Holistic Education System






An Outside View of the Design of our

 Holistic Education System






“The central task of education is to implant a will and a facility for learning; it should produce not learned but learning people. In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” (Eric Hoffer)[1]




How do we create a society that is continually learning without any one individual having to know all that much? (Adam Smith) 





  • A belief in people – their intrinsic desire to learn, be of value and to be valued.


  • A belief in knowledge – that is underpinned by assumptions that can be scientifically supported, refined and refuted.






Context                                                                                     3




Foundations                                                                             6




Executive Summary                                                                 9




A précis of Modern Underpinning Theoretical Assumptions          12




A Critique of our Present Education Systems                         22




A Way Forward into the Future                                              33











An Outside Perspective

This paper would not wish to underplay the excellent work already being carried by individuals across the whole education system. It is recognised that there has been huge changes in secondary education over the past 5 years.

We would, however, maintain that there is a significant opportunity to “transform” the design of the holistic education system.  To quote W Edwards Deming:

The prevailing style of management must undergo a transformation. A system cannot understand itself. The transformation requires a view from outside. The (requirement) is to provide an outside view – a lens ….. a map of theory by which to understand (the education system in Scotland)[2]

This paper has been written by an outsider after listening to those working in our Education System. In particular it has evolved from a full day listening to a significant cross section of leading educators in Scotland (see below)


This education system report arises from a meeting at Strathclyde University on 29th September at Strathclyde University. The participants were:

Prof Umit Bititci – Strathclyde Univ

Dr Tony Miller – Robert Gordon Univ

Tom Tumilty – Scottish Government

Gordon McKenzie – Head of Balwearie High School, Fife

Jim Bennett – Deputy Rector Madras College, St Andrews

Alison Preuss – Convenor of The Home Education Association

Gordon Hall – Deming Learning Network

Billy O’Neill – of Feuerstein Training

John Raven – Author and Researcher

Pamela Galbraith – Community Education

The purpose of the meeting was to explore the whole education system.

A representation of the whole education system would be:


Curriculum of Excellence:

This paper is also written from a recognition of the vision expressed in the Curriculum for Excellence. Its pupose is to ensure that all the children and young people of Scotland develop the attributes, knowledge and skills they will need if they are to flourish in life, learning and work, now and in the future.

The purpose of this vision is encapsulated in four capacities[3] – to enable each child or young person:

  • to be a successful learner,
  • a confident individual,
  • a responsible citizen
  • an effective contributor.


The Scottish Mace

 We also consider that it is appropriate to note the underpinning values as inscribed on The Scottish Mace:

Wisdom, Justice, Compassion, Integrity

This paper focuses on “Wisdom,” which we interpret as “knowledge.” The development of wisdom or knowledge would be based on sound principles as opposed to unsubstantiated opinion.


The education system is amazingly complex. This paper recognises that complexity. In context of the age old saying – we wish to avoid solutions on this side of complexity – what we are seeking is simplicity on the other side of complexity.

To get to the other side of complexity we will have to challenge many existing paradigms. This paper will touch on many aspects that are not familiar to the reader. We ask your forbearance in developing these alternative thoughts.


A belief in people – their intrinsic desire to learn, be of value and to be valued.


A belief in knowledge – that is underpinned by assumptions that can be scientifically supported, refined and refuted.

 A Belief in People

The fact we are intrinsically motivated to a good job has been established and recognised for a long long time. The extensive list of prominent people who have conducted extensive research in this field include  – Maslow, McGregor, McClelland, Deming, Kohn, Senge, Wheatley, etc. etc. Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs[4] identified our higher order needs to be Love/Belong, Esteem and Self Actualisation.

The fundamental recognition, that surely needs little expansion, is that to get the best out of people, you first have to believe in them.  


A Belief in Knowledge

While there would be a ready acceptance of the importance of sound knowledge – or wisdom, as expressed on The Scottish Mace – what we mean by knowledge merits some expansion.

Scientific Method

The eighteen century enlightenment was possible when the restrictions of freedom of thought began to be lifted. The Christian Church of that time, for example, was hierarchical in that it considered that they were the sole arbiters of “The Truth.” Their flock were actively discouraged[5] from questioning and challenging any part of the doctrine. These restrictions began to be broken down when philosophers such as Rene Descartes promoted the individual’s right to think and develop logical conclusions – “I think therefore I am,” and David Hume’s call for knowledge to be based on experience and observation. What developed is now referred to as scientific method. It is an approach that considers that knowledge, rather than being handed down from authority, is developed by proposing a hypothesis and carrying out experiments to prove or disprove the hypothesis. This process eventually develops a theory – that can be supported, updated and refuted.

In other words we progress by carry out experiments and learning from the results of those experiments.

This move to scientific method has seen the most amazing development of our knowledge over the past three hundred years. We just need to consider developments in medicine, engineering and electronics. The doubling of life expectancy in the developed world, being able to fly around the world at near the speed of sound and the modern marvel of the internet and the mobile phone.

Scientific Method in Management

Douglas McGregor in his seminal book “The Human Side of Enterprise” (1960) took this concept of Scientific Method into the realm of organisations:

“The theoretical assumptions management hold about controlling its human resources determine the whole character of the enterprise”

We interpret his word “management” as a collective term to mean the thinking of the organisation as represented by “management”. What he was pointing us towards was the significant opportunities open to us – akin to engineering and medicine – when the organisation moves into a disciplined learning mode as exemplified by Scientific Method. When the organisation identifies its theoretical assumptions and is prepared to challenge them through experiment and observation. In the conclusion to his book he writes:

“The purpose of this volume is not to entice management to choose sides between theories. It is rather, to encourage the realisation that theory is important, to urge management to examine its assumptions and make them explicit. In doing so it will open the door to the future”


There already exist the findings of extensive research in the social sciences such as motivation, systems, variation, etc. These findings have still to be applied in the majority of our organisations.

We can encapsulate McGregor’s message in the following:

Theories lead to Methods Used which provide Results

The methods we use evolve out of the underpinning assumptions of the organisation. We make progress by the development of the theories. If our focus is on simply improving the methods we can only achieve minimal improvement relative to our existing paradigm.[6]

McGregor was far from the only person calling for a deeper questioning of the underpinning theoretical assumptions of organisations. The management scholar W Edwards Deming considered that “knowledge is built on theory”[7] and that:


Best efforts and hard work, not guided by knowledge, only digs deeper the pit we are in. …there is no substitute for knowledge[8]

And from Peter Senge:


We are coming increasingly to believe that this (failure to implement modern concepts) stems not from weak intentions, wavering will, or even from non systemic understanding, but from mental models. More specifically, new insights fail to get into practice because they conflict with deeply held internal images of how the world works, images that limit us to familiar ways of thinking and acting. That is why the discipline of managing mental models – surfacing, testing and improving our internal picture of how the world works – promises to be a major breakthrough for building learning organisations.[9]

If we are to learn from the many false starts of the past 25 years[10] then there is a fundamental need to acknowledge McGregor’s statement that: “theory is important”[11]

The Education System – As a Learning System.

The education system has evolved or been designed around suites of theories:

  1. In context of how we learn and therefore how we educate our students
  2. In context of how Educators are motivated and therefore how we manage the resource of Educators available to the system.


We should bear in mind that these applied theories may in fact be subconscious. However, as McGregor points out, we do not progress until we make these theories explicit and are prepared to challenge them in light of modern research and knowledge. The available research is extensive.

If we want our education system to be moving forward in context of the needs of society then it does have to become a learning system continually challenging the foundations on which the system has been designed.

Following these introductions this report falls into three parts.

  1. A précis of modern underpinning theoretical assumptions.
  2. A critique of the present Education Systems from the basis of modern concepts 
  3. A way forward into the future


The alternative theoretical assumptions mentioned in this paper are referred to as “modern.” In fact they are not. Deming’s concepts of systems and McGregor recognition of intrinsic motivation date from the 1950s. We must therefore ask ourselves why it is that we failed over the past 50 years to modernise our thinking. The proposed answer to that question is that we have little appreciation of theory in context of how we learn, and no concept of theory in context of how we manage the education system. If we have no concept of theory, we have no scientific basis for developing our knowledge and moving forward.

It is from this recognition that “theory is important” that the rest of this paper is developed.

Executive Summary

Foundations – The premise of this paper is that the design of our education system should be underpinned by a belief in people and the importance of sound knowledge (wisdom). Knowledge is continually developed by making explicit our underpinning theoretical assumptions and being willing to challenge them in light of modern research. Are the underpinning assumptions supporting the present design of our education system out of date?

Outside View – this paper is written by a person from outside the education system. He had the opportunity to listen to a group representing the holistic system. By being impartial it has allowed him to listen and observe from a different paradigm. In particular he has been looking at the holistic education system from a societal perspective.

The Development of Sound Knowledge (Wisdom) – The paper emphasises the need for the disciplined growth of our knowledge through development of theories by experiment and observation. This disciplined process goes under the name of Scientific Method.

