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The Characteristics of Theory

26 July, 2019 - 10:13
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Most theories of educational leadership and management possess three major characteristics:

  1. Theories tend to be normative in that they reflect beliefs about the nature of educational institutions and the behaviour of individuals within them. Simkins (1999) stresses the importance of distinguishing between descriptive and normative uses of theory. “This is a distinction which is often not clearly made. The former are those which attempt to describe the nature of organisations and how they work and, sometimes, to explain why they are as they are. The latter, in contrast, attempt to prescribe how organisations should or might be managed to achieve particular outcomes more effectively” (p. 270).
  2. Theories tend to be selective or partial in that they emphasize certain aspects of the institution at the expense of other elements. The espousal of one theoretical model leads to the neglect of other approaches. Schools and colleges are arguably too complex to be capable of analysis through a single dimension.
  3. Theories of educational management are often based on, or supported by, observation of practice in educational institutions. English (2002, p. 1) says that observation may be used in two ways. First, observation may be followed by the development of concepts, which then become theoretical frames. Such perspectives based on data from systematic observation are sometimes called “grounded theory.” Because such approaches are derived from empirical inquiry in schools and colleges, they are more likely to be perceived as relevant by practitioners. Secondly, researchers may use a specific theoretical frame to select concepts to be tested through observation. The research is then used to “prove” or “verify” the efficacy of the theory (English, 2002, p. 1).

    Models of Educational Management: An Introduction

    Several writers have chosen to present theories in distinct groups or bundles but they differ in the models chosen, the emphasis given to particular approaches and the terminology used to describe them. Two of the best known frameworks are those by Bolman and Deal (1997) and Morgan (1997).

    In this chapter, the main theories are classified into six major models of educational management (Bush, 2003). All these models are given significant attention in the literature of educational management and have been subject to a degree of empirical verification. Table 1 shows the six models and links them to parallel leadership models. The links between management and leadership models are given extended treatment in Bush (2003).

Table 4.1 Typology of management and leadership models (adapted from Bush and Glover 2002)
Management  model Leadership model
Formal Managerial
Collegial Participative
Political Transactional
Subjective Post-modern
Ambiguity Contingency
Cultural Moral

    Formal Models

    Formal model is an umbrella term used to embrace a number of similar but not identical approaches. The title “formal” is used because these theories emphasize the official and structural elements of organizations:

    Formal models assume that organisations are hierarchical systems in which managers use rational means to pursue agreed goals. Heads possess authority legitimised by their formal positions within the organisation and are accountable to sponsoring bodies for the activities of their organisation (Bush, 2003, p. 37).

    This model has seven major features:

  1. They tend to treat organizations as systems. A system comprises elements that have clear organisational links with each other. Within schools, for example, departments and other sub-units are systemically related to each other and to the institution itself.
  2. Formal models give prominence to the official structure of the organization. Formal structures are often represented by organization charts, which show the authorized pattern of relationships between members of the institution.
  3. In formal models the official structures of the organization tend to be hierarchical. Teachers are responsible to department chairs who, in turn, are answerable to principals for the activities of their departments. The hierarchy thus represents a means of control for leaders over their staff.
  4. All formal approaches typify schools as goal-seeking organizations. The institution is thought to have official purposes, which are accepted and pursued by members of the organization. Increasingly, goals are set within a broader vision of a preferred future for the school (Beare, Caldwell, & Millikan, 1989).
  5. Formal models assume that managerial decisions are made through a rational process. Typically, all the options are considered and evaluated in terms of the goals of the organization. The most suitable alternative is then selected to enable those objectives to be pursued.
  6. Formal approaches present the authority of leaders as a product of their official positions within the organization. Principals’ power is positional and is sustained only while they continue to hold their posts.

In formal models there is an emphasis on the accountability of the organization to its sponsoring body. Most schools remain responsible to the school district. In many centralised systems, school principals are accountable to national or state governments. In decentralised systems, principals are answerable to their governing boards.

(Adapted from Bush, 2003, p. 37-38).

    These seven basic features are present to a greater or lesser degree in each of the individual theories, which together comprise the formal models. These are:

  • structural models;
  • systems models;
  • bureaucratic models;
  • rational models;
  • hierarchical models.

A full discussion of each of these sub-models appears in Bush (2003).