The attrition of change

Fink, Dean (1997). The attrition of change. PhD thesis The Open University.



Most newly constructed schools begin life as places of hope, enthusiasm, energy, and creativity. In many ways they might be considered `moving' schools. Such schools strive to anticipate and change with the times. Within a relatively short time, however, a significant number of new schools evolve, indeed regress, into conventional schools. This loss of initial momentum and innovative direction experienced by many newly established schools occurs because of what this study describes as the `attrition' of change.

This thesis presents an historical case study of a secondary school that was once one of Canada's most renowned, innovative schools in the 1970s, and now 26 years later, can be described as a conventional secondary school. Based on interviews with three cohorts of teachers and administrators who worked in the school in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, the study provides an opportunity for inquiring into and analysing the attrition of educational change.

The evidence of this study of the history of an innovative school points to the existence of an ironic change dynamic, and a dual meaning for the title the attrition of change'. There is a natural tendency for the school itself to experience attrition and over time to lose much of its early momentum and innovativeness. This pattern, however, is usually accelerated by hostility from the school's larger professional and parental communities who perceive the school's innovations to be a threat to long held educational beliefs and practices. The staff members of the innovative school feel that their inordinately hard work is unappreciated and misunderstood, turn inward to school colleagues for protection and support and adopt a less venturesome approach to innovation and change. In the short term, therefore, the innovative school's influence upon the larger system's attitude towards change tends to be quite negative. In the longer term, however, the innovative school seems to exert significant impact beyond its own walls through the rule-breaking precedents it sets that open up opportunities for others, and through the key leaders it spawns who take their innovative images of schooling to other parts of the system, and initiate change elsewhere. Changes in one part of a system inevitably affect changes in the larger system. Innovative schools, therefore, can erode obstacles to change in the larger system and create a climate of experimentation where one may not have existed previously, thus the second meaning of the `attrition of change'.

Viewing alternatives

Download history


Public Attention

Altmetrics from Altmetric

Number of Citations

Citations from Dimensions

Item Actions