Is there such a thing as school quality culture?. In search of conceptual clarity and empirical evidence

Publication Date05 February 2018
AuthorJörg Markowitsch
SubjectEducation,Curriculum, instruction & assessment,Educational evaluation/assessment
Is there such a thing as school
quality culture?
In search of conceptual clarity and
empirical evidence
Jörg Markowitsch
3s Research Laboratory, Vienna, Austria
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to clarify the concept of school quality management culturein
relation to the general not ion of school organizational cultureand to review empirical studies that
scrutinised the relation between organisational culture and quality management practices in education
and business.
Design/methodology/approach The paper builds on an extensive literature review that was
conducted as part of a project, which intends to develop an instrument to diagnose schoolsquality
managementculture in initial vocational education.
Findings The paper demonstratesthat school quality (management) cultureexists and differs from school
(organisational) culture.A pluralist view of culture and a differentiationperspective are more appropriate to
explain the complexrelationship between culture and quality practicesthan unied or integrated approaches.
However, they also pose a challengeto empirical studies because they call for longitudinal and multi-method
Research limitations/implications The reciprocal relation between quality practices and school
culture asks for a longitudinal and comparative research design. The ndings also suggest using
multi-perspective and multi-method approaches, and recommend cooperation between different but
comparableelds such as education, health or social work.
Practical implications This paper offers a literaturebase and a theoretical model to improve existing
data collectiontools to support quality management in vocational and other educationalinstitutions.
Originality/value Apart fromthe ideological question on whethercultureis something an organisation
is or an organisationhas, the paper examinesthe question as to whether more quality-conducive culturescan
be discerned from less conducive ones in schools. Furthermore, it deliberates on whether an organisations
quality managementculture is part of, or differentfrom, an organisations overallculture and presents models
to guideempirical analyses.
Keywords Quality culture, Quality management, School culture, Organizational culture
Paper type Research paper
1. Introduction
When discussing the implementation of qualitymanagement (QM) practices in schools and
in higher education, it is frequently claimed that while new systems, procedures and rules
are implemented and much data and many reportsare produced, these processes suffer from
a lack of staff, student involvementand a general lack of commitment of core organisational
participants such as teachers. In short, the complaint is instruments are in place, but there
is a lack of quality culture’”. Successfulquality improvement practices seem to require both
the formal side (i.e. toolsand mechanisms to measure, evaluate, assure and enhancequality)
and a quality-conducive organisational culture in terms of attitudes and practices of
participants (EuropeanUniversity Association, 2005, p. 18).
School quality
Received1 July 2015
Revised4 June 2017
3 December2017
Accepted6 December 2017
QualityAssurance in Education
Vol.26 No. 1, 2018
pp. 25-43
© Emerald Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/QAE-07-2015-0026
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
Just like a universal pattern,this insight seems to follow the experiences from a decade or
so of quality management (QM) implementation in different education sectors as sure as
night follows day. In European vocationaleducation and training, this insight is quite recent
(Jonach et al.,2012),while in European higher education it already emerged in the mid-2000s
(Ehlers, 2009;European University Association, 2007;Harvey and Stensaker, 2008;Kells,
1995;Newton, 2000;Vidal,2003).
In the US schooling system, which was the rst adopter of corporate total quality
management (TQM) models in education,the notion of qualityhad appeared by the end of
the 1990s. As Detert et al. (2003,p. 307) aptly put it:
Following a decade of Total Quality Management adoption by US corporations, a number of K-12
school administrators began championing the quality paradigm as a model for systemic school
improvement in the late 1980s and early 1990s. [...] preliminary systematic research on these
early implementation eorts suggests that QM programs are failing to achieve widespread
acceptance and use by those at the core of schooling teachers. One tentative explanation for the
limited results to date has been that the existing cultureof these schools, and that called for by
QM, are inconsistent and that these inconsistencies are at the root of limited implementation.
Also Terhart (2013, p. 487) explains the more general problem of teacher resistance as
grounded in cultural differences between teachers and administrators: The culture and
convictions of educational administrators and reformers and the culture and conviction of
teachers in classrooms and staffrooms really are miles apart. Hence, there are differences
not only between various school cultures in terms of organisational culture, but also
professional cultures within schools (e.g. caused by differences in training and access to
school management as opposed to teaching). This latter insight should not come as a
surprise because teacher resistance against change has not arisen with this new
managerialism, but is a perennial phenomenon that has long been the subject of research
and policy (Sarason, 1996;Terhart,2013, p. 489). Thus, our starting point in this articleis not
new, and we can draw upon experience from US schools, European higher education
systems and most notably from organisational research, which devoted more attention to
this question thanany other body of research.
The common belief that particular organisational cultures or aspects of culture may hinder
or foster the implementation of QM gains relevance on the basis of at least two important
underlying assumptions. One is that culture can be changed in such a way as to facilitate the
implementation of QM practices. The other one is that QM in schools has positive effects on
school performance in terms of improving student achievement outcomes. However, these
assumptions are heavily contested and empirical evidence is scarce. Thus, to ground this work
on a sound basis, unambiguous empirical evidence from impact studies of QM programmes
(Sousa and Voss, 2002) would be needed. We would also need a comprehensive model of
change that is able to explain how change can be implemented in highly institutionalised
organizationswith xed traditions and work cultures dominated by professionals (Detert
and Pollock, 2008)[1]. Both these objectives are beyond the scope of this paper.
We content ourselves with scrutinising the relationship between schoolsorganisational
culture, QM practices and performance (with less emphasis on the latter), and with
reviewing respectiveempirical studies with the aim to prepare a solid ground for developing
a new instrument to diagnoseschool quality cultures. Hence, this paper is organised around
the following questions:
Q1. How can we model the relationbetween school culture and quality management?
Q2. Is there such a thing as school quality managementculture, and if so, how could it
be dened?

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