Sunday, 30 December 2012


This article was written by Flight Lieutenant Andrew William Panton, M.A., Dip.Ed., R.A.F., in June 1974, when he was an officer in the Education and Training Squadron at RAF Lyneham, Chippenham, Wilts. The article was submitted for publication in the RAF Education Bulletin, but was not considered suitable for this,  because of the controversial nature of its content. This article built on, and applied to the context of adult education on RAF stations, the concepts and issues previously developed in the same author's article, "Role Conflict in Educational Organisations", written a little earlier in 1974 and published on this blog on 4th December 2012. 


A "role" is the pattern of behaviour expected of a person who fills a particular position in an organisation; it relates to the position rather than to the occupier, and certain social norms underlie it. The concept of role is important to all educational institutions as it is an essential factor in the analysis of the behaviour of individuals within organisations. Not only is the individual's role conception one of the main determinants of his performance of that role, but the behaviour of others towards the occupant of a particular role depends on their expectations of how he will perform it. Role behaviour is the consequence of tremendously conflicting pressures on the role occupant, and these pressures lead to stresses and strains which contribute to inconsistencies and variations in performance. Role conflict is particularly likely to attach itself to roles where there is a high commitment to other people; as teachers are generally so committed it is particularly important for there to be a thorough appreciation in educational organisations of the source of role conflict. 

The central feature of all role conflict is incompatibility. In his book, "Role Conflict and the Teacher" (1969), Gerald R. Grace writes that " ... role conflict, role strain or role stress are all concerned with problems for the individual which arise as as the result of role incompatibilities". These conflicts appear in different forms: conflicting pressures from different groups; ambiguity in role prescription when jobs are new; conflict between role demands and personality needs; and the performance of two incompatible roles concurrently. There is, however, a basic distinction between "inter-role" conflicts and "intra-role" conflicts. The former relate to conflicts which arise from simultaneous performance of contradictory roles, while the latter stem from conflicts and insecurities which arise within a specific role. Potential areas of conflict for the teachers are the culture in which he lives, the organisation in which he works, the clients whom he serves, the "role set" which sends him expectations, and the difference between his own conception of the role and the actual perceptions that he has of it.

The purpose of this article is to analyse the role conflicts of the RAF Station Education Officer (S Ed O), who is employed within the RAF's Further Education and Continuation Training Scheme (FECTS), formerly known as the General Education Scheme (GES). No specific attempt will be made here to describe systematically the S ED O's task, although reference will be made to most aspects of it. Rather, it is intended to show the extent to which his (or her) work is pervaded and undermined by role conflict. The consequence of these role conflicts will then be considered, and finally some suggestions will be made as to how these conflicts can be reduced. 


In common with all employees, teachers suffer inter-role conflicts: they are husbands and fathers as well as teachers. However, as RAF officers, S Ed Os face sources of conflict that do not confront the schoolteacher or further education lecturer.

Military officer dimension.

All teachers possess a status that separates them from their students, but the S Ed O's status as an officer serves to increase the distance between himself and his students. As an educator of adults the S Ed O faces the need to break down this barrier, but his officer status limits the extent to which he can do this. Like the RAF chaplain, whose role conflicts were the subject of a study by Gordon C.Zahn (1969), the education officer finds that the military officer dimension of his role, and the status that it implies, stands in the way of free and easy intercourse with airmen. That most S Ed Os are able to arrive at a satisfactory compromise with regard to their student relationships does not eradicate the role conflict inherent in this situation.

Station and "secondary" duties.

In April 1972 all education officers working in the FECTS were asked by Headquarters Training Command to fill in a questionnaire on the time they spent on their various tasks, whether educational, quasi-educational, or non-educational. D.J.James, the psychologist who organised the questionnaire, discovered that Station duties were, next to teaching duties, the most time-consuming area of the FECTS officer's activities. Station duties include many specifically military functions: station duty and orderly officer assignments; duty signals officer; serving on courts-martial and boards of enquiry, formal parades, and posts in the unit's NBC defence exercises. James even discovered that the Station Ground Defence Officer at the Depot of the RAF Regiment was an education officer. On top of these duties, for which education officers, like all combatant officers are liable, they are regularly employed in a variety of "secondary duties", the discharge of which are vital to the smooth running of their units, but for which no provision is made on a station's officer establishment. James found that many of these duties were connected with sports, the running of messes and clubs, or with traditional welfare. These duties included Station Careers Advice Officer, running station magazines, organising kindergartens, representing RAF stations on the managing/governing bodies of local schools, and responsibility for a number of cultural activities. In addition almost every woman education officer was Officer Commanding WRAF as a secondary duty. James's research showed that the mean number of secondary duties per education officer was 2.1, and that, strangely, the number of duties increased with rank.  

