The 'Iron Cage' of Educational Bureaucracy


Humes W (2021) The 'Iron Cage' of Educational Bureaucracy. British Journal of Educational Studies.

Teachers in many countries complain that their pedagogic work is impeded by unreasonable bureaucratic demands by government agencies. This paper suggests that historical, institutional and cultural perspectives are needed to understand the processes at work. It draws on Weber’s classic study of bureaucracy, but also makes reference to claims that traditional bureaucracies have been modified in ways that ameliorate their authoritarian character. The central part of the paper examines the attempts of one country (Scotland) to address complaints about excessive bureaucracy: it is argued that they show a limited understanding of the nature of institutional power. In the discussion that follows, a number of critical interpretations are considered: that bureaucracies are, by their very nature, anti-educational; that they undermine ethical consciousness and cause psychological damage; and that enhanced professionalism can serve as a counterweight to bureaucratic tendencies. The paper ends by suggesting that the powerful pragmatic argument that mass, state-run educational systems cannot function without complex administrative structures, should not be used to disguise the fact that they have unintended consequences, some of which tend to subvert their stated aims.

bureaucracy, professionalism; educational reform; Scotland; discourse

Output Status: Forthcoming/Available Online

British Journal of Educational Studies

StatusIn Press
Publication date online09/03/2021
Date accepted by journal09/03/2021