Applied Theories – This paper looks at how we apply these theories in context of the design of our education system and more specifically on our how we learn and how we manage our educators 

Modern Theoretical Assumptions

A précis of modern theoretical assumptions:

  • X & Y Theory – That we are intrinsically motivated to do a good job and the leader’s task is to integrate and enable self control (Y theory) as opposed the common perception that leaders have to direct and control employees, they need to motivate staff through targets, bonuses and rewards (X theory)
  • Commitment – That there is a broad range of commitment to an organisation and its aims. The range being from full commitment to apathy and the recognition that there is a vast difference in the resource available to the organisation within this range.
  • Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation – That we can be intrinsically motivated to do a job for its inherent value and we can also be extrinsically motivated through our desire to secure a reward. The recognition that when we are persuaded to do a job to secure a reward it damages our intrinsic motivation. The reward of qualifications damages our inherent love of learning.
  • Love of Learning – We are born with an intrinsic love of learning. It is however easily crushed by both the family and the school environment
  • Variation – There is variation all around us. On the one hand we need to celebrate differences but we also have to contain variation so as to make our systems manageable.
  • Statistical Process Control – The need to apply Statistical Process Control techniques to interpret data.
  • Systems Thinking – the recognition that we live and work within complex interdependent systems. The need to move from our existing reductionist thinking which manages the parts to whole systems thinking which manages the parts plus the interaction between the parts
  • Systems Design – The recognition that the design of the system, rather than the diligence of the individual, is the major factor in the quality of the output. The need to determine an aim when designing a system and for the design to be based on an in depth appreciation of the needs of the customer.
  • Detail and Dynamic Complexity – Systems display both detail and dynamic complexity. Systems can be growing or decaying.
  • Living Systems – organisations are now being thought of as living systems that have an intelligence and a learning ability.
  • Deadly Disease – The very damaging disease of managing remotely though measurable data alone.
  • How we Learn – the importance of the development of a sound theoretical basis as to how we learn. The example of the Feuerstein model.


A Critique of Our Present Education Systems

  • The critique is in context of the design of the education system not of the excellent people working in the system.
  • There is no perception of the theories being used in context of how we learn nor on how we manage the system.
  • The management of the education system reflects X theory or Command and Control thinking. The system has little trust and belief in its front line educators.
  • Reductionist thinking is reflected by the observation that each part of the system is managed separately; some parts are not managed at all.
  • The paper asks for whom is the system designed. It appears to favour those who have an academic focus rather than reflecting the overall needs of society.
  • There is a requirement to have an in depth appreciation of the needs of the full range of customers of the education system. Plus the indication that one third of pupils are not engaged in the education process. If this is the case it indicates a very poor service to its customers as a whole. Does this high number of pupils not being engaged with learning contribute to the ever increasing divide in our society between rich and poor?
  • An example of the damaging effect of Command and Control in practice is provided by the American initiative “No Child Left Behind”
  • The Auditing function reflects a Command and Control mindset by inspecting relative to standards and encouraging compliance. It does not promote continual learning and improvement.
  • Remote Management – the disease of managing by measurable figures alone. This is a major issue. It causes excessive damage.
  • The damage done by the ‘Qualification’ extrinsic motivator
  • Assessment is for Learning (AIFL) has recognised the limitations of the qualification system. But in designing this new system has it made explicit the underpinning assumptions behind qualifications or is it simply redesigning a new system based on the old flawed paradigm?
  • Our educators and administrators are not taught theory.
  • Are primary schools more innovative because they are not controlled so vigorously through the qualification measure?
  • It is essential that parents and society as a whole are drawn into the consideration of the holistic education system.
  • Society operates through highly complex systems. The need to develop a broad based understanding of these complex systems.
  • Community Education seems to be dropping by the wayside through excessive control.
  • In contrast “Home Education” is growing and providing an excellent service to its pupils. It vehemently resists national control.
  • Examples of dynamic complexity in schools with problem children and how we finance our Universities.


A Way Forward into the Future

The fundamental recognition is that the holistic education system is extremely complex. We cannot expect some enlightened leader from the centre to transform the system. Change emerges through a critical mass of society seeing and thinking differently. The internet can enable this critical mass, but at the same time we should look to Government to remove those barriers that have limited progress over the past 30 years.

To enable emergence and a way forward we should establish:

  • An aim for our society  in context of creating a climate of experiment, learning and progress based on the sound scientific thinking
  • The need for an in depth study of the full range of customers using the service.
  • From the above the development of the aim of the education system.
  • The need to promote the foundations of a belief in people and of knowledge based on theory.
  • The requirement to teach systems thinking and modern concepts of intrinsic motivation across the whole of society.
  • In developing the child for adulthood we should be teaching parenting skills and how to nurture the child’s love of learning.
  • A requirement of a core learning centre to identify and collate existing and future knowledge in context of education.
  • The recognition that transforming our education system is a long term objective.
  • While we may need assessment it will have to be addressed with great sensitivity. We want to respect different attributes and avoid grading them.
  • The auditing function has to be based around modern theoretical concepts of intrinsic motivation, systems thinking and variation. The auditors must have an in depth knowledge of modern concepts. From this basis their role moves from ensuring compliance to one of facilitating learning and progress.
  • The above auditing process will provide much greater appreciation of the education system and thus contribute more significantly to the government’s task of managing the public purse.
  • The need to promote the fact that education is a whole society responsibility.
  • The concept of a learning society where The Scottish People take responsibility for the intelligent design of the systems that characterise our society


A Précis of Modern Underpinning Theoretical Assumptions



X Theory vs Y Theory

Let us open this section by continuing with the research of Douglas McGregor. To develop his primary message, that we require to identify and challenge our theories, McGregor polarised two contrasting perceptions of an organisation in context of its people.

The first assumption is that people are fundamentally lazy and cannot be trusted. They need to be “Directed and Controlled” which he labelled X Theory. From this assumption we create a hierarchy of supervision and a wide range of tools designed to instruct and motivate individuals.

We use this cartoon to represent X theory management which portrays the perception that the knowledge is held at the top or centre and the task is to communicate that knowledge down the hierarchy. The tools used would be the writing of centrally determined standards and then establishing mechanism for ensuring that staff adhered to these standards, furthermore there is the need to ‘motivate’ people to keep to the standards using such tools as bonus systems, targets, performance appraisals etc. On top of this there is the auditing function whose role it is to inspect against these standards. This style of management now goes under the name of “Command and Control (C&C). As the cartoon portrays it is amazingly poor at utilising the intelligence of those at the work face.

In contrast McGregor looked at an organisation that recognised that people came to work intrinsically motivated to do their best. There is a basic belief in people. The requirement of management is then to “Integrate and Enable Self-Control,” which he labelled Y Theory.  From this assumption the organisation is in a listening rather than telling mode. The focus is on integrating personal goals with those of the organisation and seeing the employee as a customer of the design of the enterprise’s systems. The following two cartoons represent the difference in energy secured between a controlled environment and an enabled environment.

Extensive subsequent research has confirmed that as human being the vast majority of us conform to the Y theory model. We are intrinsically motivated to do our best.

This does not mean that we must always stick with the methods that evolve out of Y Theory thinking. Circumstances will arise when it is appropriate to use “control” methods. McGregor’s primary message is to know which theory is being applied and to ensure that it does in fact relate to the circumstances being addressed.


Peter Senge developed a range of attitudes within an organisation:[12]

  • Full Commitment: wants it, Will make it happen. Creates whatever laws (structures) are needed.
  • Enrollment: wants it. Will do whatever can be done within the “spirit of the law”
  • Genuine compliance: Sees the benefits of the vision. Does everything expected and more. Follows the “letter” of the law. “Good Soldiers”
  • Formal Compliance: On the whole, sees the benefits of the vision. Does what is expected and no more. “Pretty good soldiers”
  • Grudging Compliance: Does not see the benefit of the vision. But also, does not want to lose job. Does enough of what’s expected because he has to, but also lets it be known that he is not really on board.
  • Non-compliance: does not see the benefits of the vision and will not do what is expected. “I won’t do it; you can’t make me.”
  • Apathy: Neither for or against the vision. No interest. No energy. “is it five o’clock yet”


It is stating the obvious to recognise that there is a vast difference between the contributions from a person who is fully committed in comparison with someone who is apathetic.

The organisation will not get full commitment from a ‘controlled’ environment. At best it will get compliance, but if the ‘control’ is heavy, there is a lack of support and the buy in to the vision is weak, then the likely outcome will be apathy.[13]


Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation

We would define intrinsic motivation as the desire to engage in an activity for its own sake – because of the satisfaction it provides. Extrinsic motivation, in contrast, is when we take part in an activity because of some other benefit that doing so will bring.[14] This benefit is usually provided by someone else.

In fact our motivation is usually a mixture of both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. However the research conducted by Alfie Kohn has shown that the use of extrinsic motivators actually diminishes intrinsic motivation, like balancing pistons. The use of extrinsic motivators does not add to our motivation it simple shifts its focus. 