The "Fixer".

James also found evidence that the education officer is very often cast by airmen in the role of a "fixer". There is a tendency for airmen to avoid the channels officially responsible for their welfare , and to consult someone else who, although having status in the organisation, does not have formal bureaucratic power. The education officer is an obvious man to turn to. As his office is generally next to the Station Recreational Library, he is readily accessible, and almost any personal problem can be presented in the context of education, career counselling, or retirement advice. As the education officer is not officially responsible for the problems of personnel, these can be presented to him in the expectation that he will know who can deal with them, or that he will help to resolve them either by advice or, even, by direct action. James found that some education officers appeared to seek out this "fixing" role, that some accepted it with resignation, but that some emphatically rejected it. The role conflict in this area is clearly apparent.

James concludes that "The Education Officer has become, in fact, a handy device for filling in gaps in the Total Institution of the RAF Station ... This is not only what a Station Commander wants his education officer to do - it is also very definitely what the men want their education officer to do". James also notes the tendency for for formal duties "to fade off into secondary duties and informal duties". Education officers are, doubtless, well equipped for these extraneous tasks. On units where the majority of officers are aircrew or shiftworkers they may appear as obvious candidates for them, while on small stations, where the number of officers is low, the education officer's burden of station duties is likely to be particularly great, even though he may be operating in a "digital", or one-man, post. However, S Ed Os have considerable difficulty in accommodating such a plethora of subsidiary tasks, many of them both important and time-consuming, on top of their educational functions, for, unlike other combatant ground branch officers (e.g. engineering, equipment and supply, air traffic, secretarial and accounting, physical education, catering, provost), the S Ed O does not have a specialist staff of airmen capable of continuing the work of his section in his absence. The diverse demands of station and secondary duties create a serious conflict of loyalties for S Ed Os.


So far only those "inter-role" conflicts that arise from the S Ed O's positions as an RAF officer have been considered. However, he is also afflicted by conflicts intrinsic to his role as an education officer as well. These are the "intra-role" conflicts of his position. These sources of role conflict are common to the work of all educators. In his influential article, "The Teacher's Role - a sociological analysis", Bryan R. Wilson (1962) identified six particular sources of intra-role conflict that affect educational organisations:

(i)   the diffuse nature of the teacher's role;

(ii)   the diverse expectations of the "role set";

(iii)   the marginal role of some teachers;

(iv)   inadequate support by the institutional framework;

(v)   the clash between commitment to the role and career orientation; and

(vi)   the divergent values of society.

Wilson's analysis has recently been amplified by the researches of Gerald R. Grace into a number of schools in a midland borough (1972), and Frank Musgrove and Philip H.Taylor (1969) have carried out a valuable survey into the diverse expectations of the teacher's "role set". Otherwise, research in this field in Britain is sparse. Wilson's analysis of intra-role conflict can, however, give us valuable insights into the problems of the S Ed O.    

The diffuse nature of the role.

Of the diffuseness of the teacher's role, Wilson writes that "The role obligation is diffuse, difficult to delimit, and the activities of the role are highly diverse". All teachers are expected to display considerable warmth and affective concern in their relations with their pupils, an affectivity that contrasts sharply with the affective neutrality of other professional men, such as lawyers, doctors and architects, and because the teacher has a moral commitment to his pupils it is very difficult for his services to be specified. The diffuseness that arises can therefore be a potential source of considerable conflict, as, in the absence of any clear demarcation line, the teacher may over-extend himself. As a teacher, the S Ed O is subject to this source of conflict, although one suspects it will not be as sharp as it is for the schoolteacher. However, the role of the teacher is not only diffuse, but is also made up of diverse and sometimes contradictory tasks. In his book, "The Role of the Teacher" (1969), Professor Eric Hoyle sees the three main functions of the teacher in an industrialised society as instruction, socialisation, and evaluation. These diverse obligations are incompatible. The teacher is expected to be a warm personality and a disciplinary agent, a friend and a confidante, and an objective assessor, and the increasingly specialised nature of his instructional tasks makes affective relations harder to achieve.

