Can the rationale of a highly reliable organisation aid the improvement of an inner-city comprehensive school?
The thesis investigates the proposition of Professor Sam Stringfield of Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, U. S. A. and of Professor David Reynolds of the University of Newcastle upon Tyne that some of the practices adopted by Highly Reliable Organisations can aid effectiveness and improvement in schools. The proposition is based on three fundamental components. Two of the components are supported by research evidence and the third is the component which, deriving from belief rather than knowledge, gives the project its distinctive features. The first component deriving from knowledge is that schools can make a difference. The second component deriving from knowledge is that there is considerable departmental variation in most schools. The third component, the one that derives from belief, is that schools can improve significantly if they adopt the strategies of highly reliable organisations and have very few targets and only have targets that are statistically measurable. The thesis examines the features of high reliability theory, which is well defined as a theory in engineering and as a branch of statistics, and its use in organisations that are described as Highly Reliable Organisations. High reliability theory provides the structure for the third component of the proposition. The thesis suggests that whilst schools do not have all the essential characteristics to be describeda s Highly Reliable Organisations,n evertheless,s ome of the procedures for ensuring reliability might be capable of aiding school improvement. The thesis examines the impact of adopting the two compulsory project targets of value-added examination performance and attendance together with two further measurable targets of reading ages and homework on the improvement of an inner-city comprehensive school. The thesis describes the steps taken at the school in the introduction of the project so that the project could be replicated. It concludes that improvement in examination performance had already started before the adoption of the project at the school, but possibly because the main elements of the targets - proposed by Reynolds had already previously been adopted by the school. It concludes that the Highly Reliable Schools project had a significant influence on optimism for further improvement and that the initial statistical evidence supports this optimism.