Journal articles
Keddie, Blackmore, MacDonald, Wilkinson, Gobby, Niesche, Eacott, Mahony (2020), The constitution of school autonomy in Australian public education: Key areas of paradox for social justice, International Journal of Leadership in Education

School autonomy policies have circulated through various modes of educational governance nationally and internationally endorsing the view that more autonomy will improve schools and their systems. When subject to the discourses of marketisation, however, school ‘autonomy’ has been mobilised in ways that generate injustice. These injustices are the focus of this paper. We draw on preliminary findings from a three-year study that is exploring the social justice implications of school autonomy reform across four Australian states. Drawing on interviews with 43 stakeholders, the paper identifies four key areas of paradox for social justice currently confronting public schools and school systems. The language of paradox is drawn on to narrate the oppositional politics between the discourses constituting school autonomy and the pursuit of social justice. Such narration raises important questions for Australian public education. It highlights how these discourses are changing what is meant by the public in public education. Engaging with the language of paradox in thinking about school autonomy reform, we argue, is important given the broader landscape where public schooling is being reconstituted and its tradtional links to social justice and the common good are under threat.

Keddie, MacDonald, Blackmore, Eacott, Gobby, Niesche, Mahoney, Wilkinson (2020), School autonomy, marketisation and social justice: The plight of principals and schools, Journal of Educational Administration and History

This paper draws on interview data gathered as part of a broader study exploring the social justice implications of school autonomy reform within Australia’s public education system. We draw attention to the concerns expressed by key education stakeholders across three states, Western Australia, Victoria and New South Wales, about the negative equity implications of school autonomy reform when it is driven by market imperatives. Interviewees expressed their view that school autonomy could be mobilised in positive ways for equity when sufficiently resourced by centralised state and federal authorities and supported at regional levels. However, they also highlighted key problems such resourcing failed to adequately recognise relating to 1) how 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) how 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. The paper argues for the significance of greater centralised and regional support in these areas.

Eacott, MacDonald, Keddie, Blackmore, Wilkinson, Niesche, Gobby, Fernandez (2020) COVID-19 and Inequities in Australian Education – Insights on Federalism, Autonomy, and Access International Studies in Educational Administration

The current COVID19 pandemic has forced major adjustments, often at short notice, on schools and schooling. Educators have been working in a constantly changing environment to continue to deliver for students, families and communities all the while maintaining the necessary supports for themselves and colleagues. In Australia this has led to debates concerning when and who can close schools, the authority of schools to enact context-sensitive activities, and amplified existing inequities. Informed by a larger Australian Research Council grant focused on school autonomy and social justice, we argue that the pandemic and responses to it have highlighted the idiosyncratic nature of Australian federalism, drawn greater attention to the role of school autonomy, and amplified inequities in the access to quality education irrespective of location.

MacDonald, Keddie, Blackmore, Mahoney, Wilkinson, Gobby,  Niesche, Eacott (Under Review), School autonomy, school accountability and social justice: a policy overview of Australian public education (1970s to present), Australian Educational Researcher

This paper provides an overview of the policies of school autonomy and accountability in Australian public education from the 1970s to the present. It 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. Utilising Nancy Fraser’s (2013) concepts of dis-embedding and re-embedding markets, we track key policy moments in three Australian states (Victoria, Western Australia and New South Wales) and federally. Aligning dis-embedding processes with policy attempts to free the system from centralised control and re-embedding processes with attempts to rein in these freedoms, we draw attention to the consistent trajectory towards a market agenda. We consider the implications of this trajectory for social justice.

Eacott, Niesche, Keddie, Blackmore, Wilkinson, Gobby, MacDonald, and Fernandez (In Prep), Autonomy, school leadership and pursuit of equitable outcomes – The LSLD reforms in NSW, Australia

Australian school education is at a critical junction. Large-scale testing indicates a downward trend in performance measures coupled with work intensification, minimal time for instructional leadership, declining quality applicants for positions and enduring inequities based on context. One persuasive solution proposed continually for the last four decades has been the local management of school. It has been argued that school level decision making enables the delivery of context sensitive leadership that can best meet local needs and deliver the kinds of growth / performance in school outcomes that can achieve national goals of equity and excellence. Drawing from a New South Wales subset of a national study on school autonomy and social justice, we argue that the current Local Schools Local Decisions reforms cannot resolve the issues of under-performance as they generate work that takes leaders and educators away from teaching and learning activities. In doing so, they require schools serving the most disadvantaged communities to work even harder.

Conference Presentations

Keddie, Blackmore, MacDonald, Mahoney, Wilkinson, Eacott, Niesche, and Gobby (2019) In the name of social justice. Australian Association for Research in Education Conference, 2019, Brisbane

Conference presentations accepted but not presented due to Covid-19

Keddie, Blackmore, MacDonald, Mahoney, Wilkinson, Gobby, Niesche, Eacott, and Mahoney (2020) School autonomy in systems of maldistribution: Key social justice dilemmas. European Conference on Educational Research, Glasgow (Cancelled).

MacDonald, Keddie, Blackmore, Mahoney, Wilkinson, Gobby, Niesche, and Eacott (2020) School autonomy, school accountability and social justice: dis-embedding and re-embedding markets. British Educational Research Association. Liverpool (Cancelled).



Wilkinson and MacDonald (2020) Is COVID-19 heralding a new way of the media representing teachers? EduResearch Matters Blog August 24, 2020

The sport and politics of teacher bashing, and in particular teacher union bashing, has a long and inglorious history in the Australian media. Whether this is connected to an anti-intellectual bias in Australian society, the glorification of sport and the physical as opposed to the intellect, is unclear. However research suggests that mainstream media plays a critical role in creating dominant representations of particular groups in society and these representations directly impact individuals and the groups involved...

Eacott and Niesche (2020) Public schools DO account for their funding: Public school autonomy processes are onerous and exacting. EduResearch Matters Blog, May 25, 2020

Among the turmoil generated by COVD19 for schools – are they open, are they closed, staggered attendance, online learning – and significant planning and workload on schools leaders and educators, the New South Wales Auditor-General released a report reviewing needs-based equity funding under the NSW Local Schools, Local Decisions (LSLD) reform...


Keddie, Blackmore, Mahoney and MacDonald (2019) Dan Tehan and the myth of school autonomy The Age, November 10, 2019


In his recent speech at The Age School Summit, Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan offered up some advice for Victorian Education Minister James Merlino: “If I was the Victorian Education Minister just for one day,” he stated, “the first thing I would do would be to provide greater autonomy to parents, teachers and principals”. In fact, Victoria has had the most autonomous public school system in Australia since the education reforms of the 1990s, while also spending less on public schooling than most other states…

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