How four-dimensional networking improves achievement in schools
The organisational network in and around a primary school influences the school’s achievement, according to Petra van den Bekerom. Effective networking allows problems to be countered more easily. PhD ceremony on 8 November.
Right networking strategy
Threats from an organisation’s environment, in this case a primary school’s environment, can have a negative influence on the organisation’s performance, is Petra van den Bekerom’s conclusion in her PhD thesis. She looked into such influences as a change in the number of students at a primary school and the negative effects of bureaucratism. The results clearly show that in both cases the attainment of the schools, measured as the average CITO test scores, declines. However, an organisation’s environment also offers opportunities. Relationships with external organisations offer a school resources that allow the school management to respond to threats.
Van den Bekerom defines four fundamental networking dimensions that each contribute in their own way to a school’s attainment: upwards, downwards, sideways and outwards. Upwards networking occurs between the school management and the governing body. Downwards networking is the contact between school management on the one hand and the teachers and support staff on the other hand. Sideways networking takes place with co-producers, such as the participation council and the parent teacher association. Outwards networking refers to the relationships that the school management maintains with external bodies, such as local and national government organisations and unions.
A decrease in the number of students compared to the year before cannot always be predicted. This falls into the ‘shock’ category. Fewer students may not seem like a disaster, but it has irritating short-term effects. Think, for example, of the superfluous staff that you cannot simply get rid of, a lower budget and at the same time, wasting money on empty classrooms that you nevertheless have to pay for. In this case, downwards networking with members of staff and sideways with co-producers can provide solutions, Van den Bekerom discovered. ‘Often, discussing the situation with the teachers will result in innovative ideas. Involving the staff also creates engagement and consensus, ensuring everyone is on the same page.’
Something that is easier to anticipate and influence than a shock, is a restriction: something that is imposed from outside, such as bureaucratic regulations. By networking outwards, it turns out, you can minimise the negative effects of unnecessary, onerous rules. Van den Bekerom: ‘Red tape is compulsory, so you might as well embrace the rules. If you keep in regular contact with the government bodies and interest groups involved, you avoid confusion and there need not be any issues.’
This research has a number of important practical implications for school management, Van den Bekerom feels. By carefully monitoring the environment, they can keep an eye on which environmental factors (political, economic, social, ecological, legal) may be changing, and they can adjust their management strategy accordingly. ‘But,’ she continues, ‘I do advise school boards to invest in courses that will teach them to do this well. It is important for school managers to know “where to look”.’