Although the teaching role of the S Ed O does not involve him in the same degree of diversity as that of the schoolteacher, from whose socialising function he is released, his additional responsibilities more than compensate for this. One of these, the counselling function, has grown considerably in recent years: the S Ed O advises on resettlement matters, and the schooling of the children of RAF personnel, and, although nominally still a secondary duty, the function of Station Careers Advice Officer has increasingly come into the orbit of the FECTS. The S Ed O is also the agent for a large number of educational facilities outside his own Education Centre: these facilities include day-release and evening courses at local colleges of further education; short residential courses at university extra-mural departments; resettlement briefings, interviews and pre-release training courses; and correspondence and language courses. Another of his more recently acquired functions is that of a training officer: not only does he advise on instructional technique and supervise the training of airmen in ground trades, but, in Strike Command, the S Ed O will have increasing responsibilities for advising on the design and implementation of formal training courses. The S Ed O also has extensive administrative responsibilities. Apart from administering his Education Centre and its staff, he has to manage all the activities just mentioned. In addition, he administers an educational and recreational library, and runs examination centres for the GCE, the RAF Education Test, and the Officers' and Airmen's Promotion Examinations. All these responsibilities have to co-exist beside a varied teaching programme, in which the FECTS staff take classes for GCE "O" Level and RAF Education Test examinations. James found that, out of an official working week of 37 hours, S Ed Os spent only 16.5 hours per week on teaching, and this included time spent on marking, lesson preparation and individual tuition, as well as actual classroom teaching. Well over half their working time was spent on non- or quasi-educational functions, while the mean time spent on all Service activities, both formal and informal, was apparently as high as 58 hours. Some S Ed Os find such an implied omnicompetence flattering, and enjoy the variety of work which it entails, but amidst such a remarkable diversity it is inevitable that role conflict must be great. 

The diverse expectations of the "role set".

Because they are almost always perceived, the diverse expectations of the "role set" are perhaps the classic source of role conflict. In his work, the role incumbent interacts with a number of people, both within and without the organisation, with whom he has contacts and to whom he has obligations. These are his "role senders", and they communicate role expectations to him. These role senders include superiors, subordinaenders of tes and colleagues, and, to the extent that their activities impinge on the role incumbent, they artmente referred to as his "role set". The role set of the civilian teacher is diverse: headteacher, colleagues, school governors, the Local Education Authority, the Department of Education and Science, pupils, parents, other educational institutions, and employers are all senders of different expectations which create conflict in the mind of the teacher as to how he should conceive his role. The strain that the conflicting pressures of the role set cause is made worse, according to Wilson, by the diffuseness of the teacher's role:   " ...  the role set of the teacher is especially formidable because the role is diffuse and because everyone in contemporary society has ready opinions about what the teacher does and should do". In addition, the individual teacher's conception of his role and his personality needs are added sources of conflict. The S Ed O shares all these difficulties, and, although his role set differs from that of the civilian teacher, it is nonetheless formidable. The main components of the S Ed O's role set are his students and clients, their squadron and flight commanders, the Station Commander, the Command Education Staff, and other RAF stations. From all of these role senders the S Ed O will probably receive different and conflicting expectations of his role. The officers and airmen of his station who make up his students and clients will demand personal assistance towards the realisation of their own individual plans, be they aimed at promotion, commissioning, or establishment in civilian life. Their squadron and flight commanders may see the work of the Education Centre as a distraction from the main aims of the Station, and some may feel that the FECTS should concentrate exclusively on that education and training which is essential to the Service, rather than that which is only in the interests of the individual. From his Station Commander, the S Ed O may receive strong expectations that centre around the subsidiaries of his task, such as the publication of an attractive Station magazine, producing a play for the Theatre Club, or ensuring that the Station makes a good showing at the RAF Arts, Photography and Handicrafts Exhibition (RAPHEX). From the Command Education Staff, the S Ed O, the S Ed O receives many expectations indirectly. The changing priorities and emphases of the RAF Directorate of Educational Services and the command staffs are rarely directly stated, but they can nevertheless be gleaned from the volume of correspondence on, and interest shown in, certain aspects of his work, and the relative neglect of other areas. Much information of importance is alsiveo passed on by the informal network, which is always at the heart of large organisations. As the work of the Directorate of Educatonal Services and command staffs is largely administrative, it is cations and previous expereince. natural that their interests centre on this aspect of the S Ed O's activities, but there has been much interest recently from these quarters on the fields of trade training and resettlement. The S Ed O will also acquire new expectations of his role by finding out what education officers on other stations are doing. New priorities and methods will be communicated to him, usually informally, and, although he may not adopt them, they will become a further component of his role set. Another vital ingredient of role conflict in this area is the individual S Ed O's self-concept. Does he see himself primarily as a "teacher", a "trainer" or an "administrator"? The answer to this question will largely stem from from the individual's qualifications and previous experience, but the FECTS  abounds with all three types, and where there are a number of S Ed Os on one station there may be considerable differences between them. In this situation the expectations of his colleagues, and particularly of the Senior Education Officer, will have an important influence on the individual S Ed O. All these varying expectations which the S Ed O receives from his role set are likely to be both a source of enormous role conflict and productive of a wide discrepancy between his own role conception and his perception of his actual performance.

