MA – Critical Review: Hargreaves, ‘The Knowledge-creating school’

Critical Review: Hargreaves, D. (1999) ‘The Knowledge-creating school’

This review aims to analyse the article, evaluate and compare its claims and assumptions and critique it’s conclusions by asking who or what exactly is driving school agendas? Is it the technological revolution or the welfare of the child?

Hargreaves argues that schools need to become professional knowledge-creation organisations to prepare students for the transformed world of work in the information age. He says such a school has the capacity to audit, manage the creation of, validate and disseminate models of best practice. If we take pupil assessment as an example, this means a school having the ability to devise a system for and measure the effectiveness of marking, and have the procedures in place to review, improve and distribute this model throughout the organisation. In addressing management of the creation of professional knowledge, Hargreaves lists favourable characteristics that could easily be mistaken for educational utopia (p227). He goes on to align the knowledge-creating school to high-technology firms addressing the need for improved research and development and faster product development cycles by bringing the R&D and shop floor closer together through ‘high levels of communication and exchange’ (p238). In the education context this means creating networks of people to carry out action research connecting university educational theorists with classroom practitioners. He contends this would develop more scientific evidence-based practice that is, therefore, validated and more reliably distributable via successful localised dissemination models.

Whereas many good points are made, Hargreaves also makes certain unjustified assumptions about education that leave his conclusions vulnerable. For example, he writes that teachers who have ‘undertaken research for a higher degree…are able to apply investigative skills to their practices in a climate of identifying and sharing what works’ (p229). This implies that further post graduate studies, masters or doctorates, would be good vehicles for becoming a knowledge-creating school, but also leaves the reader wondering where the evidence is that proves such sophisticated research leads to better practice than the ‘least trustworthy’ self-validation methods. This is expounded by an attempt to undermine the current PGCE as ‘painful for the university-based teacher trainers that practising teachers have the major role in the initial training of teachers’ (p235). No evidence is provided to show the PGCE is inadequate from the point of view of the trainee teacher, the practising teacher or the teacher trainer. Furthermore, Hargreaves interprets ‘the capability constantly to redefine the necessary skills for a given task, and to access the sources for learning these skills’ (Castells, 1998 in Hargreaves, 1999: 224) to mean schools should be preparing students to be ‘autonomous, self-organising, networking, entrepreneurial and innovative’ (p224). Whereas students are clearly growing up with tools at their disposal that their teachers did not have, it is an assumption that these qualities are not embodied by some schools already in independent learning etc. and, indeed, an ethical error on the author’s part to assume that these are the most valued characteristics’ of a young person in the 21st Century. Also, it is interesting to note that Hargreaves’ contentions have a lot in common with models of distributed and sustainable leadership. As stated by Harris (2005: 165) ‘distributed leadership is characterised as a form of collective leadership in which teachers develop expertise by working together’ indicating many similarities in their models for successful schools. It could be argued that Hargreaves’ investigation of a knowledge-creating school informs much of the subsequent literature examining distributed leadership. They certainly do not contradict each other. Hargreaves, in a later study, goes on to endorse sustainable leadership as an essential ingredient of school improvement and states ‘sustainable leadership is distributed leadership’ Hargreaves (2006: 19). This is interesting because of the absence of the validation Hargreaves states as key to success; Harris confirms this validation is absent affirming ‘there are no empirical data on the effectiveness of distributed leadership, in terms of pupil or student achievement’ (Bennett et al. 2002: 2 in Harris, 2005: 166).

Hargreaves is attempting to provide a theoretical framework by which schools might re-conceptualise themselves into organisations appropriate for the information age. He identifies a list of utopian characteristics that a school might achieve if they follow the lead of successful high-tech firms. However, one could ask of this approach why a school would want to mirror a profit-led organisation? This demands further scrutiny. Finally, it is important to return to the idea of what drives a school. Is it the pursuit of creating technologically inspired innovative young people ready to step into the modern work place or might there be a need to consider the whole person, a good citizen? Whereas Hargreaves might be ahead of his time, he is also demanding that the education system re-thinks itself from top to bottom. One can sympathise with this approach. Society is changing as Collarbone (2009) identifies by quoting John Schaar ‘the future is not a result of choices among alternative paths offered by the present, but a place that is created – created first in the mind and will, created next in activity.’ Collarbone goes on to explain how schools have changed over the last twelve years through workforce modernisation and new remodelling systems to manage change, and she also highlights a need for schools to lead the way in preparing children for tomorrow. One is encouraged to accept a sense of urgency about this episode of global change, as Friedman points out ‘whenever civilisation has gone through a major technological revolution, the world has changed in profound and unsettling ways. But there is something about the flattening of the world that is going to be qualitatively different from the great changes of previous eras: the speed and breadth with which it is taking hold’ (Friedman 2005). Given this rapid change, would it not be prudent to rally schools, not around technological advancement or their capacity to create professional knowledge, but to call to the front the expertise of pastoral care. To champion how best to live together in these unfamiliar times.


Collarbone, P. (2009) Creating Tomorrow: The critical importance of leadership, keynote address, St Mary’s University College, 10/10/09.

Friedman, T.L. (2005) The World is Flat: The Globalised World in the Twenty-first Century, Penguin.

Hargreaves, D. (1999) ‘The Knowledge-creating school’, Journal of Education Studies, 47 (2) June 1999.

Hargreaves, A. & Fink, D. (2006) ‘Introduction: Sustainability and unsustainability. The choices for change’, in Sustainable Leadership. San Francisco: Josey-Bass.

Harris, A. (2005) ‘Distributed Leadership’, in Davies, B. (ed) (2005) The Essentials of School Leadership, London: Paul Chapman.

MA – Critical Review: Hargreaves, ‘The Knowledge-creating school’

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