School Culture?

One of many quotes from Dylan William. If you haven't read his work, you need to.

I’ve just finished reading a paper from 1998 (Stoll, 1998). This made me feel a little old as, by the time it was published, I’d been teaching a year. In fact, half a decade later I was leading a science faculty at JRCS in the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham. This was a learning focussed Local Education Authority (LEA) and really did support with teaching and learning.

Stoll’s paper discusses culture in schools. I certainly recognise the different categories. At JRCS there was (is) a very definite culture of working together to improve the outcomes of students in one of the poorer Borough’s of London. But I also recognised the other cultures mentioned in the article from the other schools I worked in. For example, I have worked in schools that do things in a particular way: ‘we don’t need to change’. That can actually be a little soul destroying for a young teacher (Note to self- try to remember that when I have new, excited staff wanting to make their mark on the school).

Using NZ’s ‘wonderful’ decile rating, MBC is a 6. This does not tell the whole story, however. Blenheim has students from the whole range of deciles, 1 to 10. We have students from very poor backgrounds who struggle to feed and clothe their families. We have students whose families are extremely well off and, if they chose, could send their sons to private school. We also have an increasing Maori and Pasifika population. We also have to take into account the fact that some students are from rural locations, whilst others live centrally in town.

That being said, there is a definite ‘feel’ to the school. I have no problems sending my son to it, nor my daughter to the girls’ college. Part of this comes from the age of the school. The school itself is very old (for New Zealand) and appears very grand.

The current culture is very interesting. I joined MBC not long after the current Principal had been appointed, in 2012. I have seen him change the school- (re)introducing the house system, overseeing PB4L etc. In addition, we have made the move to BYOD and are currently preparing for being collocated to a new school site with the Girl’s College. This has meant that, for the past few years, we have had a far greater focus on teaching and learning than in previous years. The new school needs to be built with a complete understanding of the students who will come to learn, as well as the pedagogies to support them.

There are still changes that should, need to be addressed. When I worked at JRCS the staff was very young (I remember when the head teacher had his fortieth birthday, he was one of the oldest members of staff). At an older school and being in Blenheim there is a propensity for staff to stay in one place. This also leads to staff not necessarily being amenable to change. Revisiting Stoll, he indicates that one of the reasons why new strategies fail is because of the different culture in place at a school. This reminds me of     Dylan William when he said-

One of many quotes from Dylan William. If you haven’t read his work, you need to.

It is important that change management takes account of the prevailing culture. Otherwise it may be doomed to fail.

I predict that 2021 (the date the new school opens) will mean that it is not only the school structures that will have changed but, through necessity, the culture will have to as well. In the meantime, we will have to work on refining what each school’s culture is and what we want to emphasise. Starting on a new school site is an opportunity too good to miss.


Stoll (1998). School Culture. School Improvement Network’s Bulletin 9. Institute of Education, University of London.



  1. Thank you for this discussion, Elliot. You make some great points and I appreciate your self-awareness re: not wanting to to burst young teachers’ bubbles in the future with “that’s now the way we do things here,” mentality. Many experienced teachers (including myself) can benefit from heeding this piece of advice!

    I see the new school as an opportunity to build upon the best aspects of former cultures while hopefully leaving other aspects behind. No doubt the new school with come with its own set of challenges in regards to building culture and identity. Hopefully, the people in charge are actually considering the implications on future culture now in order to anticipate the challenges that may arise!

    This is a great website, by the way. Well done!

    • Yes, there are lots of things that we hopefully will bring over. What aspect or aspects of the current school culture would you choose to leave behind?

      I think I would like to see less of the “let’s wait and let other schools try that before we do”. To me that culture unfortunately denies the current generation(s) from potential success.

      Yes, there might be times when we could say “Phew, glad we didn’t buy into that” but how many more regrets would we gain?

      Oh And thanks for the compliment on the website 🙂

  2. I really enjoyed the Quote you used by Dylan Wiliam. I thought it was an interesting link you made between this and teachers age. I have been the youngest teacher at QCC for the past 7 years, I’m now in my 30’s. It is certainly an aging staff. However it is not necessarily the older staff who are unwilling to change or improve their practice, although it is the same people as it was when I first started.

    Some of the most adaptable teachers and teachers who are constantly looking for ways to improve are decades older than myself. Do you think it’s an age thing or a mindset thing? Maybe they get more comfortable admitting and owning their set point of view as they get older and more confident? So in a sense they become more vocal as they age so we link the unwillingness to adapt and reflect on their practice as an age thing…….?

    Your blog is amazing! I love the thought and ideas that have gone in to it. Something I will keep up todate with.

    • You’re right- it’s wrong to automatically assume that if you are older then you will be less inclined to adopt change. I remember a DP at my last school who was incredibly into changes in education.

      I do think, though, that certain schools will accumulate a different class of older teacher. Where we are based there aren’t many alternative schools to teach. This means that you are more likely to remain at school. This is in contrast to an area where there are lots of schools. I taught in an educational authority that had 9 secondary schools. This meant you could potentially move schools within, say, five years and still live in the same house. So, if you did that every 5 years, you could spend 40 years in the same authority.

      If you have more staff staying (because leaving is far more tumultuous) I think you will gain slightly more staff who do not have such an adventurous mindset. What do yo think?

      Thanks for the compliment on the site, too.

      • I’d completely agree with that. Part of living in Marlborough is certainly the wonderful lifestyle.
        So how do you stop this happening to a school in a small community? Is it a case of being really careful of who you hire? Although often during the hiring process it must be hard to tell.
        I thought that offering education to the teachers would help, but watching people dropout of the mindlab course was an interesting eye opener.


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