Relevant to the question of the S Ed O's self-concept, and more particularly to the way in which it is modified by his qualifications, is the research of Gwyn Harries-Jenkins in to the attitudes of RAF engineer officers. Harries-Jenkins draws a distinction between those professional officers, such as doctors and chaplains, whom he calls "civilians who happen to perform their professional functions within a military environment", and those who are trained within the organisation in predominantly military skills and who find their profession and the organisation almost completely fused in the military environment. The former type he calls "achievement" professionals in that they have achieved professional status prior to joining the organisation, and the latter "ascriptive" professionals in that their professional status has been acquired within the institution and is therefore dependent upon organisational decision. The two types of officer differ markedly as to whether they put military obedience before professional authority, and to allow more exploitation of their expertise. Most officers are expected to share the attitudes of ascriptive professionals, but, where a branch contains large numbers of both types of officer, ambivalent attitudes occur leading to intra-group strain. Harries-Jenkins found that such ambivalence attached particularly to the Engineer Branch, of which full career officers were divided almost equally into both categories of professional. The Education Branch is also awkwardly placed as regards this dichotomy. Although the majority of education officers are achievement professionals, in consequence of obtaining degrees and teaching qualifications before entering the Service, their expertise is applied in the FECTS in a manner more appropriate to officers whose professional status is ascriptive. For the majority of S Ed Os this "professionalisation" may cause considerable role tension.    

The marginal nature of the role.

Another source of role conflict is the marginal role accorded to some teachers within educational organisations. Most role occupants need to feel that their activities are important and central to the organisations in which they work, and anxiety is likely to arise in circumstances where they perceive that their status is only marginal in the eyes of superiors or colleagues. Wilson illustrates this conflict by reference to the teacher of liberal studies in technical colleges, where "his subject is thought of - by colleagues and clients alike - as a trimming, a piece of ministerial whitewash with no significance for the real business of the institution". There are obvious parallels here with the teachers of humanities in RAF colleges and apprentice training schools, but the situation of the S Ed O on RAF units is different. As the S Ed O works for a non-educational organisation, he is always susceptible to the problems of marginality. On an operational unit he provides a supporting service of minor importance to the Station, and, by the nature of his work, will never be directly involved in the Station's operational work. The potential source of role strain for the individual S Ed O is strong. 

Inadequate institutional support.

Allied to the problem of marginality is the role conflict that arises from circumstances in which the role is inadequately supported by the educational framework in which it is performed. Conflict in this fashion can appear if teachers find that the way the organisation treats them clashes with their desired professional image. For some S Ed Os, lack of institutional support for their activities is a source of role conflict. The S Ed O is a professional teacher who takes pride in the organisation of his courses, and the erratic attendance at his classes which are almost inevitably his lot on operational bases, where many of his students are aircrew or shift workers, may seem an affront to his status and expertise. Generally, the S Ed O adapts to this situation by the use of flexible teaching methods such as worksheets, learning packages and programmes, and he rarely attempts to demand the attendance of students. On operational units many sections work around the clock, and it is unrealistic to expect that the regular attendance of their personnel at Education Centre classes will ever assume a very high priority in the minds of squadron and flight commanders. Education officers, accustomed to teaching in the more stable environment of the apprentice training schools, may find that teaching in the FECTS requires a considerable adjustment, and for all S Ed Os the problem of erratic attendance is a constant irritant. The S Ed O's professional status may also be at risk if he perceives that the amount of secondary duties which he receives on a unit implies a lack of appreciation of his educational role or of the time that is reqired to discharge it effectively. In addition, the S Ed O is increasingly working in an atmosphere where the very need of his services is a cost-conscious Air Force is being questioned. Reductions in FECTS' establishments serve to increase the role conflict that comes from institutional insecurity.  