From this background Alfie Kohn conducted extensive research into the effect of extrinsic motivators. His research found that the use of extrinsic motivators reduces the available commitment to the task in hand. His phrase that encapsulates extrinsic motivation is “Do this and I will give you that.” What happens in practice is the focus of the individual moves from the task – the “this” – to how we secure the reward – the “that”. Extrinsic motivators do motivate the individual, but it motivates in context of securing the reward not in committing to the actual task in hand. The problem arises because it is the task – the this – that will have meaning to the individual. 

Extrinsic motivators work well where the task in hand has no intrinsic value to the individual and there is little requirement for thought and judgement – such as making widgets, selling double glazing, plucking chickens etc. Thankfully there are very few such jobs. Extrinsic motivators are damaging when the task requires the active intelligent involvement of the student or employee.

When the task is more complex and requires thought, the use of extrinsic rewards throws up the following problems:

  • It reduces interest: In moving the focus from the task to the reward it reduces the intrinsic interest in the actual job. It changes the way we feel about the task
  • It is manipulative: The thinking behind the reward is to manipulate the individual to carry out a task as set by the boss. Knowing we are being manipulated undermines self esteem.
  • It ruptures relationships: As it is manipulative it creates a barrier between boss and subordinate, it undermines trust and it closes off in depth conversations about the task.
  • It ignores reasons: Extrinsic motivators are used when we think that the problem can be addressed by people trying harder. In fact in all probability the problem lies in the design of the work, which is the responsibility of the boss (see Systems Thinking)
  • It discourages risk taking: The fear of losing the reward makes our approach more conservative.
  • The praise problem: Praise leads to a dependency on approval by others.
  • It leads to distortion: Distortion of data so as to secure the reward is very wide spread. In the public sector the term often used is “gaming”[15] Distortion has also been seen, to disastrous effect, in the financial sector.
  • It is easy to use: It requires little investigation, no thought, no analysis, no empathy with staff and is easy to apply. That is why it is so popular.


We live in a complex world and one of the most valuable assets available to any organisation is the committed intelligence and thinking power of the individual. It is illogical to diminish that resource through the use of extrinsic motivators.

A powerful example of intrinsic motivation is now available on the World-Wide-Web. Wikipedia the online encyclopaedia has been developed by voluntary contributions from the mass of its users. Another example is the open source software community Linux. It was established when Linus Torvalds, a computer science student from Helsinki, released onto the internet the first version of a computer program he had written. Torvalds did not just put the programme on line but also its source code – its basic recipe. He was opening the door for software enthusiasts to develop the product he originated. What Torvalds set off was a geek democracy with people thinking, and voluntarily creating together, to establish a complex, robust and now widely used highly sophisticated but reliable open software product.[16]

These two examples confirm our natural desire to contribute and to be valued. And that financial reward is not necessarily part of the process.

Intrinsic Love of Learning

From when we are born we love to learn. Any one of us who have dealings with very young children cannot help but observe their love of learning; the perpetual “Why.” We even carry this love of learning right through our adulthood, even into retirement.

This love of learning however can be damaged:

“One is born with intrinsic motivation, self esteem, dignity, cooperation, curiosity, joy in learning. These attributes are high at the beginning of life, but are gradually crushed by forces of destruction.” W Edwards Deming 

Sometimes this crushing of our love of learning is not so gradual. Parents play a crucial role but so does the establishment. Parent can give instructions without reasons, they can demand compliance without explanation, avoid interaction with their children by simply placing them in front of the TV, provide little stimulation for their curiosity and creativity etc etc. Our education system can likewise destroy our love of learning by seeing everyone as the same, by grading of pupils, encouraging competition, and the restrictive demands of the class room, etc etc.

If we are to move forward “we must restore the individual, and do so in the complexities of interaction with the rest of the world.”[17]

Variation in People

Everything varies in life; none of us are the same. For a starter we all learn in different ways.

“Studies show that how we perceive and process information would vary from one person to another. In fact, you can even say that the way you view the world is dependent on how you perceive information. …….. These different ways of processing and perceiving information leads to four learning styles. These are the innovative learning style, the analytic learning style, the common sense learning style, and the dynamic learning style.”[18]

What is wrong with the above is the thought that there are only four different learning styles. There is likely to be a comprehensive range of learning styles and these four come out of our desire to categorise.

Another example of variation comes from the 1980s work of Meredith Belbin. He recognised that teams which contained a broad spread of attributes performed better than teams with similar or a narrow spread of attributes.[19] He went on to categorise nine different team roles and developed the argument that successful groups contained an element of each of these roles within the team. 

Furthermore as we have shown above with examples on the World-Wide-Web we are much more creative when we share our ideas. “You are what you share.”[20]

We conclude, therefore that variety is a very significant asset to our society.

Variation in Data

Furthermore there is variation in the data that we collect from those processes that are measurable. Statistical Process Control (SPC), especially the work of Walter A Shewhart in the development of the control chart, allows us to differentiate between the variation that we would expect in the normal running of the system, and unexpected variation when something untoward is happening. If we misinterpret the data there is a high likelihood that any action taken will make things worse rather than better. Acting without understanding the data is referred to as “tampering.”

Systems Thinking

Historically we have been taught to solve problems by breaking them down into component parts and addressing each part. We refer to this as reductionist or mechanistic thinking[21]. However we are now realising that the whole is the sum of the parts plus the interrelationship between the parts. The whole can be significantly less than the sum of the parts; conversely it can be significantly more. It is necessary to understand and study how all the parts within a system interact.

H2  +  O = H2O (water)

To use this simple example – we do not understand water by studying its constituent parts – Hydrogen and Oxygen. It is the interrelationship between Hydrogen and Oxygen that is crucial and it is the interrelationship that produces water.

A similar example is salt  – NCL – a fundamental requirement of life  – but the constituents – Sodium and Chlorine – on their own are in fact both poisons.  

This study of the interaction of the parts goes under the collective name of “Systems Thinking.”

W Edwards Deming[22] when conveying systems thinking to the Japanese back in 1950s would depict a manufacturer’s organisational structure with the following diagram:

Instead of portraying the hierarchical authority organigram that we are used to, he portrayed the cyclical flow of work and the interdependencies of each part. It is from this diagram that we have evolved the holistic systems diagram used in the context section of this report.

It should be noted that those out with this particular organisation – suppliers and customers – are still seen to be part of the system.

Systems Design, Aim and Customers

There are a range of conclusions from the development of systems thinking. The first is that the design of the system is the major factor in determining outcomes. Research shows that at least 90% of results are a function of the design of the system rather than the diligence of the individual.[23] 

The second recognition is that systems design is the responsibility of leaders. Their focus moves from ‘motivating’ staff and onto designing the system to enable staff. These thoughts challenge the concept of accountability. If staff within a system are apathetic then the problem lies in the design of the system in which they are being asked to work, it may have little to do with the competence and diligence of the individual employee.

Leaders when designing a system have, obviously, to consider the aim of the system. What is it trying to achieve. Plus who are the customers of the system and what are their needs. The customers will include the external group who receive a service but will also include internal customers – those who work in the system to provide the service.

Dynamic Systems

In the 1990s and into the 21st century we have the work of Peter Senge where he is identifies two aspects of a system – “Detail Complexity”, as has been portrayed above, and “Dynamic Complexity.” Dynamic complexity is the recognition that systems change with time. They can either grow or decline. Furthermore a system can contain a balancing factor which can limit growth and decay. Our complex systems can contain a variety of combinations of these dynamic complexity elements. They can be portrayed as “Systems Archetypes.”[24]

The above diagram portrays two of these systems archetypes acting together. This might portray a company securing increased sales but that growth then being limited by production problems.

An example of a more complex dynamic system would be from the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland, where Catholics were demonstrating against the bias in favour of the Protestants in the region, which resulted in incursions by Protestants into Catholic areas – which forced the UK government to bring in the army to protect the Catholics. But the army had an inclination to support the protestant status quo, so instead of resolving the problem it accelerated it into a 30 year civil war.[25]

(What are the long term dynamic consequences of NATO forces supporting a corrupt government in Afghanistan?)

A Living System

A major development of systems thinking has been through the study of biology and the natural world. We are now approaching the thought that organisations or systems as living entities.

Organisations are living systems. They too are intelligent, creative, adaptive, self organising, meaning seeking.[26]


Deadly Disease

W Edwards Deming identified the deadly disease of “managing by measurable figures alone.”[27] This particular disease has become especially prevalent over the past 30 years. In the hey day of American management the CEO very much kept in touch with what had been happening on the shop floor,[28] but in the past 30 years there has been a growing tendency for “remote” or “ivory tower” management. It may be through the development of the computer which can readily churn our all manner of statistics, or it may be with the rise in status of the accounting profession. What ever the cause it is now very prevalent in our organisations. It is common to find companies believing the phrase “If you cannot measure it you cannot control it”[29]  In fact a whole ethos has arisen out of this misconception and we find books such as “Balanced Score Card[30] being a best seller. The other disastrous offshoot of managing by measurable figures has been the rise of “Performance Management.” Our banking industry has used Performance Management techniques and unbelievably turned a blind eye to the fact that it caused massive distortions of data, risk and trust.

