SCHOOL AUTONOMY REFORM AND SOCIAL JUSTICE
IN AUSTRALIAN PUBLIC EDUCATION
An ARC funded investigation of the social justice implications of school autonomy reform
Keddie, MacDonald, et al. (2022) What needs to happen for school autonomy to be mobilised to create more equitable public schools and systems of education? Australian Educational Researcher. DOI: 10.1007/s13384-022-00573-w
The series of responses in this article were gathered as part of an online mini conference held in September 2021 that sought to explore different ideas and articulations of school autonomy reform across the world (Australia, Canada, England, Ireland, the USA, Norway, Sweden and New Zealand). It centred upon an important question: what needs to happen for school autonomy to be mobilised to create more equitable public schools and systems of education? There was consensus across the group that school autonomy reform creates further inequities at school and system levels when driven by the logics of marketisation, competition, economic efficiency and public accountability. Against the backdrop of these themes, the conference generated discussion and debate where provocations and points of agreement and disagreement about issues of social justice and the mobilisation of school autonomy reform were raised. As an important output of this discussion, we asked participants to write a short response to the guiding conference question. The following are these responses which range from philosophical considerations, systems and governance perspectives, national particularities and teacher and principal perspectives.
Keddie, Blackmore, MacDonald (2022) ‘It’s like we’re in two different schools’: Contrasting stories of teacher and leader autonomy within a distributed approach to leadership. Educational Management, Administration and Leadership. DOI: 10.1177/1741143222112600
The articulation of school autonomy into practice nationally, regionally and locally is highly situated in terms of what it enables or impedes with regard to the professional autonomy of principals and teachers. Principal autonomy does not necessarily mean greater teacher professional autonomy. In this paper we draw on a three-year qualitative study investigating the social justice implications of school autonomy reform in Australia. We present interview data from a case study of a large secondary college to present two conflicting stories of autonomy. Supported by a managerial restructure reflecting distributed leadership, we juxtapose the positive account of autonomy expressed by the leadership team with the negative one expressed by teachers. We explore the justice implications of this disjuncture and argue the importance of critically examining the complex ways in which the intentions and enactments of distributed leadership can be differently articulated and understood within the context of school autonomy reform.
Gobby, Wilkinson, Keddie, Blackmore, Eacott, MacDonald, Neische (2022) Managerial, professional and collective school autonomies: using material semiotics to examine the multiple realities of school autonomy, International Journal of Leadership in Education, DOI: 10.1080/13603124.2022.2108507
In response to the diverse deployments of ‘school autonomy’ in interviews with education stakeholders, we use material semiotics and the concept of ontological politics to theorize school autonomy as ontologically multiple. We analyze interviews conducted in Australia with forty-two school education stakeholders drawn from principal, parent and teacher associations as well as policymakers at federal and state government levels, to better understand the diverse deployments of public school autonomy and their political implications. We theorize managerial autonomy, professional autonomy and collective autonomy as three coexisting realities of school autonomy spoken about in the interviews. We examine their differences, the tensions in navigating these realities, and what is at stake in how school autonomy is known and enacted. The analysis suggests a concern among many stakeholders for school autonomy to be known and done differently from the dominant managerial autonomy, which we understand as a call to practise alternatives into existence.
Eacott, Niesche, Keddie, Blackmore, Wilkinson, Gobby, and MacDonald (2022), Autonomy, school leadership and pursuit of equitable outcomes – The LSLD reforms in NSW, Australia. Leadership and Policy in Schools. https://doi.org/10.1080/15700763.2022.2081212
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.
Blackmore, MacDonald, Keddie, Gobby, Wilkinson, Niesche, Eacott (2022) Election and/or selection? School autonomy reform, governance and the politics of school boards/councils. Journal of Education Policy. https://doi.org/10.1080/02680939.2021.2022766
Neoliberal policies promoting school autonomy reform in Australia and internationally have, over three decades, appropriated earlier social democratic discourses of parental participation and partnership in school governance. Recent school autonomy reforms have focused on school council/boards within a narrow frame of accountability and management operating in marketized systems of education. This paper draws on interviews with 42 public education stakeholders across four Australian states to consider how school council/boards have been positioned differently within the various public school governance arrangements of the Australian federation. We argue that due to difficulties in some schools to recruit parents, together with corporatization of education and the seeming depoliticization of school governance, there has been a further shift from representative to expert stakeholder. While parental involvement in school decision-making has always been about parents getting the best education for their children, it has often been political in terms of defending public education. This paper argues that the involvement of more self-interested and politically influential actors with the most recent articulation of school autonomy reform in Australia, Independent Public Schools, that school council/boards potentially are being politicised in less democratic ways. We consider the social justice implications of policies re/positioning parents informed by Nancy Fraser’s principles of social justice with a focus on participatory parity to provide new theoretical insights into studies of school governance.
MacDonald, Keddie, Blackmore, Mahoney, Wilkinson, Gobby, Niesche, Eacott (2021), School autonomy, school accountability and social justice: a policy overview of Australian public education (1970s to present), Australian Educational Researcher. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13384-021-00482-4
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.
Niesche, Eacott, Keddie, Gobby, MacDonald, Wilkinson and Blackmore (2021) Principals’ perceptions of school autonomy and educational leadership. Educational Management Administration & Leadership. https://doi.org/10.1177/17411432211034174
This paper examines principals’ perceptions of school autonomy and leadership as part of a three-year research project looking at the implications of school autonomy on social justice across 4 states of Australia (Victoria, New South Wales, Western Australia and Queensland). Drawing on interviews with principals and representatives from principal stakeholder organisations in these four state jurisdictions, the paper identifies a number of key issues for school principals and the implications for understandings and practices of educational leadership. These include varied understandings of autonomy; practices of leadership; and implications for health, workload and well-being. The paper argues that while principals have mixed perceptions of school autonomy policies, there has been a narrowing of leadership experiences by principals in the form of managerialism and compliance. Furthermore, principals continue to experience high levels of workload, and some principals, depending on career stage and experience level, feel better able to work within and sometimes against these policies in their schools and communities. These practices are sometimes felt to be despite the system and not due to school autonomy policies themselves. The implication being that principals are inequitably able to respond to and implement school autonomy policies, an issue often glossed over in educational leadership research.
