The Governance of Independent Schools: An Autopoietic Systems Approach

By Allan K Beavis.

Published by The Learner Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

In recent decades, the governance function of independent schools in Australia has received considerable attention. A number of governing bodies have been influenced by the work of the American consultant John Carver and his Policy Governance Model and, with greater or lesser success, have attempted to implement his ideas. A recent article (Buchinger 2006) and a recent Australian Broadcasting Corporation Science program (The Science Show) prompted the writer to revisit the work on autopoietic social systems of the German Sociologist Niklas Luhmann and explore how Carver’s work fits with some theoretical aspects of governance derived from this theory. The paper begins with a consideration of autopoietic social systems and how they are structured to enable them to function. Unlike traditional theories of systems which view them as being constructed from component parts and that are either open or closed to their environments, autopoietic systems are viewed holistically as entities that can distinguish themselves from their environments and that are simultaneously open to environmental perturbations but closed in the way in which they deal with such perturbations. It is argued that a key function of governance is to enable the systems to operate reflexively and observe their own observations. In this sense they enable something analogous to the concept of “reflexive consciousness”. Autopoietic social systems structure their operations by reflexive expectations. These must be stabilized over the three dimensions of social life – the temporal (i.e. over time), the social (i.e. among other people) and the factual (i.e. the themes of social interaction) In each of these domains the governing body plays a significant role and Policy Governance with its emphasis on policies, values and perspectives sits comfortably with this theory.

Keywords: Autopoietic Social Systems, Governance, Luhmann

The International Journal of Learning, Volume 14, Issue 7, pp.83-92. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 585.501KB).

Dr Allan K Beavis

Chairman of Council, Macarthur Anglican School, Camden, NSW, Australia

Allan Kenneth Beavis, BSc, DipEd (UNSW), MEdAdmin, PhD (UNE), AMusA (AMEB), ARCM (Lond), FACE. Allan Beavis was Headmaster of St Andrew's Cathedral School in Sydney, Australia, for almost sixteen years and Master of New College at the University of New South Wales, for seven. He is chairman of the Council of Macarthur Anglican School, Cobbitty. For many years he served on the Council of St Catherine’s School for Girls, Waverly and on the Council of New College. He has taught Mathematics with the NSW Department of Education and at The Cathedral School, Hereford, England. Currently he works part-time as Parish Secretary and Principal Organist in the parish of St Simon and St Jude, Bowral, and does some consulting with What’s on Consulting in the area of independent school and university college governance.

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