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The development of a structural model for the analysis of school-based curriculum decision making

Hyde, Norman H. (1985) The development of a structural model for the analysis of school-based curriculum decision making. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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The research issue with which this study deals arose from an educational reform movement which began in Australia during the late 1960's, reached its zenith about the middle of the next decade, declined somewhat thereafter, but was resurrected during the early 1980's. This movement involved the active encouragement, at a Commonwealth Government-level; of the devolution of authority for curriculum decision-making from central bodies to schools. Known initially as school-based curriculum development, the movement is known now as school-based curriculum decision-making. Despite the movement's history in Australia, which spans a decade and a half, very little is known about the manner in which schools' staffs make, or made, these decisions. This study was intended to lessen this deficit in knowledge.

The study was conducted within a large Western Australian secondary school which had a well documented history of innovation, at the basis of which was a participative decision-making approach. The inquiry was designed in a longitudinal case study mode and involved the investigation of nine on-going and eight post-hoc strategic, or policy-level, decisions. These collective decisions were characterized also by their non-programmed nature, in that they were made in areas marked by an absence, or specific relaxation, of existing policies, regulations, guidelines or procedures. Each decision represented a novel and non-recurring situation and resulted in a significant shift in direction for the School.

The major thrusts of the study were directed toward four tasks. These were:
1. The development of a theoretical conceptual framework for the description of the participative, non-programmed, curriculum decision-making process.
2. The development of an appropriate case study design, including procedures for the collection and analysis of qualitative data, that would permit investigation of the decision-making process.
3. The validation of the theoretical framework through the investigation of a number of actual decisions.
4. The establishment of a model and algorithm to explain the decision-making process.

The theoretical framework was developed at three levels. At a general level, the decision-making process was conceptualized as taking place within a discrete decision setting, which exists alongside other settings within the administrative structure of the School. This setting was deemed capable of definition at· least in terms of characteristics such as the nature, purpose and basis of the decision-making, and the form(s) that participation took. At a second level, the decision-making was conceptualized as occurring within decision scenes, characterized by their goal relationships and curriculum focis. The decision-making process was conceptualized as a scenario, in which the decision­makers are actors who assume roles and establish relationships. The total process was perceived in terms of interventions that comprised actions and events, or sets of these, and occurred over a period time.

The longitudinal investigation was designed as the case study of a bounded system, in which the case was given but the issues remained to be studied. The conduct of the inquiry was arranged to proceed through three phases. These included a preliminary phase in which attention was directed towards the establishment of contexts; an exploratory phase, during which one decision situation was investigated and the data collection and analysis procedures were refined; and an investigative phase, which involved the intensive investigation of the decision processes sampled. A significant portion of the research effort was devoted to the development of a single system for the content analysis of data obtained from interviews, observations and documents. Specific techniques were developed for the reduction, analysis and mapping of data according to the concept of interventions.

The findings of the study supported the concept of a participative, non-programmed, curriculum decision-making setting with distinctive characteristics. These features included three classes of non-programmed decision situations; three types of decision-making activities and purposes; two levels of information base; three forms of participation; three forms of change; and sets of other characteristics that related to categories of influence and factors of time. The concept of decision scenes was supported and found to provide an appropriate classification system for decisions, in terms of their intended/actual directions of change. The data yielded from the study of 17 decision scenarios indicated a basic nine stage process that was supported by a number of sub­ and major supporting routines. The decision-making algorithm was found to comprise 37 elements that included nine central phases, 24 sub-routines and four major routines.

Essentially, the participative curriculum decision-making model can be explained from the perspective that the decision-makers were actors who engaged in a competitive political game, in which they exerted influence and bargained within a variety of competing institutionalized structures and hierarchical relationships. The outcomes of decisions, in the sense of changes that occurred, resulted from the syntheses of proposals and counter-proposals that were dominated by those of the decision initiators. The whole process was found to be highly political in regard to the underlying actions and events which occurred over time. These actions and events were found to be characterized by lobbying to· gain support for or against a particular course of action, with unequal distributions of power and influence among participants.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Education
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Marsh, Colin
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