Schools as institutions

Three terms that are found in sociological writings to describe the patterned activity of a place like a school are ‘social system’, ‘organisation’ and ‘institution’. These terms have various meanings and can be used to describe very similar things, or with other definitions, to stress different aspects of patterning.


One approach to organisational theory has been to look for the aims of the organisation. Using this approach the question becomes one of whether or not schools are ‘successful’ in achieving their aims. One successful institution is an army. It sets out to turn men and women into killers, given certain stimuli like ‘enemy’, ‘patriotism’ or ‘survival’ and has a long record of success in achieving this. Among unsuccessful institutions are perhaps large prisons, which set out to make public safer and deter criminals. From the sociological studies available, such institutions tend to have a reverse effect, in that they confirm criminality. A partially successful institution is a hospital, which has high rates of success with some ailments and low rates with others.

The analysis of schools, then, becomes a question of locating them alongside armies, prisons or hospitals in terms of success in achieving aims. Discuss of the role of the school as organisation. Introduce one good source for others to use.

Local efforts global results

Reengineering schools for the 21st century

‘ Teachers  don’t care!… I hated simple classes and useless work…..there was no challenge, just book work…You’re set up for a world that isn’t out there, without the skills and knowledge needed to survive in the real world.’ 16-year-old pupil, USA, 1991.