4 Organisational cultures
Introduction: defining culture
The concept of culture has become increasingly significant in education during the 1990s and into the twenty-first century. This enhanced interest may be understood as an example of dissatisfaction with the limitations of those leadership and man- agement models which stress the structural and technical aspects of schools and colleges. The focus on the intangible world of values and attitudes is a useful counter to these bureaucratic assumptions and helps to produce a more balanced portrait of educational institutions.
Culture relates to the informal aspects of organisations rather then their official elements. They focus on the values, beliefs and norms of individuals in the organi- sation and how these individual perceptions coalesce into shared meanings. Culture is manifested by symbols and rituals rather than through the formal structure of the organization:
Beliefs, values and ideology are at the heart of organisations. Individuals hold certain ideas and value-preferences which influence how they behave and how they view the behaviour of other members. These norms become shared traditions which are communicated within the group and are rein- forced by symbols and ritual. (Bush 2003, p.156).
The developing importance of culture arises partly from a wish to understand, and operate more effectively within, this informal domain of the values and beliefs of teachers, support staff and other stakeholders. Morgan (1997) and O'Neill (1994) both stress the increasing significance of cultural factors in leadership and manage- ment. The latter charts the appearance of cultural 'labels' and suggests why they have become more prevalent:
The increased use of such cultural descriptors in the literature of educational management is significant because it reflects a need for educational organiza- tions to be able to articulate deeply held and shared values in more tangible ways and therefore respond more effectively to new, uncertain and potentially
threatening demands on their capabilities. Organizations, therefore, articulate values in order to provide form and meaning for the activities of organiza- tional members in the absence of visible and certain organizational structures and relationships. In this sense the analysis and influence of organizational culture become essential management tools in the pursuit of increased orga- nizational growth and effectiveness. (O'Neill, 1994, p.116)
The shift towards self-management in many countries reinforces the notion of schools and colleges as unique entities with their own distinctive features or 'cul- ture'. It is inevitable that self-management will lead to greater diversity and, in Eng- land, this is one of the Government's explicit aims. Caldwell and Spinks (1992) argue that there is 'a culture of self- management'. The essential components of this culture are the empowerment of leaders and their acceptance of responsibility.
Most of the literature on culture in education relates to organisational culture and that is also the main focus of this chapter. However, there is also an emerging liter- ature on the broader theme of national or societal culture. Dimmock and Walker (2002a, p.3) claim that 'the field of educational administration … has largely ignored the influence of societal culture' but their work has contributed to an increasing awareness of this concept.
Given the globalisation of education, issues of societal culture are increasingly sig- nificant. Walker and Dimmock (2002) refer to issues of context and stress the need to avoid 'decontextualized paradigms' (p.1) in researching and analysing educa- tional systems and institutions:
The field of educational leadership and management has developed along eth- nocentric lines, being heavily dominated by Anglo-American paradigms and theories … Frequently, either a narrow ethnicity pervades research and...
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