Commitment to the role versus career orientation. 

A serious source of teacher role conflict in Britain today is that which comes from the conflict between commitment to the role and commitment to the career-line. Grace found that this was the most highly rated source of role conflict perceived by teachers. Career orientation cuts across commitment to the role in circumstances in which most teachers accept that commitment to a particular situation is desirable. Unfortunately, it is clear that an individual teacher is judged by his superordinates in terms of his career orientation. Wilson states that "There is an inducement in this situation to make right impressions on the significant people rather than significant impressions on the right people" - the students. It is also perceived that mobility and promotion are closely connected. This conflict, of course, is common not only to educational organisations but to most organisations, and it would be naive not to suppose that the RAF has its share of the "robber barons", the types who change everything and irritate everyone, and then, having asserted themselves at everyone's expense, move on to another post. Squadron Leader F.E.Hartnett in his article on "Innovation Strategies" in "RAF Education Bulletin Number 9" has described eloquently how innovation can be turned to the advantage of the innovator rather than of the organisation. Such innovations serve to bring the innovator to the notice of his superiors, for as Squadron Leader Hartnett writes, "The military system is so organised that that an ambitious officer has to be noticed if he is to succeed". Due to its diversity, the FECTS is a fertile field for innovation, and the S Ed O may be tempted to pursue not those changes that are most necessary, but those that will make the most impact on his superiors. One of the particular difficulties of the S Ed O, or the Senior Education Officer where there is more than one on a unit, is that the officers who report on him are not education officers and are thus unlikely to be able to evaluate his professional work very thoroughly. Accordingly, the the greatest impact may be made through enthusiastic adoption of an important secondary duty. But whatever strategy he adopts to gain recognition, it is likely that the S Ed O will achieve his purpose only at the expense of a more central aspect of his work. A considerable level of role conflict will thus ensue.

Five of the six categories of teachers' intra-role role conflict analysed by Wilson have now been considered and related to the work of the S Ed O in the FECTS. The sixth area of conflict, that which concerns the divergent values of society, scarcely touches the S Ed O, who, as a teacher in the field of adult education, does not have the socialisation function of the schoolteacher, Although the S Ed O is spared the dilemmas that arise from this perhaps most intractable source of teacher role conflict, it is nevertheless evident that his work is seriously affected by the other five categories of intra-role conflict. Furthermore, his position is made more difficult by the inter-role problems that arise from his status as a combatant officer in an armed force. These problems were discussed earlier. The total picture that emerges is thus a very complex one. Work in the FECTS is complicated by a variety of deeply rooted sources of role conflict, and it would appear that the S Ed O is beset by an unusually sharp degree of conflict, owing both to the diversity of these conflicts and to the intensity of them.


It may be felt that the above analysis paints too dramatic a picture of the S Ed O's position, and that most E Ed Os continue to work effectively in spite of all these role conflicts. Up to a point this is true. The personalities and Service experience of the majority of education officers enables them to the FECTS' situation and to discharge most of their duties satisfactorily. However, working continuously in circumstances of high role conflict imposes a considerable strain on S Ed Os, strain which is nonetheless great although its cause is not always perceived. Furthermore, this strain is certain to affect the S Ed O's job performance adversely - whatever the individual may think.

The consequences of unresolved role conflict should be fully appreciated by organisations. Such conflict can sometimes be beneficial in that it provides an impetus towards necessary changes, but it is only beneficial if these changes actually occur. Continuing conflict may lead to job dissatisfaction, career dissatisfaction, and a reduction in the individual's role commitment. In addition, role conflict produces tensions and uncertainties commonly associated with inconsistent organisational behaviour. This inconsistency or unpredictability often leads to further tension between and interpersonal strife between incumbents of complementary roles, thereby preventing them from establishing satisfactory role relationships. Inevitably, optimum performance by the role incumbent is inhibited, and leads directly to impaired competence and effectiveness.

