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Deriving Maximum Benefit from School Autonomy

05 May 2017

Queensland independent schools have turned the spotlight on a key pillar of their educational approach – their autonomy – to better understand how to use it to improve student outcomes.

With the performance of Australian’s education system subject to ongoing debate and analysis, Independent Schools Queensland (ISQ) commissioned a discussion paper, led by respected education researcher Dr Barbara Watterston, to investigate the relationship between autonomy, leadership and school success.

The discussion paper, Autonomy and School Leadership: An Independent Schooling Perspective, explores the relationship between autonomy, effective school leadership and student achievement; provides a snapshot of current research and thinking in the area; and shares the professional experiences and views of independent school principals and governors.

ISQ Executive Director David Robertson said the discussion paper challenged schools to examine whether they were intentionally and effectively using their autonomy to the greatest effect.

“Simply having autonomy, like having the latest technology, doesn’t automatically mean success will follow,” Mr Robertson said.

“The power of autonomy lies in how it’s used as a purposeful and strategic agent for school improvement and change by effective, confident and creative leaders in areas such as curriculum innovation, strategic planning, staff development and parent engagement.”

Mr Robertson said the higher levels of autonomy enjoyed by Queensland independent schools meant they were well placed to provide informed and insightful commentary on the use and impact of autonomy at the coalface of education delivery.

“The paper confirms that Queensland independent school leaders value their independence and the freedom it gives them to act in the best interests of their local communities and to act quickly and decisively when needed, unencumbered by ‘over burdensome regulation’,” he said.

“It also highlights the critical relationship between school governing bodies and principals and the importance of all parties being clear on their capabilities, responsibilities and accountabilities for the school’s performance and development.” 

Leading experts on education reform and school leadership have welcomed the release of the paper saying it extends current thinking about effective school autonomy.

Author of The Autonomy Premium and Managing Director and Principal Consultant at Educational Transformations Professor Brian Caldwell said:  “This paper makes an important contribution to the discussion about autonomy and school improvement in Australia. It progresses the conversation beyond a focus on structural autonomy, and towards the recognition that both structural and professional autonomy is required for school improvement to be achieved.”

Learning First Chief Executive Officer Dr Ben Jensen said: “The paper is very important. It is getting at issues that have simply been ignored. The concluding questions are also fundamental.”

The Autonomy and School Leadership discussion paper is available here.

Media contact: Justine Nolan M: 0428 612 315 E:



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