This is a case study of three secondary schools in Hong Kong with good, average and poor public examination results. The research question is how work patterns and workplace culture of the subject departments affect educational outcomes, which refer mainly to academic results but include some non-academic activities.
In each of the three sample schools, the analysis focuses on the three main subject departments, namely Chinese, English and Mathematics. Some analysis is also extended to other smaller departments. Altogether, all three principals and over 80 teachers were interviewed, and focus group discussions were held with samples of senior class students. Observations were made of the department meetings and some school events, and data were also collected from school documents. To gauge the academic standards expected by teachers and attained by students, internal school examination papers of the main subjects and a sample of student assignments were also reviewed.
The study has identified some key elements of the workplace culture. It is found that teachers tend to separate the schoolwide world from their classroom world, and this explains many current work patterns of teachers within the subject departments. It is also found that most heads of departments are reluctant to carry out the leadership role but prefer to regard themselves at best as managers of resources or as messengers.
Subject department effectiveness is found to be commensurate with the degree of alignment between the school forces and department forces. School forces
include the influences of factors such as student ability, principal leadership, clarity of school goals and major concerns, and formal school administrative
structures. Department forces are derived from factors such as subject leadership, consensus about classroom teaching, planning, monitoring and evaluation, and support for teachers' work. The interplay between school forces and departments explains well the ways