 In practice the processes that provide measures amount to only 3% of the whole.[31] Organisations that manage through measurable figures are in fact managing the organisation on information on only 3% of the operation of the company. This is a considerable omission by our leaders not only by the fact that they steer with so little information but also by them failing to gain a feel for the systems for which they are responsible. They leave themselves open to the manipulation of the data they do receive.

The manipulation of data arises from the other primary misconception that McGregor called X theory thinking, and we now label “Command and Control.” The presumption is that leaders require to motivate people – through targets, standards bonuses etc. What happens in practice is encapsulated in the following two quotations from Tom Johnson and Edwards Deming.

“Management by numerical goals is an attempt to manage without knowledge of what to do, and is usually management by fear.”[32]   

“If management sets quantitative targets and makes people’s jobs depend on them – they will meet the targets – even if they have to destroy the enterprise to do it.”[33] 

This disease is especially prevalent in the systems of our society that are in control of central government and politicians. They lead and make decisions on the information that is fed to them, without spending a significant portion of their time listening to the customers of the system. The customers of the system design include those working in the system.[34]

How we Learn

It may seem an obvious statement, but if we are to continue to develop our education system, then it is imperative that we establish and keep developing our knowledge about how we learn.

In addition we would recognise the extent of a child’s learning outside the classroom, especially in the areas that interest him/her. We also require to fully appreciate the influence from the family environment.

Extensive research into “how we learn” has, over the past 50 years been conducted by Reuven Feuerstein and the ICELP organisation based in Israel.[35]  The outcome of this research is represented here in Scotland by Billy O’Neill.[36] 

The underpinning assumption of this research has been that we have Structural Cognitive pathways; and these pathways are modifiable. In other words our intelligence, with mediation, can be developed; we can enhance our learning skills.

The aim is to prepare the youngsters for adulthood, which requires a balance between developing:

  • A Learning ability – the ability to analyse and address each new situation in our future lives – situations that we cannot at this time predict.
  • Emotional Intelligence – where our intrinsic love of learning is enhanced and we start to believe in ourselves. We start to build up good thinking skills, have control of our thinking and can express ourselves. All this develops our emotional confidence in ourselves and our place in society.


A simple representation of the areas of learning addressed in the Feuerstein model is represented in the following table of inputs, processes skills and outputs.

Inputs Processing skills Outputs
  • Blurred or sweeping perception
  • Impulsive and unsystematic behaviour
  • Impaired verbal tools
  • Lack of precision in gather data
  • Lack of capacity to consider two or more sources of information


  • Inadequacy in defining problem
  • Inability to select relevant clues
  • Narrowness of mental field
  • Limited grasp of reality
  • Lack of need for pursuing logical evidence
  • Lack of planning
  • Impaired strategy for testing hypothesis
  • Limited communication skills
  • Difficulty with virtual relationships
  • Blocking
  • Trail and errors responses
  • Limited expressive speech
  • Lack of precision in communicating one’s responses


Our cognitive pathways once developed remain with us for rest of our life, like riding a bicycle.  The information that is pumped into us at secondary school and University has an ever diminishing life span. It is recognised that within 2 years we will have forgotten at least 98% of any subject we studied at University

 Another crucial consideration is that we cannot teach what will be needed by students in the future. We simply do not know that information. What will be required is an ability to learn aligned with emotional intelligence and self esteem.

There are other theories of education in use, especially in primary education. This paper is not proposing that Scotland should adopt the Feuerstein methodologies. What it is saying is that it is essential to conduct in depth research of the underpinning theories of how we learn and ensure that the findings of that research are applied in our education system.

The underlying message is that the management of the education system should encourage a long term climate of experiment, learning and progress across the whole country. To repeat – this experimentation and learning must be based on the disciplined application of scientific method. The application of the latest “flavour of the month” method is hardy disciplined learning.  (Examples of flavour of the month methods in the commercial world include Quality Circles, Process Re-Engineering, Six Sigma, Lean etc etc)

A Critique of The Present Education System


It is the System not the People

It is important to emphasis that the following criticism is in context of the design of the education system. We have the very highest regard for those working in the system. They are doing a fantastic job utilising considerable dedication and creativity. This paper is purely in context of the very complex and society wide system that has been designed to educate all of our citizens.

This complex system, in all probability, has evolved rather than being designed by leaders or thoughtful people. It has evolved from the underpinning assumptions of society. These assumptions are now out of date. We now know so much more about how we learn and what drives our motivation. The purpose of this paper is to encourage society to take responsibility for the intelligent design of our holistic education system.

Underpinning Theoretical Assumptions

The initial observation is that there is little to no appreciation of the underpinning theories being used in context of how students learn, nor in how the whole system should be managed.


Belief in our Educators (Ref X & Y Theory)

To an outside observer of the education system it is apparent that “government” does not trust and believe in its educators. This is in spite of a highly commendable commitment to their profession by the vast majority of those working in the education system. The ethos of control seems to permeate the system, especially in secondary and University education.

The management style very much reflects McGregor’s X theory and now referred as “Command and Control.” A strong indicator of this style would be Central Government’s demand for copious statistics from the various elements of the Education System, and then feeding little of the analysis of this data back to those working at the coal face. The perception is that decisions are made at the top and the front line teacher is simply asked to comply. The centrally determined curriculum is a further indicator of the C&C style of management.

The disaster of this approach is that the development of the system is cut off from the front line educators, who, as they are in close touch with the primary customers, have the most information as to the effectiveness of the system. What should be borne in mind is that the education system is extremely complex; it cannot be “controlled” from the centre. It works in its present limited form because of the dedication of the front line educators.[37] The more we can enable the existing commitment and creativity of front line educators the more dynamic will be the continuous improvement of the system.[38]

What happens to our educator’s commitment if they feel controlled, have to cope with the anomalies thrown up by the system design, and there is limited means through which their issues can be addressed? Is the general involvement going to be in the area of full commitment – or is it going to drift towards apathy?

The Scottish Government at this point in time are making some progress in this context by giving some head teachers more autonomy following the lead of the English Education system in creating “Trust” schools. Tentative experiments seem to be proving the positive effect of delegating more responsibility. This may be an indication that the Government is moving away from Command and Control thinking – but if they are not aware of their underpinning theories then the change may well be superficial.

Managing the Parts

We have been taught to reduce problems down into its component parts. This is reflected in our education systems in that each part, primary, secondary, University, Further Education etc., is managed separately and there is poor communication between the various elements.

For example – Secondary education blames the Universities for destroying the love of learning through their demand for entry qualifications and the University blames the schools for destroying the love of learning before they arrive at the University.

Selected parts are managed, such as primary, secondary and Universities, but where are parents in the design or the community as a whole?

And what about the long term outcomes from the holistic system? How extensively does the system measure the influence of education 5, 10, 15 years after leaving formal education?

For whom is The Education System designed? (System aim & customers)


“The aim of education should be about drawing out the diverse talents of people, but it is not in practice. It is a system that legitimises the hierarchical society, education is determined by a network of social forces, only 5% of education has any real merit. Psychologists have known about this for the past century.” (John Raven)[39]

The above statement leads us to question for whom is the education system designed. Is it designed for the whole of society or is it designed to pander to the professional class who ask for University qualifications as an entry criteria? It is designed around academic achievement? Is it designed by academics in the mistaken view that academic achievement is the panicle of learning?

Employers are primarily concerned:

“To recruit graduates who posses initiative, the ability to get on with others, problem solving ability, and their ability to build up their own understanding of their organisations and society and therefore play an active part in them”[40]

There is no proven link that the ability to pass academic exams produces the above attributes.

In context of the aim of  The Scottish Government’s Curriculum of Excellence:

  • to be a successful learner,
  • a confident individual,
  • a responsible citizen
  • an effective contributor

It is unclear how the present education system with its academic bias will achieve these goals.

Furthermore we can ask what our education system does for the extremely valuable practical portion of our society that is not academically minded.

In Scotland we are approaching achieving a target of 50% of students being educated to degree level. Is this the balance that society needs? And what about the other 50% who do not have an academic inclination – is our education system giving them the feeling of failure? But more importantly how is our society continuing to develop their love of learning?

According to UK statistics for September 2009, 15.4% of 16-24 year olds in Scotland have failed to find employment. (This figure is 19.8% in England – their achievement in passing exams is higher than in Scotland) To what extent is our education system a contributory factor in these statistics?

Final thought, is our education system designed by and for the middle and upper classes of our society? Is it designed to maintain the status quo? Does the system legitimise the present hierarchical society?

