Research into school effectiveness is now at a crossroads. While there have been some important methodological developments which enhance our understanding of the contribution schools can make to educational outcomes, the research programme has been dogged by conceptual confusion and shaped by the political and ideological context in which it has operated (Thrupp, 1995). If we are to progress in our understanding of schools a new realism is required as to schools' limits and capabilities and we need to re-examine how research can inform this understanding.
A major difficulty with the debate over school effectiveness has been that only the dominant model, what may be called the received model (RM), has been the subject of discussion. An exclusive focus on this model by both its defenders and critics has meant that a version of the fallacy of too few options has been committed. A thoroughgoing re-appraisal of school effectiveness suggests that a truer picture would be that there is a range of models of school effectiveness. In this chapter we appraise two models of how schools work and their implications for effectiveness and practice, the received (RM) and the heretical (HM). We then seek to incorporate the insights of these two models in a third, the contextual model (CM).
The HM stands at the polar opposite of the RM in its fundamental assumptions and therefore serves to throw into sharp relief the advantages and disadvantages of the RM. But it too has its strengths and weaknesses hence the CM is an attempt at synthesis. These models are complex and not entirely mutually exclusive. The benefit of comparison is not merely, therefore, for the purposes of critique but to explore the extent to which elements of each can be brought together to create a model of school development in a defensible synthesis. We should emphasize that the models we present here are rational reconstructions 1 and hence are to be understood as ideal types. We begin by examining the (RM) according to Lakatos' account of the structure of research programmes.
Lakatos (1970) provides a helpful way of analyzing the structure of research programmes because his account of them is able to show the relationships between the different levels of theoretical proposition and the dynamics of theoretical evolution. In the case of the RM this is particularly helpful since it is often claimed that it lacks theoretical content and that this is one of its fundamental problems. Lakatos