This inquiry began with the question: ‘What is distinctive about schools as organisations?’ The answer seems to be that the visible marks of schools organisation — bells, timetables, chalk, corridors, registers, examinations, uniforms, assemblies, noise, hierarchy and staff meetings — are its least important and enduring institutional features. Nor should we confuse school organisation with a certain historically bound arrangement of teaching and learning such as the age-graded curriculum. Indeed it is these kinds of answers which have ensnared the debates about school to a concern with its concrete specificities, such as the search for a ‘good school’ or, the other side of this coin, towards the goal of a completely de-schooled society. Both of these approaches miss the point in different ways. The defining features of school organisation are not to be found in its concrete practices, nor yet in a particular bureaucratic form. Rather, these visible and often dramatic characteristics should be seen as only a subset of the range of possibilities for organising social reproduction in complex societies, since the observed textures of closure and domination reflect deeper patterns of structure between teaching, administration and environment which need to be set within a wider field of discursive possibilities. The managerialist/utilitarian solution has given us one boundary of this field — the Lancastrian or monitorial school, which in its time proved quite successful and inexpensive as an engine of moral hygiene and rote instruction. The informal learning networks of Illich, at the other extreme of this field, would avoid the visible constraints inherited from this earlier age (including those of the ‘hidden curriculum’). However, just as the monitorial school rose from the institutional landscape of the factory system, so the learning network merges back into the post-industrial setting of state-supported personal services, claimants’ unions and consumer co-operatives. Both of these possibilities therefore avoid any explicit attempt to deal with teaching and learning in terms of its specialised discursive features.