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Impact of school autonomy on student achievement: cases from Australia

Brian John Caldwell (Educational Transformations, Melbourne, Australia and Melbourne Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia)

International Journal of Educational Management

ISSN: 0951-354X

Article publication date: 12 September 2016




The purpose of this paper is to report four case studies in Australia that respond to the question: “How have schools with a relatively high degree of autonomy used their increased authority and responsibility to make decisions that have led in explicit cause-and-effect fashion to higher levels of student achievement”?


A conventional case study methodology was adopted, framed by a review of evidence in the international literature. The studies were conducted in the Australian Capital Territory, Queensland and Victoria. Senior leaders in systems of public education in these jurisdictions nominated schools which have had a relatively high degree of autonomy for at least two years; have achieved high levels of student achievement, or have shown noteworthy improvement; and are able to explain how the link between autonomy and achievement had been made. The four schools chosen from these nominations represented different types as far as level and location were concerned. Triangulation of sources was a feature of the studies.


The findings reveal that the schools were able to explain the links and that it was possible to map the cause-and-effect chain. Schools used their autonomy to select staff and allocate funds in their budgets, each being capacities that came with a higher level of autonomy. Leadership was important.

Research limitations/implications

The paper cautions against generalizing the findings.


There is international interest in the extent to which granting public schools a higher level of autonomy than has traditionally been the case in various national settings has had an impact on student achievement. These case studies go part of the way in describing what schools do when they successfully take up a higher level of authority and responsibility as one strategy in efforts to raise levels of achievement.



Caldwell, B.J. (2016), "Impact of school autonomy on student achievement: cases from Australia", International Journal of Educational Management, Vol. 30 No. 7, pp. 1171-1187.



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