Unpacking Autonomy and Control in Education: some conceptual and normative groundwork for a comparative analysis

Jul. 20, 2007

Source: European Educational Research Journal, Volume 6, Number 3, 2007, pages 203-213.

To make meaningful comparisons of the consequences of new modes of regulation in education for local autonomy in different national settings we need to a) be clear about what is meant by local autonomy and state control, b) be clear about why the balance between local autonomy and state control matters and c) produce good quality empirical data and analysis.

The purpose of this article is to make a contribution to the first two of these tasks which are relatively neglected in the education research literature. The authors begin by unpacking some conceptual complexities involved in debating issues of autonomy and control, distinguishing between three dimensions of autonomy-control: loci and modes of autonomy, domains of autonomy-control and loci and modes of control.

They then go on to illustrate some of the normative complexities surrounding issues of autonomy-control, using the case of individual teacher autonomy to explore arguments about the value of autonomy and control.

Finally, the authors discuss the implications of these complexities for the task of policy analysis. In doing so, they seek to: ‘trouble’ the presumption that autonomy is necessarily good; challenge the notion that control and autonomy are discrete entities in some simple zero-sum relationship to one another, drawing attention to the ways in which control can be seen as ‘productive’ as well as ‘destructive’ of autonomy; and sketch out the multi-dimensional nature of cross-national comparative evaluation of regulation in education.

Updated: Jun. 02, 2008