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. https://doi.org/10.1080/13603124.2020.1781934
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. https://doi.org/10.1080/00220620.2020.1818699
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, Eacott, Wilkinson, Blackmore, Niesche, Gobby (Under Review) The stratigraphy of economic maldistribution in public-school funding in Australia: Still a poisonous debate. Journal of Educational Administration and History.
This paper analyses the composition, distribution and history of school funding in Australia through an explicit spatial lens (Soja, 2010). We explore the stratigraphy, i.e. the layering of processes, of multi-scalar school funding policy through three strata of economic maldistribution (Fraser, 2013). We sketch the funding disparities between the three school sectors (public, Catholic and independent); the spatial and economic maldistribution between state jurisdictions; and within state public systems highlighting disparities between public schools depending on their contextual attributes. Spatial injustice is uncovered in economic maldistribution within and across these strata, adding nuance to existing school funding debates. Exposing the stratigraphy of maldistribution matters because it is public school systems that work the hardest to educate those with the least financial capital, and un- or undervalued social and cultural capitals. The Australian case is relevant to international explorations school funding as an example of ‘worst practice’ in the hierarchies between schools across sectors, between jurisdictions, and within systems of public education.
Keddie, MacDonald, Blackmore, Gobby (Under Review) Teacher professional autonomy in an atypical public school: matters of relationality and context.
Teacher professional autonomy is central to teachers’ work satisfaction, efficiency, well-being, and empowerment. However, it cannot simply be defined as freedom from control because it is relational and contextual. In this paper, we examine the relationality and contextual sensitivity of teacher professional autonomy at ‘Newstall’ College, a senior secondary school in Australia. The paper draws on a larger study that examined the social justice implications of school autonomy reform in four Australian state education systems. Newstall College was one of the five case study schools included in this study. Findings generated through in-depth interviews with eighteen staff members (including teachers, professional staff, the deputy principal and the principal) are presented that examine professional teacher autonomy. Conceptualising teacher autonomy as relational and contextual, the paper provides insight into the ways in which teacher autonomy was enabled at this school.
Niesche, Keddie, MacDonald, Gobby, Wilkinson, Eacott and Blackmore (Under review) Theorising principals’ resistance and compliance as part of school autonomy reforms in Australian public education
In this chapter, we consider the voices of school principals as they engage with school autonomy reforms on the Australian context. There has been little research that has explored how school principals engage with and respond to these kinds of reforms through a Foucauldian theorising of principal resistance. We draw on interviews with a range of relevant stakeholders to examine how these principals perceive these reforms and how they engage forms of resistance and compliance to the increased regimes of accountability and performativity. We undertake this analysis via the work of Michel Foucault and his understanding of power and resistance and also the notion of parrhesia, or speaking out, to show a more nuanced theorisation of resistance and subject formation of these school principals as they describe their practices of resistance.
Keddie, (2022) Social justice and school autonomy reform: Towards activist rather than market oriented governance. Keynote presentation at ReformEd project 2022 conference, The instrumentation and enactment of public education reform. Spain, 2022, Online.
Keddie, MacDonald, Blackmore, Eacott, Gobby, Niesche, R., Wilkinson (2021) Symposium: School autonomy reform and social justice in Australian public education: an account of policy and practice. Australian Association for Research in Education Conference, 2021, Online.
MacDonald (2021) School autonomy reform and social justice: The social justice implications of the ebb and flow of public education reform policy (1970s to present). Australian Association for Research in Education Conference, 2021, Online.
Gobby, and Wilkinson, (2021) Gathering multiple school autonomies for more ethical realities. Australian Association for Research in Education Conference, 2021, Online.
Niesche, (2021) School autonomy and social justice: the plight of principals and schools. Australian Association for Research in Education Conference, 2021, Online.
Blackmore, (2021) Election and/or selection? School autonomy reform, governance and the politics of school boards/councils. Australian Association for Research in Education Conference, 2021, Online.
Wilkinson, and Eacott (2121) Discussants - Symposium: School autonomy reform and social justice in Australian public education: an account of policy and practice. Australian Association for Research in Education Conference, 2021, Online.
Keddie, Gobby, Neische, Blackmore, and MacDonald (2020) School autonomy and public education in Australia. Queensland IPS Conference (online). August 28, 2020.
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).
Blackmore, Keddie and MacDonald (2022) How to fix education: cut tests, defund private schools EduResearch Matters Blog May 20, 2022
Education has been politicised over the last three decades, yet it has not been a key feature of the current election campaign. To be sure, we have heard public statements from Federal Education Minister (acting) Stuart Robert about ‘dud’ teachers in our public education system as well as his approval of increasing student demand for private sector schooling. Amid both parties’ support for parental choice in education and concerns about Australia’s under-performance on standardised international and national tests such as PISA and NAPLAN, the focus in this election campaign has largely been on how teacher quality might be improved through attracting and retaining better teachers. While quality teaching is important, this focus misrecognises the ‘problems’ of Australian education in a number of ways...
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…
MacDonald, Blackmore, and Keddie (2021) Public Education and school autonomy reform: Implications for social justice. Professional Voice. 14.2.7