Our large organisations need compliant people, is the system designed to produce informed but compliant staff? [41]

Customers of the Education System

We would propose the following are customers of the education system

  • The learner – child, pupil, student, life-long learner.
  • Our Educators who work within the system
  • Parents
  • Organisations who employ educated citizens
  • Society
  • Government, who have responsibility for managing the public purse


How much in depth long term research is conducted into the needs of the above customers? As Government is in the most powerful position in the above hierarchy do their needs dominate? Do their needs for statistics and their need to demonstrate progress and proper management of the system dominate the actual operation of the system?

Another question to be asked is the proportion of our pupils who enjoy schooling. An opinion expressed was that one third enjoys school, one third are undecided and a third fail to become engaged.[42] If this is factual then we would have to conclude that our schools provide a very mediocre quality service, no commercial enterprise would survive with such a poor customer perspective.

Command and Control in Practice

An example of the damaging effect of Command and Control thinking comes from the USA and George Bush’s noble aim of “No child to be left behind.”[43]  

The Bush administration had a theory of change with several embedded assumptions:

  • change is top-down and requires top-level support
  • change requires careful planning and good controls
  • change happens step-by-step in a neat, incremental fashion
  • behaviour can be mandated
  • rewards and punishment motivate people to change
  • large-scale changes require large-scale efforts

What happened in practice was that the “control” underpinning of these assumptions destroyed the morale of the teaching staff. The initiative began to be labelled “No Teacher Left Standing.”


A further indicator of Command and Control is the perception that Government should oversee the establishment of standards and then create an auditing function to ensure compliance. The auditors inspect relative to standards and provide reports as to whether the standards are being followed or otherwise. They are not equipped to listen to the complex needs of the various customers and report back as to the effectiveness of the design of the holistic system. They fail to support those working in the system.[44]

In context of a University engineering function, the audit is conducted against 40 criteria which have been developed externally, with input from the professional institutes. The criteria are referred to as – UK Spec (Specific Learning Outcomes).  The audit is carried out by peer reviews from other Universities. This process has been running for the past 20 years and it is generally acknowledge that it does not provide an impetus for learning and change.  The purpose of the external audit is simply to provide accreditation. Furthermore peer review is unlikely to challenge the underpinning assumptions as they are all working to the same unconscious mindset. This process will not challenge the design of the holistic education system.


Remote Management

Remote management is a widespread disease in “Western” management, in that managers consider that they can lead and make decisions on the information that passes their desk.  Not only are we aware that only 3% of processes provide measures, but also the measures themselves provide a very poor indicator of what is actually happening at the work face. In addition the figures have often been manipulated before they reach the leaders – the central government and politicians in context of education.

As opposed to managing by measurable figures alone we should be acknowledging that our education system is extremely complex, and that the only real way of assessing its health is by regular and constant listening to the various customers of the system.

Qualifications (Extrinsic Motivation)

Before we look at recent developments in “Assessment is for Learning” (AIFT), let us first consider what is fundamentally wrong with the widely used measure of qualifications.

The starting point is to recognise that “Qualifications” is still widely used across the whole of society. Organisations signal the importance of this measure by including a requirement for qualifications in their job advertisements. Parents are just as bad, in that they develop a vision of seeing their offspring through University. The media is also guilty in this regard in that it is a convenient method through which they can compare Scottish attainment against other countries, especially England. [45] League tables simply pander to the damaging simplification of the aim and purpose of education.

The major fault with “Qualifications” is the assumption that we have to motivate people to learn, and that this can be achieved through the offer of rewards.  And as Alfie Kohn’s research has found, if we offer a reward, the thinking moves from the task in hand to securing the reward. It is widely acknowledge that students attend Universities to secure a qualification, not to enhance their knowledge and develop their learning skills.

As has been indicated “reward” thinking is a tool of Command and Control thinkers. The government believe they should decide what students should learn and that they can motivate students by offering a reward for compliance with their direction. It is a quick fix in that it by passes any in depth analysis of a student’s love of learning, how they learn, what they want to learn and what would be useful for them to learn.

Plus the other main problems identified by Alfie Kohn’s research:

  • That offering a reward diminishes the intrinsic motivation relative to the original task – it diminishes our love of learning.
  • Once the reward has been secured all interest in the task disappears – once we have secured our qualification very few of us carry on to develop our knowledge of the subject further.
  • The reward leads to distortion and we soon get adept at securing the reward (the qualification) with minimum investment in the original task. 
  • The existence of the reward discourages risk taking – we focus on simply passing the exam – in this way it builds a compliance culture that is taken into our working lives.
  • The qualification route ignores that we are all different and that that difference is a valuable asset for society. Society needs to value people who cannot stand chasing qualifications for their own sake.[46]


The primary recognition is that the “qualification” reward badly damages our inherent love of learning – the vital ingredient in the future of our society.

An Analogy – Incentives

“If management sets quantitative targets (or rewards) and makes people’s jobs depend on them – they will met the targets (or rewards) – even if they have to destroy the enterprise to do it” (Deming) 

Targets and rewards are linked in that the underlying thinking is that people need to be controlled and motivated. In the 1930s at the famous Hawthorne experiments, it was recognised that within a very short space of time any reward/incentive scheme would be manipulated by the workers for their benefit and at the expense of the organisation.

Our Banking industry did not head this lesson. In the selling of mortgages, for example, they incentivised their sales staff. Furthermore in the States they would dismiss the bottom 10% performers in any one period. The staff therefore had two extrinsic motivators bearing down on them. Greed to secure the maximum monetary reward combined with fear that if they fell into the bottom 10% they would lose their jobs. They were being motivated to sell mortgages no matter what damage they did to their industry. This was compounded by the fact that the industry is managed on measurable figures alone enabling these dubious sub-prime mortgages to be bundled up into packages that appeared to be profitable investments. In this way this disease spread throughout the whole financial sector.

Our Government has had to bail out the industry and is demanding changes. But it is relevant that they are not demanding a fundamental rethink of the theoretical assumptions supporting the bonus culture. They are not challenging the assumptions that we need to extrinsically motivate people through appealing to their self interest and greed. They are simply demanding that the bonuses should not be so excessive. So it comes as little surprise when we listen to people in the banking industry and they inform us that nothing has really changed. The underpinning thinking, and methods that evolve out of that thinking, are still the same. In our language they have not identified and challenged the underpinning theories behind the incentive mindset. The outcome will, in the long term, be no change and we can expect another crisis in 5-10 years time and excessive monies continuing to be channelled into very few pockets.



Assessment is for Learning (AIFL)

The limitation of qualifications is being recognised in that the education system is developing an assessment process under the title of AIFL. But has the fundamental underlying thinking changed? Is AIFL simply a wider list of things through which we measure competence? Does Government still want to use AIFL as a means of remotely assessing the performance of the pupils, their teachers and the school? Do they still think that assessing the student against standards set by others and then providing a development plan with milestones will motivate learners? Do they still thinking that the development of our intelligence is a relatively simple problem that can be reduced down to a range of key measures?

Without theory there is no learning – Deming

What this paper will come back to time and again is that if we do not identify and challenge our theoretical assumptions then no real progress will be achieved. If the Curriculum for Excellence initiative is based on the traditional command and control theories then the Education system will be investing considerable effort for no positive gain.


Training of Educators and Administrators (Lack of theory)

Our teacher training colleges do not educate their students as to how children learn. They do not teach the theory and understanding of cognitive pathways and how to develop these thinking pathways.

Likewise University lecturers are not taught the theory of how we develop our mental capabilities.

Similarly our education administrators are not taught modern management theories such as system thinking and intrinsic motivation.

Primary Schools

It is the impression of the author that primary education is more dynamic and much more willing to develop and apply new theories of learning. It is much more successful at maintaining the children’s love of learning. Is Primary education enabled because they do not have to chase qualifications?

On the other hand we have heard stories of school heads resigning because of the frustration caused by bureaucracy. There is the tragic story of Irene Hogg the head of a primary school in the Scottish Borders who complained bitterly about the administrative overload on her job, to the extent that she eventually took her own life in March 2008 following a critical audit.

Parents and Society (The whole systems)

It is readily recognised that a vital component in the education of a child is parental influences in the home.[47] The formative period of our education is before the age of 5, before the child starts to attend school. Plus once the child has started school the attitude of the parents to education as a whole makes a massive difference.

Parental attitude will obviously be influenced by their own experience of the education system.  If they feel that the system did not meet their needs or worse made them feel failures, then their attitude to the education of their children is bound to reflect this negativity. This negativity puts immense pressure on our educators.

Billy O’Neill of Feuerstein Training in Scotland has many case studies of “Challenging” children, who were undoubtedly heading for “offending behaviour.” They were turned around by working with them to develop their skills in how to learn. This re-established their love of learning and a belief in themselves, which then contributed to them developing into responsible citizens and eventually responsible parents. There are many other educators doing similar work, all based around having an empathy for the pupil. These achievements were secured out with the standard curriculum of the education system.

A high proportion of us will, at some stage, become parents, and we will require to nurture the curiosity and love of learning of our children. . How well has our education system prepared us for this role?

