Date of Award


Document Type



Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Master of Education


Faculty of Education


The aim of this dissertation is to examine the effects of regulation upon the practice and behaviour of teachers within a bureaucratic educational organisation. More specifically, the study had been designed to understand how teachers make sense of the rules and regulations of their organisation and identify strategies that they apply to make these rules serve these interests. The rule system theory of Swedish sociologist, Burns and Flam, was employed to inform the study. Thirty teachers, employed at two school sites, were included in this qualitative study. The initial data were collected by questionnaires and a survey of formal rules. From this initial population a stratified sample of fourteen people was selected for interview. Eight subjects were interviewed a second time. The data collected by these means was coded according to its correspondence to the research questions raised for the study. The most significant finding arising from this study was that teachers' knowledge and level of consciousness of the rules and regulations were minimal. Information that they did have was gained through immersion in their workplace and contained a great deal of informal or cultural lore, based upon approximations of the actual regulations The teachers tended to rely on the principal of the school for information about what was permissible and what was not, including role reference direction. All of the teachers interviewed reported that they had an obligation to work within the rules and regulations, even though, as indicated above, they were not aware of the specifics of the formal rule system. A second significant finding related to the responses of the school administrators. Unlike the teachers, their knowledge of the rules was comprehensive but they reported that they often ‘interpreted' the regulation seeking the 'spirit rather than the 'letter' of the rule. They all reported that they believed the rules to be out-dated and, in many cases, irrelevant. Some of the administrators interviewed reported negative attitudes towards the regulations, bordering on contempt in one case the principals reported that they disregarded many of the rules when they felt impeded by them. The only exceptions were rules that carried negative sanctions for non-compliance. Therefore, much of the school level regulation was based on approximations of the official rules and regulations developed by the principal, who assured compliance amongst their staff. It is clear from this study that descriptions of schools as rule governed institutions are oversimplifications of how the formal and informal rule systems, as suggested by Burns and Flam, serve to steer bureaucratic organisations. Senior administrators use the formal rules to establish and bolster their power and authority; at the same time they use considerable discretion in applying or ignoring official rules in order to accomplish what they determine is in the interests of the school.