Whether or not the image of the school as a social system may have been challenged, it has nevertheless been the dominant approach in the organisational literature. The basic assumption of this approach is that society has an objective existence and a systemic character in that relationships between its elements are 'relatively ordered and cohesive' (Morgan, 1980, p. 608). This approach has been subjected to a great deal of criticism (Giddens, 1977; 1984) and has been seen by some organisational theorists of education (e.g. Greenfield, 1975; 1980) as a fundamentally ideological construct with considerable potential for dehumanisation. However, once this approach abandons its more deterministic imagery such as the comparison of organisations with machines or with living organisms, it can become a subtle and flexible instrument of analysis. It must be recognised too that there are several other metaphors associated with this systems approach which, as Morgan argues, 'elude the traditional mechanical and organismic metaphors' (p. 616). Examples of these are the cybernetic model (Ashby, 1956; 1960), the loosely coupled systems model (Weick, 1976), and the population ecology model of Hannan and Freeman (1977). Before we go on to deal with the specific variants, it may be well first to look at the general sociological basis of the systems approach. The dominant theoretical tradition behind the approach to the school as a social system might be best located in structural functionalism (Parsons, 1971; Loubser et al., 1976). The relationship of this model to various schools of organisational analysis and the tensions within it will need to be explicated in order to give some background and orientation to the debates about the organisational structure of the school. In the terminology of the
framework set out in the previous chapter, the societal order is so 'tightly coupled' to those of interaction and experience as to render these both secondary and derivative.