With reference to Peter Senge’s concepts of dynamic complexity we need to ask ourselves to what extent is our present system of education contributing to the downward spiral of violence and prison population, and to what extent would a different mindset to education reverse this trend into an upward spiral of a greater homogeneity for our society?

In talking about parental involvement we should also flag up the perceived lack of interest shown by parents. They appear all too pleased to delegate responsibility of education to the schools and the education system. Schools do try to bring parents on board but the parents are perceived as being too busy. Single parents have even greater difficulties. What is it in our system design that is producing this perceived lack of parental interest?

Society’s Appreciation of Complex Issues

A vital component of democracy is the ability of the general public to understand diversity and complexity. This is especially relevant in the complex systems that characterise our society. To what extent does our education system prepare us to play our part in the democratic ideal? Does our education system teach us reductionism, cause & effect and extrinsic motivation rather that cooperation and complex interdependent systems?

Our leaders find it much much easier to manipulate the general public if they are, on the whole, ignorant. Through our ignorance our international bankers and financiers have been, and still are, securing inordinate rewards at the expense of the tax payer. Through our ignorance Tony Blair was able to drag us into an illegal war with Iraq. How can our education system work to protect society and strengthen democracy?

An Unequal Society

Research over the past 20 years has shown that, in developed countries, a large difference between rich and poor have resulted in significant problems in context of  ill health, lack of community life, violence, drugs, obesity, mental illness, longer working hours, greater prison populations etc..[48] Those countries with a marked divide include the USA, Portugal and the UK. Those countries with a narrow divide are Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Japan.

At the environment conference in Copenhagen all the indicators of an environmental crisis are again being presented. Yet big finance is still restricting countries from supporting the radical changes to the structure of society that will be required to avert disaster. The exceptions are Sweden and Denmark.[49]

To what extent is our education system contributing to these problems? Is the fact that our education system is controlled creating compliant citizens? Does this make it easier for society to be dominated by big finance? Is our society influenced by our education system teaching reductionist thinking and competition rather than an understanding of complex systems and cooperation? If one third of our children fail to be engaged in education, how does this effect the increasing divide between rich and poor?

The Scottish Mace calls for “Wisdom” (or knowledge) to be the basis of our society. How effective is our education system in ensuring that our whole society has “wisdom.”[50] How well does our education system strengthen democracy?

It is proposed that our education system raises its sights away from the particular and onto visioning what our society should be in the future and how education will contribute to that vision.  

Community Education (The whole system)

Where is community education? To what degree is it bringing adults, and parents, on board? To what extent is it enhancing the knowledge and learning of the everyday citizen? To what extent is it developing our awareness of societal issues? To what extent is it developing community responsibility and a willingness for us, as individuals, to get involved and contribute to community issues?

10-20 years ago community education was a vibrant part of community life with great potential for further development. Where is it now? Has it lost its vitality?[51]

In speaking to those working in Community Education we hear such comments that it is now regulated to death. For example, individuals who wish to contribute now have to be “Disclosure Checked” and many people, who are uncomfortable with the presumption that they have to prove that they have no criminal record, are withdrawing from voluntarily contributing to their local society.

 The other phrase that is heard is “measure it, you kill it.” It seems to suffer from the same disease afflicting main stream education – that of being managed by measurable figures alone. It appears to be “controlled” rather than enabled. Creative community involvement cannot be controlled.

We talk about “Life Long Learning” but appear to have neutered a crucial element of cradle to grave learning process.

Home Education

What comes screaming out from an exploration of the home education movement is the extraordinary commitment of the parents to their children.[52] The second observation is their strength of feeling about how the national education system is letting our children down; and their very strong reaction to any attempts of national bodies to control their activities and provide advice as to how their children should be educated.

A relevant observation is that home schooling is growing, despite the fact that parents are under increasing pressure in modern everyday life. They are recognising that home educated children do better even from families who themselves are poorly educated.

There is a strong network of mutual support and learning for parents who take on the responsibility of home education.

Dynamic Complexity – Unintended Consequences

The writer had the opportunity to visit a school in Aberdeen for disadvantaged and problem children. The schools performance was measured by exam results. While the actual need for these children was more emotional support. With time those teachers who had empathy with the children became uncomfortable with the ethos of the school and left. It became a disciplined school focused on exam passes, which was not what the children actually needed. The school was closed down some years ago. This is put forward as an example of a downward spiral created by the remote management, by government, His Majesty’s Inspectorate and the Local Council

At the same time Billy O’Neill had been working in schools for children with behaviour difficulties in the central belt. From an empathy with his customers, the children, he recognised some 10 years ago that an ability to pass standard grades as laid out in the national curriculum was not addressing the actual needs of the children.  At his own expense he took himself off, every summer, to study under Reuven Feuerstein in Israel.

On his return he started working with the youngsters in context of their learning ability and their emotional intelligence. He has an extensive library of very successful case studies of students returning to the chaotic circumstances of their family life and positively addressing the challenges that they face – a significant upward spiral.

On the down side he took time to explain the complex thinking behind the Feuerstein’s concepts to a Councillor who was on the board of his school. Her advice was to forget all this stuff and return to concentrating on securing standard grades. Back to a downward spiral caused by a culture that prefers simple measurable data and does not value knowledge and its application. Billy left the school in frustration and is now doing brilliant work as a consultant promoting the concepts of preparing students for adult life through the Feuerstein methodologies.[53]

A further example of a downward spiral comes from how Universities are funded. There are three funding streams – relative to student numbers, through attracting fully costed students (usually from overseas) and through research. The funding through student numbers is relatively fixed. So the principal variable is the funding secured from research. Furthermore a University develops is status from its research work.

A University staff member rarely becomes a Professor through their teaching prowess. The route to promotion is usually through securing funding for research and the publishing of research papers. To compound this dynamic system the very clever staff who manage research teams find that they spend their full time sourcing and making application for further research grants so as to maintain their departments. The average success rate will be between 1 in 15 or 1 in 20.

With this background when a department head is recruiting staff he is inclined towards candidates who have a research track record rather than an ability to teach students. So what happens to the University’s role of educating students and developing their critical thinking prowess? And then what happens to foreign students who come to these shores because of our perceived excellence in teaching. We are into a classic downward spiral.

There are several downward spirals already mentioned in this paper, the more dramatic being George Bush’s misconception that his vision of “No Child Left Behind” can be mandated from the top.

In other words it is not the intention of our leaders to initiate downward spirals, their intentions are usually positive. However if they use underpinning theoretical assumptions that are at variance with how we are as humans, or how systems actually behave, then negative downward spirals are going to be the outcome.[54]

A Way Forward into the Future

The Nature of the Challenge.

Our education system is extremely complex, so many parts are interdependent. These two diagrams[55] are shown in an attempt to convey their complexity. We ask the reader, not to study the detail, but to appreciate that so many parts of society are interconnected. In fact these two diagrams may well be a poor representation of the actual complexity.




From a hierarchical mindset we would look to inspired leadership to drive our education system forward.  But it is this mindset that is at the root of most of the criticisms of the previous section. Furthermore leaders, especially political leaders, can only take us down routes that we are willing to travel. An alternative approach needs to be considered.

The previous mentioned article by Margaret Wheatley’s “How Large Scale Change Really Happens – Working with Emergence”[56] might be a starting point. What she is saying is that change cannot be dictated from the top – command and control style. Instead it will emerge from the many forward thinking participants in the system and the customers of the system.

In all living systems (which includes us humans), change always happens through emergence.  Large-scale changes that have great impact do not originate in plans or strategies from on high.  Instead, they begin as small, local actions.  While they remain separate and apart, they have no influence beyond their locale.  However, if they become connected, exchanging information and learning, their separate efforts can suddenly emerge as very powerful changes, able to influence a large system. 


If we start with a basic belief in our people then we recognise that the ideas for change are already there in the system. So how do we nurture these changes and establish a connected network that is continually exchanging ideas and learning? And how do we develop these networks so that they gradually build into a critical mass?


The Internet

The world-wide-web and the internet have created a new world. With YouTube, MySpace, Wikipedia, Linkin and Facebook the internet provides an unparalleled opportunity for collaboration and the means of working together.[57] It has the potential to enable Margaret Wheatley’s vision of “emergence”

It will enable learning secured in one part of the system to be shared with all other parts of the system. 

Sites such as Wikipedia and the Linux Open Software demonstrate that people will share and contribute on a purely voluntary basis. Contributors to these products do not ask for recommence. It is a very dramatic expression of the Y theory potential that McGregor talked about all those years ago.

There already exist many forward thinking individuals and groups across the whole of Scotland. The potential is to connect all the people who are committed to education so that they exchange learning, success stories, opportunities, research, etc. And with time develop into a critical mass that will drive progress and resist impediments to progress. Most importantly this critical mass will demand the removal of barriers to progress.