Individuals differ according to personality as to which type of strategy they use to resolve situations of role conflict. Most people adapt to incompatible expectations according to some principle of choice that they adopt. Some will adapt to conflict on the grounds of what is more expedient in their career interests; some will decide to base their actions on the grounds of what are the most legitimate moral claims on them, regardless of other factors. Most people steer a middle course, but a compromise is usually only a temporary solution and conflict shortly reappears. An even less satisfactory strategy for resolving role conflict is role retreatism. This can involve either an abandonment of one's commitment to the role or the abandonment of a particular expectation due to failure. The latter may be a beneficial response in a situation where retreat is wise, but all too often role retreatism is a prelude to feelings of pessimism and cynicism, which eventually lead to an abandonment of the role altogether. Most research on the consequences of role conflict has dealt with areas where the conflict has not been resolved. Those who continue to perform a role in circumstances where conflict or ambiguity exist develop dysfunctional ways of coping with the problems. Joking, non-discussion of the problems and ritualistic behaviour are methods which permit role performance with a minimum of actual conflict. All these coping strategies are unsatisfactory as they However, in some circumstances conflict acts as a stimulus to the role occupant in seeking to change or redefine the incompatible situation in which he is placed. J.W.Getzels has written that "certain types of conflict, like certain types of necessity, give rise to productive transformations". It is thus important that the role conflict which is at present inherent in the work of the S Ed O be reduced. Some possible approaches to doing this will now be considered.


Recognition of professional status.

There should be a clear understanding on all RAF stations of the general scope of the S Ed O's operations - both for what he is responsible and for what he is not responsible - , and the S Ed O should ensure that this definition should be publicised. This action would help to reduce the level of incompatibility in the expectations of the S Ed O's role set, one of the most potent sources of his role conflict. At the same time role conflict would also be lessened if the S Ed O's burden of extraneous and peripheral duties was radically lightened. Education officers in FECTS' posts should not be liable to secondary duties except on a voluntary basis, and then only if it is clear that their primary educational responsibilities will not be prejudiced. In addition, it can be argued that the counselling parts of the S Ed O's work could be reduced. Resettlement and careers advice do not necessarily have any educational content, and an end to the S Ed O's formal interviewing responsibilities in these areas would free him to concentrate on the more specifically educational aspects of his present work. A narrowing of the S Ed O's brief that focussed his attention on his educational tasks would increase his professional awareness and thereby serve to reduce the conflict which stems from the diversity of the role. Professional employment is also vital in the career interests of individual education officers. Recruited as professional educators, S Ed Os find that they are officers first and teachers second. Yet, in a future where fewer RAF officers will serve to complete full career engagements (i.e. to retire at 55), it is becoming of critical importance to the education officer that his professional status be protected in civilian eyes, and, if this is to be done, he must pursue for the most part educational functions.

The need for a central concept.

Role conflict that is caused by the diversity of tasks could also be significantly be lightened if each S Ed O decided on a central concept around which his work could cohere and on which decisions on objectives and priorities could be based. One such central concept for the S Ed O's work is that of "Planned Career Training", developed by Squadron Leader Neville Shorrick in his article, "The Station Education Labyrinth", published in the "RAF Education Bulletin No. 8". In this article, which is the only comprehensive rationale for the FECTS to be written, Squadron Leader Shorrick demonstrated how a central aspect of his work enables an S Ed O to manage his resources effectively and to order his priorities. Other concepts are also possible, and, if adopted, would entail new emphases and shifts in priorities. The "Two Careers" concept by stressing the importance of civilian qualifications would involve a greater allocation of resources towards resettlement training. Apart from the rationale behind his work, the S Ed O must also decide where he fits into the scheme of things. Whether he sees himself, primarily, as a teacher or as a manager of learning resources will significantly affect his decisions on the allocation of resources. The way in which the S Ed O conceives his work and his own core activity will no doubt be affected by local conditions, such as the needs of the unit's personnel, the size of the FECTS' establishment, and the opportunities available at local colleges of further education. A considerable degree of autonomy is therefore desirable. In deciding on his central concept the S Ed O must balance the needs of the RAF against what he considers to be legitimate demands on his own professional expertise.

More specialisation.

