In this chapter I want to show how some of the understandings of complexity science can help us to understand the processes occurring in school. We will look at events in three schools, drawn from my own research, over a period of time from the arrival of a new head. I believe that this longer-term view enables us to see some of the complexity concepts in action. For example, they show that outcomes are generally co-determined by the effects of several mechanisms, and the way new forms emerge through self-organisation at the edge of chaos. The main description will concentrate on Beldene Secondary School, with shorter supportive descriptions from the other two, Enderby and Thornwood. This is for brevity, since similar overall processes can be seen in each, and may be summarised as shown in Figure 4.1.
Beldene was a large secondary school with approximately 1,500 students, 90 staff and a range of administrative and support staff, and was a school that was performing well in terms of national examination results. John had been head there for eight years.
Before John came, the school had been led for a number of years by a head who had been at the school a long time and 'risen through the ranks'. Everybody knew everybody, and had generally worked together for a long time. This, John felt, meant life for staff was reassuring. Local inspectors had told him that the school was declining and stagnating, with people having been a long time in post. In short, they felt it 'needed a shake-up'.
Figure 4.1 The process of emergence