Removing barriers:

While the motivation and ideas to move forward has always been in place, the “control” mechanisms have, in the past, been sufficiently strong to defeat new thinking and to maintain the status quo.[58] So the question becomes how do we dismantle the restrictive controls to let innovation and progress flourish. What are the mindsets that are causing so much damage? Here are some suggestions:

  • A lack of belief in our Educators
  • Remote management by measurable figures alone – predominately “Qualifications”
  • The “reward” thinking of qualifications – destroying our intrinsic love of learning.
  • Managing the parts – instead of seeing the whole interconnected system
  • Poor analysis of customer needs – poor listening to the full range of customers and those educators working in the system
  • Auditing against standards instead of auditing a dynamic improvement process
  • The demand for uniformity across the national system
  • A lack of theoretical underpinning to how we manage the system and how we humans learn.
  • Etc

The primary responsibility for removing these barriers lies predominately with central government.

The Following would be required to enable emergence.


Societal Aim

The aim of education will evolve out of the aim of the whole of Society. We should establish the aim of society in context of creating a climate of experiment, learning and progress based on the sound scientific thinking. A society that is committed to “wisdom” and the application of wisdom.

Studying the Customer

An important element of the future would be the in depth study and analysis of the long term needs of the full range of customers of the system.

To recap the customers of the system may be:

  • The pupil/student, especially in context of nurturing their intrinsic love of learning.
  • The front line educators; those working within the design of the system
  • Parents
  • Organisations which will employ the majority of citizens
  • Society itself. Its future wellbeing in all aspects of society.
  • Government who have the responsibility for looking after the public purse.


Studying customers is not straight forward and cannot be achieved through questionnaires. The phrase that Deming used was studying the customer using the product. To explain this point may we recount a story attributed to the Japanese camera manufacturer – Canon Inc.? In typical Japanese fashion they were searching for continuous improvement of their products, so initially they asked their customers. The feedback they received was in context of additional features or ease of using particular aspect of the instrument. They then studied the photos actually being taken, and found that many photos were out of focus, using the wrong exposure etc. etc. From these findings they developed the automatic camera that the vast majority of us use today. The point of the story is that no one actually asked for automatic cameras. The need was identified by studying the customers using the product. For example it will be of little use sending questionnaires to HR managers asking what it is they need, as you may well get the quick easy answers – qualifications – while in fact their needs are much more complex and varied.

For those being educated the need would be to study how their education is assisting them 5, 10, 15 years after leaving formal education; and the extent they are still involved in continued learning.

Aim of Education

From an in depth study of customer needs would evolve the aim of education.

This aim to be articulated, where it is now – and how it might evolve in the future. What wants to emerge is a visible journey and how each one of us can contribute.

Promoting the Foundations

There is going to be a requirement to give a high profile to the foundations of our future and the basis of this paper – which are “a belief in people” and “a belief in knowledge.”

Promoting a belief in people is connected to an understanding of systems thinking. When society recognises that nine times out of ten the source of any problem lies in the design of the system rather than the diligence and competence of the individual; and that it is not people that are accountable but the design of the system. This change of mindset will remove a lot of fear and risk aversion from our organisations, especially in the public sector.

Perhaps more difficult will be the recognition that social research is in fact a science. That it is based on theories that can be proven and refuted. Society does acknowledge the concept of theory in engineering and medicine but it has no concept of theory in relation to how we learn, nor in how we manage our “education” resource.

This sound scientific basis for our forward progress is extremely important. Volumes of unsubstantiated opinions can flood out sound knowledge. A process would therefore need to be designed to filter out unsupported views. This may sound arrogant in the short term but as society begins to understand complex systems and cooperation then more and more contributions will be soundly based.

The Teaching of Systems Thinking

The recommendation would be that “Theory,” “Systems Thinking” and “Intrinsic Motivation” and its associated principals are taught in all parts of our education system, from primary school, through to University and into community education. The aim would to have a society that understands, and is comfortable with complex interrelated systems.

Parental Teaching

Parents obviously play a major role in the holistic education process. In preparing us for adulthood, the education system has to include parenting skills, particularly in how we develop the inherent love of learning of our children


A Core Learning Centre

From a long term perspective we would recommend the establishment of a core learning centre whose role is to identify and collate existing and future knowledge in context of education. This knowledge would cover both how we learn and how we manage the holistic education system. The task of this core learning centre would be to make this knowledge available to Educators and to society as a whole.

The Long Term:

The Management style of The Toyota Car Manufacturer has been held up as the benchmark of management especially in how well it utilises the thinking potential of front line staff. They have been known to have applied 46 improvement suggestions per employee per year.[59] What should also be borne in mind is that it took them 35 years to get to this level of dynamic improvement. Removing barriers, developing the core knowledge and developing the systems to implement change are far from being easy tasks. It will take constant and long term commitment. But the potential is gigantic.

We should also bear in mind that our educators and administrators have been working in a command and control environment for a very long time, it will have conditioned them. Turning this culture round and having those at the work face relish the responsibility and opportunity for risk and progress will take a long time.


Assessment should be recognised as a complex and approximate process that should be addressed with great sensitivity. The paper likes the idea put forward by Gallup in their book “Now Discover your Strengths” by Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton. It encourages self assessment against 34 categories. It encourages the student to develop their strengths as it will be in those areas that they will make the greatest contribution to society. Furthermore we should be thinking in terms of valuing different strengths and not grading them. We should be working to reduce, not eliminate, differentials between people, and aiming for a harmonious society.


Modernising our auditing process may well be the key to starting down a transformed road. The primary recommendations for our auditing and inspection function is that they should start by being very well versed in modern concepts of management and that their audit procedures should reflect this knowledge. From this basis they would audit:

  • That the School/College/University understands the theoretical underpinning of their work. An indicator of this understanding could be the through analysing the methods used. Does it appreciate cognitive pathways and how to develop these pathways: does it use deployment flow maps to portray its systems: does it use control charts and SPC to analyse its data, is it conscious of, and develops, the intrinsic motivation of staff, etc?
  • How well does the organisation study its customers, external and internal, and how well has this knowledge been transferred to the design of the operational systems.
  • How effective is the communication between the various parts of the whole system, both internally and externally.
  • The actual service provided to the broad range of customers, from the pupil to the external organisations, to internal educators, to society itself.
  • The continual improvement process. How well is the organisation developing the contributions from all staff, especially work face staff, and how effective are they at implementing proposed improvements?
  • How well does the organisation adhere to the systems it has developed?
  • The management of the financial budget
  • The collection and analysis of data, how well is the data being analysed, and how useful is the data in securing continuous improvement?
  • The CIPD of staff.
  • The management of its physical resources.
  • The presence of dynamic systems – are there influences that are creating downward spirals – is there evidence of upward spirals and positive trends.
  • What representations to external systems does the audit require to highlight.
  • Is variety contributing to progress and conversely to what extent is variation causing unnecessary complexity?
  • The audit would cross pollinate progressive ideas across the whole system.


In essence the auditors are gauging the health of the organisation in context of experiment, learning and progress. It would replace the existing “control” concepts with a mindset of contributing to the establishment’s continual improvement.

Management of the Public Purse

The argument of this paper is that the above audit would be much more effective in managing the public purse as it is far more in tune with what is actually happening at the work face. In particular it is in sympathy with the intrinsic motivation of staff, the very complex nature of our education system and the needs of the broad range of customers of the system.

Education is a whole society responsibility

There would be a requirement to promote an awareness that education is a whole society problem. Education has a very fundamental part of the future well being of our society.

Learning Society

The aim of the Learning Society in Scotland is to connect all forward thinking groups and individuals across Scotland and to enhance their voice. The theme of the learning society is that we, as a democracy, should have the knowledge and commitment to take responsibility for the design of the systems that characterise our society. That these systems should not simply evolve from assumptions that are neither explicit nor challenged. Nor should the design of these systems be in the hand of powerful leaders, who through the limits of democracy can design these systems for their own personal benefit. (The financial and banking system would be an example) Our belief is that the more responsibility we can put back to our citizens then the more dynamic will be the learning and improvement process. There is real potential for involving the local community in the education of our children. The vision is that society’s systems should be designed by the intelligent thought of the community as a whole

The vision is that these systems would evolve from a country wide culture of experiment, learning and progress. This aim reflects a vision first muted by Adam Smith in the late 18th century – how do we create a society that is continually learning without any one individual having to know all that much?




Critical Comment on this report


From Dr Elaine B Johnson of the USA.  Elaine was, for many years a tenured university professor and a dean of community college vocational and academic programs, and a high school teacher and department chair. She is a prominent figure in the reform of education in the USA. At present Elaine is the executive Director of MBM Associates, consultants to educators and business leaders.


Her books include “Contextual Teaching and Learning” and “The Dismantling of Public Education and How to Stop it”


She is a Woodrow Wilson Fellow and has received numerous awards for her work as an educator.


Her husband is Tom Johnson the co-author of the excellent book “Profit Beyond Measure”

Dear Gordon:

Thank you for sending me this report on Holistic Education System in Scotland.  You explain with grace and clarity the problems education faces and the actions that might remedy these shortcomings. I especially like your call for knowledge built on theory,  for thinking that challenges assumptions, for belief in people—e.g., regard for customers, respect for educators–and for confidence in the human’s intrinsic motivation to excel.  I like very much your point that designing a system presupposes appreciating its aim, and that customers can contribute to the explanation of aim.  

