One of the ironies for sociologists of the school is that their accounts rarely achieve either the immediacy of good television reportage or the sensitivity of literature. Who, for example, can forget Rick Dadier's first day at North Manual Trades High School in Evan Hunter's The Blackboard Jungle or Ursula Brangwen's confrontation with Standard Five of Brinsley Street Elementary School in D. H. Lawrence's The Rainbow? Why do these images seem to have such power for suggesting insights into the operation and ethos of schools while social scientists so often grapple with disabling doubts about their very existence? A few comments may help here. Schools in the first place differ from many other service organisations in the uncertainty and lack of knowledge about their basic tasks (teaching and learning), in their relationship to their clients (they do not on the whole have the right to refuse them) and in their linkages between task and formal authority (i.e. classroom teaching has no clear autonomy from the formal bureaucratic system). In other words, no other organisation has age-graded treatments coupled with such diffuse and easily politicised objectives, while it remains so powerless itself. As Musgrove points out even that apparently omnipotent ‘total institution’, the traditional boarding school, ‘is most remarkable, on close scrutiny, for its ineptitude’ (1971, p. 13).