Collegial models have been popular in the academic and official literature on educational Collegial models have been popular in the academic and official literature on educational management since the 1980s. However, their critics point to a number of limitations:
- Collegial models are so strongly normative that they tend to obscure rather than portray reality. Precepts about the most appropriate ways of managing educational institutions mingle with descriptions of behaviour. While collegiality is increasingly advocated, the evidence of its presence in schools and colleges tends to be sketchy and incomplete. “The collegial literature often confuses descriptive and normative enterprises . . . The collegial idea of round table decision making does not accurately reflect the actual processes in most institutions” (Baldridge et al, 1978, p. 33).
- Collegial approaches to decision-making tend to be slow and cumbersome. When policy proposals require the approval of a series of committees, the process is often tortuous and time consuming. Participants may have to endure many lengthy meetings before issues are resolved. This requires patience and a considerable investment of time. Several English primary school heads interviewed by Webb and Vulliamy (1996) refer to the time-consuming nature of meetings where “the discussion phase seemed to go on and on” (p. 445) and “I felt we weren't getting anywhere” (p. 446).
- A fundamental assumption of democratic models is that decisions are reached by consensus. It is believed that the outcome of debate should be agreement based on the shared values of participants. In practice, though, teachers have their own views and may also represent constituencies within the school or college. Inevitably these sectional interests have a significant influence on committees' processes. The participatory framework may become the focal point for disagreement between factions.
- Collegial models have to be evaluated in relation to the special features of educational institutions. The participative aspects of decision-making exist alongside the structural and bureaucratic components of schools and colleges. Often there is tension between these rather different modes of management. The participative element rests on the authority of expertise possessed by professional staff but this rarely trumps the positional authority of official leaders or the formal power of external bodies. Brundrett (1998) claims that “collegiality is inevitably the handmaiden of an ever increasingly centralised bureaucracy” (p. 313)
- Collegial approaches to school and college decision-making may be difficult to sustain because principals remain accountable to various external groups. They may experience considerable difficulty in defending policies that have emerged from a collegial process but do not enjoy their personal support. Brundrett (1998) is right to argue that “heads need to be genuinely brave to lend power to a democratic forum which may make decisions with which the head teacher may not themselves agree” (p. 310).
- The effectiveness of a collegial system depends in part on the attitudes of staff. If they actively support participation then it may succeed. If they display apathy or hostility, it seems certain to fail. Wallace (1989) argues that teachers may not welcome collegiality because they are disinclined to accept any authority intermediate between themselves and the principal.
- Collegial processes in schools depend even more on the attitudes of principals than on the support of teachers. Participative machinery can be established only with the support of the principal, who has the legal authority to manage the school. Hoyle (1986) concludes that its dependence on the principal's support limits the validity of the collegiality model.