Promoting change from outside a system is fraught with difficulties for at least two main reasons.
Firstly, it is NOT NECESSARILY PERSONAL, but those who are responsible for the current situation naturally tend to experience proposals for change as (implied and) personal criticism. Our identity is closely link to what we do especially if we adopt an erroneous assumption that we are in control. Those responsible may be in charge but they are almost certainly not in control. Any situation is very largely the result of its history and prevailing culture. History and culture both enable and constrain what is possible. History includes factors well outside the immediate situation. Culture is reflected in the patterns of 'how we do things around here' and these are not easily changed. They have to be continually constructed and reconstructed. It is much easier to reconstruct the familiar than it is to construct something new.
Secondly, it is NOT SIMPLE. Changing a complex situation is never a simple endeavour. At best, those in charge may be able to moderate the direction in which things are moving. Attempting to just change to a different steady state is unrealistic. Being able to articulate such a state (as policy attempts to do) is not the same as causing the state to exist. When complex ideas are summarised they can sound simple and easy. The truth can be very different. Bureaucrats, proponents and the media have a real dilemma in this regard. They need to get the message across quickly and easily but the key understandings may be complex. and very difficult (perhaps impossible) to articulate briefly in simple terms.
I am involved in a classic example. An article in today's 'The Examiner' (local newspaper) has the headline "Ex-principal slams huge bureaucracy". In a conversation with the journalist I certainly criticised the thinking behind how the bureaucracy currently operates. But this thinking is the result of historical and cultural factors. The thinking is not isolated to the Tasmanian education bureaucracy - indeed it is almost universal. I was not aware that I 'slammed' the size of the bureaucracy. Proposing that a bureaucracy should be larger or smaller is usually a simplistic approach and therefore needs to be considered carefully. For what reasons might the bureaucracy be larger of smaller? What value would such a change add to the effectiveness of schools? At what cost (money, opportunity...)? On the other hand, it is true that the larger the bureaucracy the more officers there are in intervene (for better or worse) in what schools do. "Ex-principal questions bureaucracy" may have been a more valid headline.
And I did not 'slam' the people who work in the bureaucracy. I have worked with a large number of them over many years and I know the majority to be competent dedicated professionals, albeit working in difficult (perhaps impossible) circumstances. They are expected to 'be in control' and they are expected to implement 'simple' responses to the complex situations at hand. Like everyone else, they are caught in the middle. The impossibility of these terms of reference frequently results in simply requiring compliance, regardless of the best interests of those involved. In NSW, professional development for Principals is called 'compliance training'... at least they are explicit!!
The impact of the bureaucracy on the day to day operation of Tasmanian schools is certainly one of my major concerns. The last decade has seen continual intervention in the areas of system structure, curriculum, assessment and reporting. The cost has been huge in terms of time, energy, money, disruption, distraction, dislocation, disaffection, loss of knowledge and loss of social capital... The benefits are far less certain (see change and improvement). And the less certain the outcomes, the more likely the interventions will continue and increase.
Very few people apply for principal positions these days. Could this be a significant indicator of the poor health of the system? If so, then it ‘slams’ the current situation much more powerfully than I could, or would want to. It is important to start with a sound understanding of the current reality (good, bad or indifferent). As one of my mentors used to say, "There is a simple answer to every question and it is usually wrong".