Your emphasis on the need to understand how learning occurs is exactly right.  In Contextual Teaching and Learning I argue that brain research and the discoveries of biology and astrophysics provide this foundation.  If we believe  research that shows that learning involves the body as well as the mind–physical activity as well as mental engagement,–then we invite students to connect knowing with doing. Learning then rejects artificial distinctions between the abstract and the concrete. If we believe research that shows the brain always drives inexorably to make meaning, then we know that learning occurs when content is placed in a context that holds meaning for students. Students see meaning when they can connect academic lessons with their own experience and daily life.

The problems with education that you describe are, of course, those that plague the States.  As I see it,  the demise of the US education system  began with the disolution of the neighborhood school.  When that went, so did parental involvement, itself a democratic process that kept schools focused on the customer.   When the small neighborhood school was replaced with immense, impersonal, distant factory schools, educators stopped being recognizable voices known to their communities.  Students became anonymous, too. And who rules today?  Now, more than ever, the central government issues orders, imposes  measures, exercises remote control, Commands and Controls. The government ignores students and marginalizes educators.

Because of No Child Left Behind,  every 29 seconds one youngster drops out of school.  50% of the students in inner-city high schools drop out. Of those that do attend university,  1/3 must take remedial classes for at least one full year.  We are not educating anyone.  On the contrary, in our high schools, students put in time, suffer torment and humiliation, and surface at the end ( if they finish at all) incapable of distinguishing between knowledge and opinion. They are not taught to think well. Nor do they develop what was once called “character.”

Frankly, I think the solution is a return to small neighborhood schools, curriculum in the hands of educators at the local level, a return to parent-teacher organizations with a strong voice, and funding that is just and equal—so that all schools receive good textbooks and good lab equipment, and have capable teachers.  Funding in the past, based on property taxes, meant that ghetto children had nothing—and thus busing was introduced. But busing had miserable consequences that no one anticipated.

The only idea in your entire paper that I did not cheer as a perfect description of a sound insight  involved the Core Learning Centre.   I am, however, constitutionally wary these days of any think tank that presumes to have attained special knowledge to be imparted to “mere” educators. Local educators could bring education to life and change lives if the system helped them learn about how learning occurs and introduced mentoring that meant something.

I hope  that you send your paper all over and that it is widely read.  With laser like clarity it focuses on all the issues that we need to be considering if we are to rescue education. Is anyone listening who has the authority to act?  Not in the States.  Witness the new Secretary of Education. Help.


[1] A summary of Hoffer’s work and philosophy can be viewed from the Wikipedia site http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_Hoffer  Hoffer was among the first to recognize the central importance of self-esteem to psychological well-being; and that lack of self esteem is at the root of many of society’s problems.

[2] This extract is taken from “The New Economics” by W Edwards Deming

[3] The expansion of these capabilities can be viewed from the web page http://www.ltscotland.org.uk/curriculumforexcellence/curriculumoverview/aims/fourcapacities.asp

[4] A summary of  Maslow’s hierarchy of needs can be viewed from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs

[5] Thomas Aitkenhead was hanged in Edinburgh in 1696 for ridiculing the Christian Church 

[6] For an expansion of this section please visit www.learningsociety.org.uk and go to file on “Theories.”

[7] From “The New Economics” by W Edwards Deming

[8] From “The New Economics” by W Edwards Deming

[9] From “The Fifth Discipline – The Art and Practice of Organisational Learning” by Peter Senge

[10] See www.learningsociety.org.uk and the file “What has not Worked in the Past”

[11] For an expansion of this section please visit www.learningsociety.org.uk and go to file on “Theories.”

[12] From “The Fifth Discipline” by Peter Senge.

[13] What is the knock on effect of Deputy Head Teacher Michael Barle losing his job for physically restraining an unruly 14 year old pupil? (ref P&J of 27th Nov 09)

[14] This definition, and the majority of the research in this area is taken from the work of Alfie Kohn, in particular from his book “Punished by Rewards”

[15] See the book “Systems Thinking in the Public Sector” by John Seddon.

[16] This example is taken from the book “We-Think” by Charles Leadbeater

[17] From “The New Economics” by W Edwards Deming

[18] This extract is taken from the web page http://www.child-central.com/rediscovering-classical-christian-homeschooling.html

[19] See the book “Team Roles at Work” by Meredith Belbin

[20] This theme is expanded in the book “We-Think” by Charles Leadbetter

[21] See “Profit beyond Measure” by Tom Johnson and Anders Broms

[22] See “Out of the Crisis” by W Edwards Deming

[23] J M Juran considered that 85% of outcomes are attributable to the design of the system, Edwards Deming thought it was 97%. Peter Senge talks about us being “prisoners of the system”

[24] For further explanation of Systems Archetypes see Peter Senge’s book “The Fifth Discipline” and its Fieldbook.

[25] See the book “The Troubles” by Tim Pat Coogan

[26] From “A Simper Way” by Margaret Wheatley

[27] See “Out of the Crisis” by W Edwards Deming.

[28] See “The Puritan Gift” by Kenneth and William Hopper

[29] The phrase “if you cannot measure it you cannot control it” is, for example, very prevalent in the Oil Industry.

[30] The book “The Balanced Scorecard” by Robert Kaplan and David Norton was published on 1996

[31] This observation came from Edward M Baker of The Ford Motor company, as printed in Deming’s book “The New Economics”

[32] From “Profit Beyond Measure” by Tom Johnson and Anders Broms

[33] From “The New Economics” by W Edwards Deming

[34] The SOIM research from Strathclyde University identified that companies who use measurable data in balance with unmeasurable information performed significantly better than those companies who made decisions on measurable data alone.

[35] Information of the Reuven Feuerstein  philosophy can be viewed from the ICELP web site http://www.icelp.org/asp/main.asp

[36] Billy O’Neill’s web site is http://www.feuersteintraining.co.uk/index.htm

[37] “Organisations survive and progress despite management not because of them” Prof (emeritus) David Kerridge.

[38] The classic example of enabling front line people to drive improvement is, of course, Toyota. – see the book “Toyota Kata” by Mike Rother

[39] See John Raven’s books “The New Wealth of Nations” and “Competence in a Learning Society” plus his web site www.eyeonsociety.co.uk/index.html

[40] Roizen & Jepson 1985

[41] For development of these arguments see John Raven’s book “The New Wealth of Nations” and his web site www.eyeonsociety.co.uk/index.html

[42] A similar view was expressed in the Goodison report of 13th October 2009. It considers that “only 65% of young Scots like being in school”

[43] This example comes from Margaret Wheatley’s article “How Large Scale Change Really Happens – It can be viewed on http://www.margaretwheatley.com/articles/largescalechange.html

[44] Irene Hogg, who had been a primary head teacher for 19 years in Galashiels took her own life following a critical audit in March 2008.

[45] “Scottish schools continue to lag behind their English counterparts, according to the most robust data on exam performance.” – from the Reform Scotland bulletin for November 2009

[46] Tom Hunter; Tom Farmer, Stewart Milne, and Moir Lochart –seen as the leading entrepreneurs in Scotland all left school at 15/16.

[47] The Demos paper titled “Bad Parents kill prospects of the working class” is just one of many articles on this subject

[48] For greater detail on how growing inequality is affecting our society see the book “The Spirit Level” by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett.

[49] See article “Skylines Beyond the Summit” article by Alan Simpson MP

[50] The Sun is by far the biggest selling newspaper in Scotland.

[51] In the late 1990s – based on the success of Bromley by Bow – Labour set up 250 healthy living centres.  Over 80% no longer exist.  Community empowerment cannot be delivered top down.  It needs to take root among local people – and this takes years. Labour Councils, all across Scotland’s central belt, all but wiped out a whole generation of community leadership – and they did it deliberately.  Now it seems their model is bankrupt.  – from Laurence of Senscot

[52] For Further information about home schooling in Scotland visit the web site of The Schoolhouse Home Education Association –  www.schoolhouse.org.uk

[53] Billy O’Neill initiated the very successful Feuerstein Project in the Scottish Borders. The leader of this project is Anne Theresa Lawrie email: ATLawrie@scotborders.gov.uk

[54] This is a recurring theme by many prominent philosophers – that the troubles of this world are caused by us not understanding human nature and the systems in which we live.

[55] The second diagram is from John Raven’s book “The New Wealth of Nations”

[56] Margaret Wheatley’s article “How Large Scale Change Really Happens can be viewed on http://www.margaretwheatley.com/articles/largescalechange.html

[57] The book that explores these concepts is “We-Think” by Charles Leadbeater

[58] See the article “What has not worked in the past” on web site www.learningsociety.org.uk

[59] See Bo Ekman’s introduction to “The Power of Learning” by Klas Mellander.