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Redefining ‘autonomy’

13 June 2018

Do we really have a self-improving system? That was one of the questions considered at our recent roundtable. A key part of the discussion focused on ‘autonomy’.

At a system level, whilst the Government set out with a principle of autonomy being provided to schools along with high accountability, over time this principle seems to have been eroded, through both its practice (particularly in response to high-profile failings in the system) and its policies in other areas (e.g. curriculum and assessment). When you look at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) research, the core ingredients identified for a highly autonomous system were a focus on decisions about curriculum, assessment and resources. However, reflecting on our school system today, arguably the essential ingredients of autonomy that led to the OECD’s findings have been distorted in the debate about ‘autonomy’.

At a provider level, it is clear that autonomy has become a loaded phrase. For multi-academy trusts in particular it can be extremely difficult to tread a line between ‘autonomy’ and ‘standardisation’. The sector therefore needs to redefine and create a consensus as to what is meant by autonomy and what it is for. This should make clear that autonomy should be exercised on behalf of, and in the best interests of learners. Similar to the concept of the ‘servant leader’, the concept of autonomy in our schools system should not be about protecting the rights of adults and institutions.

Read our latest report ‘The Way Ahead’.

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