Allied to the need for greater professionalism and a central concept or core of activity is the need perceived by many S Ed Os for more specialisation in their work. The present proliferation of his duties compels the S Ed O to be a "Jack-of-all-trades", an amateur, albeit a gifted one, who dabbles continuously in a variety of educational or quasi-educational activities. On the larger RAF units, where there are a number of S Ed Os, this problem is reduced, as tasks can be shared out and some degree of specialisation is therefore possible, but the S Ed Os in digital posts find the problems of diversity especially severe. For a professionally qualified officer, this situation is profoundly unsatisfactory and will certainly contribute to an increase in role conflict. If, however, the S Ed O can become clear about his function as an officer of a professionally qualified branch and has decided on a central theme for his work, he will now be in a position where he can specialise in certain areas. The S Ed O works in the field of adult education, but yet he is rarely specifically trained for it. An induction course for education officers, which concentrated on the educational needs and difficulties of the adult airman, and which provided the student with the techniques and knowledge required to operate effectively in this field, would further help to give the S Ed O the professional awareness which he needs to combat role conflict. Short courses in other aspects of the S Ed O's work might also be undertaken profitably at a later stage. "Training design", and "Resettlement education", if this is to remain among his responsibilities, are such areas where some background training would assist the S Ed O to feel that he was providing a more professional service.

Greater use of expertise.

One of the sources of role conflict considered earlier is that which stems from the role occupant perceiving that his services are marginal to the organisation. If this source of his role conflict is to be reduced, the S Ed O needs to feel that his work is more closely identified with the central needs of the RAF. At present, much of his expertise is dissipated on fringe activities, and it is important that his skills are put to good use. On some stations the S Ed O already has responsibilities for the design of formal training courses, and this aspect of his work could be extended. In addition, the S Ed O's responsibilities with regard to officers' and airmen's promotion examinations, which at present are scarcely more than administrative, could be widened. Greater responsibility for the the policy of promotion examinations and continuation training would be consistent with the professional expertise of the Education branch, and would reduce in a thoroughly justified manner the feeling of marginality suffered by the S Ed O.

Discussion and research.

The value of discussion must also be emphasised. The airing and frank discussion of problems may by themselves reduce the tensions created by role conflict. S Ed O's would discover that they were not alone in suffering the strains of role conflict. Such discussion would indicate the need for these problems to be resolved and facilitate the introduction of strategies likely to do so. Research can also provide data which is vital if the problems of role conflict are to be abated. The first essential is to receive is to receive more information about the role set. Musgrove and Taylor (1969) discovered that the discrepancy between parents' expectations and teachers' role priorities was much less than teachers perceived. This finding, which is published in their book, "Society and the Teacher's Role", indicates that much unnecessary strain can be caused by misperceptions, and the S Ed O may also be in danger of exaggerating the conflict of expectations. Research is therefore required if S Ed Os are to deal adequately with pressures from their role sets. Questionnaires designed to elicit the expectations of S Ed Os' role sets could be either organised at unit level or, preferably, co-ordinated by MOD and command education staffs. The results of surveys would enable S Ed Os to determine the exact points of conflict, and thereby to tackle most effectively the problems arising from them. At the same time more research is needed to estimate the effects on education officers of changes in the FECTS:

" ... there is a need for 'planned change' in educational organisations which monitors the consequences of innovation not solely in measures of learning achievement or pupil reaction and teacher satisfaction. While it is clear that educational systems do not exist merely to provide teachers with maximum satisfaction - it is equally clear that attempts at innovation which assume that the teacher will 'fit in' with the latest blueprint are doomed to failure. Any serious attempt to introduce change needs to be accompanied by an assessment of probable consequences for the teacher, programmes of reorientation and preparation and on-going monitoring of actual consequences." (Gerald R. Grace, "Role Conflict and the Teacher", 1972) 

In all cases where innovation in his work is planned, the effects on the professional status of the S Ed O must be carefully considered if serious role conflict is to be avoided. The S Ed O is certain to resent any undue exploitation of his expertise.

All of these suggestions for reducing the level of the S Ed O's role conflict involve the need to offset the requirements of the RAF against those of the S Ed O himself. The extent to which these strategies will remain appropriate depends on the future tasking and establishment of the FECTS. However, where these strategies can be applied, they should lead not only to a reduction in the role conflict of the S Ed O but also to a consequent amelioration in the quality and consistency of the service he (or she) provides. 


