Developing a Perspective on Schools as Complex, Evolving, Loosely Linking Systems

Melissa Hawkins, Chris James

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)
192 Downloads (Pure)


The rationale for this article is to give complexity the central place it warrants in school leadership, management and organisational practice and research. We analyse the relevant literature, particularly that relating to complex human systems and their loose coupling nature. The analysis reveals the dimensions of complex human systems and consequences that emanate from those dimensions, which include system evolution. We use the dimensions, together with notions of interactional capability, opportunities for interaction, the legitimacy of interactions and the extent to which the institutional primary task conditions interactions, to create an organisational/institutional perspective on schools as complex, evolving, loosely linking systems (CELLS). Five main systems of a school as a whole-school system are identified: the teaching staff system; the ancillary staff system; the student system; the parent system; and significant other systems in the wider system. In the article, we illustrate the nature of the teaching staff system from a CELLS perspective. We discuss issues arising from our analyses: interaction, influence and leadership; ontological issues; the nature of ‘the school’; the significance of the parent system; the special nature of interactions between the members of the teaching staff system and the student system; and institutional performance.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)729-748
Number of pages20
JournalEducational Management Administration and Leadership
Issue number5
Early online date1 Jun 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2018
Externally publishedYes


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