This chapter will examine the idea of control in school organisations, and show that this is not as simple as is supposed. Whilst we have a felt need to be in control of what we are doing as managers, there are many processes we cannot fully control. As managers we are in control but not in control - a paradoxical position.
I interviewed one head shortly after she had become a new head in a primary school. Her first impression, she told me, was of a lack of control. When pressed about what she meant, she referred to the fact that as a teaching deputy, she had been able to put classroom initiatives into practice herself, and thus she was setting an example, leading from the front. She went on to say that she found it very different working through people and not being able 'to show them'. This seems to me the type of situation Streatfield (2001) describes as being 'in control' but 'not in control' at the same time. She has to be in control of what happens in school, but feels unable to be sufficiently in control of the classroom situation, and the anxiety this throws up is disturbing.
The conventional wisdom has us going through many processes that presuppose our ability to control what happens in the school, such as school development planning and other plans, monitoring and evaluating processes, as well as target setting. In effect, these set out to control purpose, outcome, process and quality. In so doing, they make the implicit assumptions that we can predict future outcomes of our actions and control them.
In Chapter 2 I introduced the idea of complex adaptive systems as a frame within which to understand what goes on in the school organisation. I also suggested that because of the influences of extensive interconnections and non-linearity, and the emergent patterns of behaviour that arise from self-organising processes, the kinds of predictability and control that our conventional wisdom demands may not in fact be possible. In this chapter we will look at what this means for organisational behaviour and management, especially in schools.