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Structural change from physical foundations: The role of the environment in enacting school change

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Pamela Woolner, Ulrike Thomas, Lucy Tiplady



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


Educational change is known to be challenging and therefore research exploring the conditions that seem to facilitate change is important. The literature relating to school level change shows some awareness of the part played by the physical school environment, but the role of the school premises in change is rarely the focus of research rooted within this literature. This is a notable omission. The history of innovation in school design parallels the recognised challenges of school reform and change. Educational leadership practice and certain historic policy initiatives suggest awareness of how the physical environment may encourage or constrain, and so is potentially an important part of a change process, but this understanding is not developed. This paper brings together our research concerning school environments and our work with schools attempting pedagogical change to develop such an understanding of the place of the physical setting in initiating, supporting and sustaining school level change. It is a conceptual exploration of the role of the physical environment in enacting change using an empirical base to illustrate our argument. We present a narrative account of two schools’ approaches to change and use the theoretical framework of culture, structure and individual action, where the physical environment is part of the structure within which change is attempted. It becomes clear that although the physical setting is intimately related to other school structures, particularly certain organisational features, there is a qualitative difference in the way the physical setting, as a tangible and visible entity, contributes to change processes. As well as contributing to the development of conceptualisations of educational change, our exploration has implications for the wider understanding of structures within human society, and their relationship to culture and individual agency.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Woolner P, Thomas U, Tiplady L

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Journal of Educational Change

Year: 2018

Volume: 19

Issue: 2

Pages: 223-242

Print publication date: 01/05/2018

Online publication date: 03/02/2018

Acceptance date: 01/01/2018

Date deposited: 10/01/2018

ISSN (print): 1389-2843

ISSN (electronic): 1573-1812

Publisher: Springer


DOI: 10.1007/s10833-018-9317-4


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