1968) Organisational Climate Explorations Of A Concept. Boston: Harvard University. Torrington, D & Weightman, J (1989) The Reality Of School Management. G.B: Blackwell.

38 Understanding School Ethos. ‘How Good is Our Ethos?’ Conference. 7 June 2005. David McMurtry The University of Aberdeen d.c.mcmurtry@abdn.ac.uk Telephone: 01224 284623


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