School based decision making and management and the work of the secondary school Head of Department: A study of innovative practitioners

Year: 1996

Author: Harvey, Michael

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The position of head of department (HoD) originates from the bureaucratic structure, culture and subject organization of early twentieth century secondary schools. In contemporary Australia the onset of an era of school based decision making and management has challenged the traditional patterns of work organization which sustain the subject department and the position of HoD. In the restructured government education systems, corporatist models of school management have been adopted to improve efficiency, effectiveness, flexibility, accountability and responsiveness. In these circumstances the work of the HoD has become increasingly problematic.

The paper reports on a field study of six innovative HoDs from secondary schools in the state education system of Western Australia. Semi-structured interviews are used to obtain data about the nature of the work of each HoD in the context of a school. The data are obtained from the HoD as well as the principal, a deputy principal and two teachers from the subject department. The data analysis attempts to establish the way in which innovative heads have been able to shift their practice away from a bureaucratic model toward corporatist and also learning community models of their work. The data suggest directions for the redefinition of the work of the HoD in the context of school based decision making and management.