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 (2021), 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.

Niesche, Eacott, Keddie, Gobby, MacDonald, Wilkinson and Blackmore (2021) Principals’ perceptions of school autonomy and educational leadership.  Educational Management Administration & Leadership.

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.

Eacott, Niesche, Keddie, Blackmore, Wilkinson, Gobby, MacDonald, and Fernandez (Under Review), Autonomy, school leadership and pursuit of equitable outcomes – The LSLD reforms in NSW, Australia. Leadership and Policy in Schools

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.

Gobby, Wilkinson, Keddie, Blackmore, Eacott, MacDonald, Neische (Under Review) Gathering multiple school autonomies for more ethical realities. Critical Studies in Education

With school autonomy being enacted in school education systems across the world, it is problematic to assume school autonomy is a singular entity. Nevertheless, a singular sense of school autonomy typically dominates education policy and policy work, which results in summarising, governing and drawing a veil over the differences of school autonomy. Thinking with the concepts of material semiotics, we approach school autonomy ontologically to challenge the assumption it is a single and coherent entity. We use the interview responses of education stakeholders in Australia to gather various schools autonomies, and to explore the issue of what realities are at stake in the material-discursive enactments of different autonomies, including the continued dominance of what we term managerial autonomy. This paper generates and promotes multiple school autonomies so as to contribute to the hinterland that makes possible the enactment of alternative school autonomies and more ethical realities.

Blackmore, MacDonald, Keddie, Gobby, Wilkinson, Niesche, Eacott (Under Review) Election and/or selection? School autonomy reform, governance and the politics of school boards/councils. Journal of Education Policy

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, 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.

Conference Presentations

Keddie, Gobby, Neische, Blackmore, 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).



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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