This article has sought to investigate the problem of role conflict in the work of the Station  Education Officer on RAF units. Both the "inter-role" and the "intra-role" conflicts of the S Ed O have been analysed, and an attempt has been made to show how seriously these conflicts pervade his work. The consequence is that the effectiveness of his work is inevitably attenuated. It is the major contention of this article that there is an inadequate appreciation in the RAF of the nature of the problem of role conflict, or of the strain which it imposes on the day-to-day working of the S Ed O. It is essential that the problem should be appreciated however, because role conflict in the S Ed O's work have been considered, all of which involve a concern for his professional status. These role conflicts are largely the consequence of changes in the S Ed O's working environment, and, as this environment will continue to change, they can never be ultimately be resolved. However, the adoption of strategies that balance the personal and professional needs of the S Ed O against the the education and training needs of the Royal Air Force should ensure that such conflicts are not only held in check, but also that they are the dynamic through which the facilities provided by the FECTS are refined by necessary educational and organisational changes.


Grace, G.R.             "Society and the Teacher's Role", Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1969.

                                "Role Conflict and the Teacher", Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1972.

Harries-Jenkins, G.   "Professionals and Professionalization", in "Professionals in Organisations", edited by                                                                                                        
                                  J.A. Jackson, Cambridge University Press, 1970.

                               "Dysfunctional Consequences of Military Professionalization", in "On Military Ideology",
                                edited by Morris Janowitz and J.van Doorn, University of Rotterdam University, 1971.

Hartnett, Squadron   "Innovation Strategies", in "RAF Education Bulletin, No.9", 1972.
Leader F.E.

Hoyle E.                   "The Role of the Teacher", Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1969.

James, D.J.               "Total Institutions", (work in course of preparation for publication), 1972.

Musgrove, F. and     "Society and the Teacher's Role", Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1969.
Taylor, P.H.
Owens, R.G.            "Organizational Behaviour in Schools", Prentice-Hall, 1970.

Shorrick, Squadron   "The Station Education Labyrinth", in "RAF Education Bulletin, No.8",
Leader N.                   1971.

Wilson, B.R.             "The Teacher's Role - a sociological analysis", in Br. J.of Sociology, 13 (i), 1962.

Zahn, G.C.                "Chaplains in the RAF- a study in role tension", Manchester University Press, 1969.



Looking back on the circumstances in which the above article was written, with the hindsight of almost forty years, the author feels that certain observations are appropriate. While the presence of role conflict in the work of a RAF education officer providing adult education on Air Force stations at that time (i.e. the early 1970s) was certainly a genuine phenomenon, the difficulties which this caused were significantly ameliorated by the very well organised and well resourced environment in which he or she was working, and it is also fair to say that, while the diversity of tasks which the job involved was, as the article indicates, a source of role conflict, it was also one of the attractions of the job, and, to that extent, the conflict was partly self-induced by the role incumbents. It is also fair to point out too that, at the time when the article was written, the writing was on the wall not only for the Further Education and Continuation Training Scheme (FECTS) but also for the separate status of the Education Branch as a whole. The decision to replace the RAF officer cadet schemes at the RAF Colleges of Cranwell and Henlow by a policy of university graduate entry in 1972, and the enforced abbreviation of the apprentice training schemes, consequent upon the raising of the school-leaving age (ROSLA) from fifteen to sixteen in 1973-74, significantly reduced the the need and the opportunities for regular teaching work within the Force. Furthermore, the steady improvement in the educational standards and qualifications of airmen, both aircrew and those in ground trades, which was already evident in 1974, and which the ROSLA was of course bound to accelerate, was reducing the need  on RAF units for the very type of facilities which the FECTS existed to provide. In these circumstances, it is clearer to the author now than it was perhaps then that the additional tasking of functions such as continuation training and resettlement counselling handed to the S Ed O from above stemmed from the desperate attempts of MOD and command HQ education staff to justify the continuing existence of the FECTS, and the Education Branch itself. Sadly, if inevitably perhaps, these attempts were to prove unavailing. Within a few years, the FECTS in the form which the author of the above article knew, and in which he had worked so happily, had come to an end and the Education Branch itself was subsumed within a wider "Administrative Branch".  In this context, it should thus be emphasised that the extent of role conflict that may exist within an organisation at any time is also likely to result from evolving changes to the structural environment in which that role is being performed.