School autonomy: getting the balance right

Last week’s SELMAS Brainstrust event stimulated lots of discussion on many themes linked to Curriculum for Excellence, notably around school and headteacher autonomy,, the role of the local authority and regulatory controls at national level. Here Mark Priestley elaborates the theme of input and output regulation which he introduced at the forum. PLease add your own thoughts and continue the conversations in the comments threads or on twitter – @MarkRPriestley and @SELM4S.

Professor Mark Priestley

The recent Commission on School Reform report, By Diverse Means: Improving Scottish Education (see, has a lot to say about school autonomy. In short, the argument put forward in the report is that the dead hand of bureaucracy, especially as exemplified in rigid local authority structures, is stifling innovation and preventing the meaningful implementation of Curriculum for Excellence. While the report needs to be treated with some caution (for example, it is weak in its coverage of research literature), it offers a detailed analysis of current trends (over 100 pages) and sets out a large number of recommendations for improving the current situation. It is thus worth a read.

The question of whether schools should be more autonomous is an interesting one, and an issue on which I have some sympathy for the Commission’s views. However, it is far from unproblematic, and needs more nuanced consideration than…

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