Key preliminary findings within the SASJ project

MacDonald et al. (under Review) School autonomy, school accountability and social justice: a policy overview of Australian public education (1970s to present)

  • Our overview of the policies of school autonomy and accountability in Australian public education from the 1970s to the present tracks the tensions between policy moves to both grant schools greater autonomy and rein in this autonomy with the increasing instatement of external forms of accountability.

  • Progressive language within a social democratic framing of educational governance for the public good was appropriated by neoliberal discourses of individual choice and school autonomy.

  • There has been a consistent trajectory towards a market-driven agenda of school reform including policy attempts to free the system from centralised control and attempts to rein in these freedoms through accountability measures.


Keddie et al. (Under Review) The constitution of school autonomy in Australian public education: Key areas of paradox for social justice

  • When subject to the discourses of marketisation, school ‘autonomy’ has been mobilised in ways that generate injustice.

  • There are four key areas of paradox for social justice currently confronting public schools and school systems.

  1. The discourses of economic efficiency and differential funding (between the public and private sectors) constitute school ‘autonomy’ in ways that create economic injustice

  2. The discourses of competition and individualism shaping education systems constitute school autonomy in ways that undermine equity at the system level

  3. The discourses of devolution and economic rationalism shaping the public education system constitute school autonomy in ways that disadvantage (already disadvantaged) schools

  4. The discourses of needs-based funding for student disadvantage when reflecting a lack of transparency, nuance and administrative support in distribution constitute school ‘autonomy’ in ways that create economic injustice

Keddie et al. (Under Review) School autonomy, marketisation and social justice: The plight of principals and schools

  • Stakeholders expressed concerns about the negative equity implications of school autonomy reform when it is driven by market imperatives.

  • School autonomy can be mobilised in positive ways for equity when sufficiently resourced by centralised state and federal authorities and supported at regional levels, but stakeholders noted the following problems

  1. Principals (especially those with a lack of experience) were not adequately supported to manage the responsibilities and pressures of greater school autonomy and accountability and

  2. Particular schools (especially small schools and schools in rural, remote and disadvantaged areas), despite the availability of additional centralised support, were struggling with the processes and expectations of this reform to improve student learning.



  • Specific national histories are reflected in moves to autonomy in schooling systems. There are, however, some similarities, such as the timing and sequencing in the social democratic agenda in Sweden.

  • Travelling discourses and policies of autonomy enacted very differently in different national contexts


  • The Australian school system (three sectors – Public, Catholic, Independent/Private) is unique. Australian research cannot ignore the influences of autonomous private systems since federation.

  • The IERG expressed interest in the idiosyncratic nature of Australian Federalism, and how concerns for equity have evolved.

  • Similar problems in other national contexts between schools in urban areas and rural locations. For example, rural and remote schools may be hard to staff, it may be difficult to keep staff, or hard to get qualified teachers. The market plays in favour of schools in urban areas.

  • The IERG expressed interest in how parent groups and unions have historically pushed back against autonomy reforms in Australia

  • Fruitful area for research in the autonomy and social justice area - what is taken for granted and common sense?

  • Shift in the educational justice scholarship - What is public about public education when you have different providers and the idea of the ‘public good’ is being eroded. What is the public? What is public education? Whose public?

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