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Schools as learning organizations: Hollow rhetoric or attainable reality?

Laurie Field (Faculty of Human Sciences, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia)

International Journal of Educational Management

ISSN: 0951-354X

Article publication date: 8 July 2019




The purpose of this paper is to assess the desirability and attainability of schools becoming learning organizations.


The paper presents a critical analysis based on a wide-ranging review of the “schools as learning organizations” literature.


The notion of learning organization applied to schools is fundamentally flawed. Most notably, schools as learning organizations are conceptualized in so many different ways that it is possible to claim almost anything; the political aspects of shared learning are inadequately handled; and poor quality scholarship is commonplace.

Practical implications

There are repeated claims in the educational improvement literature that that there are significant benefits for schools that become learning organizations and, as a result, school leaders should steer schools in this direction. However, this paper critically challenges these claims, concluding instead that schools and their leaders should ignore calls to become learning organizations.


Many scholars, together with agencies such as the OECD, have suggested that, for schools, the learning organization is both a desirable goal and an achievable endpoint. The value of this paper is that, for the first time, these claims are subjected to a comprehensive critical review, revealing them to be hollow rhetoric rather than attainable reality.



Field, L. (2019), "Schools as learning organizations: Hollow rhetoric or attainable reality?", International Journal of Educational Management, Vol. 33 No. 5, pp. 1106-1115.



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