Sunday P3: Desperately seeking autonomy: Where did the greatest job in the world go?

The Curriculum and Standards Frameworks, the national curriculum, AusVELS, NAPLAN, My School,  AITSL standards, PISA… since the late 1990s Australian teachers have experienced significant top down changes in their degree of autonomy and in the nature of professionalism. The curriculum has become ever more circumscribed, while external interference in, and surveillance of teachers classroom work intensifies, in the name of ‘quality’ and ‘standards’. These changes have resulted in media reports that young teachers feel despair, not enthusiasm, at the start of the school year (Canavan, 2019). With 40-50% of teachers leaving the profession in the first five years, it is important that Australia considers what’s gone wrong and how it might be fixed.

In a culture of compliance, scientific evidence, rampant data collection, rubrics as long as your arm, form filling, box ticking, continuous assessment and non-editable comment banks, what do we do? English teacher feedback has suggested leaders are not willing to listen to concerns. How do we work with these leaders, with subject associations, through networks and through organisations to free teaching? And in what ways are some English teachers already managing to subvert the status quo and enjoy creative, collaborative, local and autonomous practice?


Lucinda McKnight

Dr Lucinda McKnight is a former English teacher and senior lecturer in English curriculum and pedagogy at Deakin University. She is the author of a number of controversial and widely read articles on teacher autonomy, including ‘Meet the phallic teacher: Designing curriculum and identity in a neoliberal imaginary’, and ‘Seven reasons to question the hegemony of Visible Learning’ (with Ben Whitburn). Lucinda has a long history of involvement with VATE, including being a council member, co-convening the conference committee, and sitting on the Professional Learning and IT committees. She is the author of two English textbooks, and Changing the middle years: Reflections and Intentions, for the Victorian Department of Education, along with over thirty-five journal articles and book chapters. Lucinda is dedicated to making English the best it can be, for both teachers and students.



Scott EacottScott Eacott is currently Associate Professor of Educational Leadership and Director of Higher Research Degree programs in the School of Education UNSW Sydney and Adjunct Professor in the Department of Educational Administration at the University of Saskatchewan (Canada).

In 2018 he was recognised as the Australian field leading researcher in ‘educational administration’. Scott has previously held positions at the University of Newcastle (School of Education), Australian Catholic University (School of Educational Leadership | Centre for Creative and Authentic Leadership), the New South Wales Department of Education (teacher | assistant principal), and is a Fellow of the Australian Council for Educational Leaders.

He is widely published with research interests and contributions falling into three areas:

  1. school leadership theory and research;
  2. leadership preparation and development; and
  3. strategy in educational leadership.

Current projects include a three-year Australian Research Council funded study on school autonomy and social justice; a four-year NSW Department of Education funded project of regional secondary school consolidation reforms; and ongoing work on the ‘cult of the guru’ in educational leadership.

Further information about Scott’s work can be found at and you can connect with him on Twitter through @ScottEacott

Jess HollowayDr Jessica Holloway is an Australian Research Council DECRA Fellow within the Research for Educational Impact (REDI) Centre at Deakin University. Her DECRA project, which was awarded $416,867 over three years and entitled ‘The Role of Teacher Expertise, Authority and Professionalism in Education’ investigates the role of education in modern democratic societies, with a particular focus on teachers and teacher expertise. Prior to earning her PhD in Educational Policy and Evaluation at Arizona State University in 2014, Jessica was a middle grades and high school English teacher for six years in the USA. She has also taught a number of undergraduate and graduate-level courses for pre-service teachers and principals at Arizona State University and Kansas State University. She has spent the past six years studying and writing extensively about teacher accountability and evaluation in the USA, United Kingdom and Australia. Her work has appeared in journals such as the Journal of Educational PolicyDiscourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, and Critical Studies in Education. She is currently writing a book called Metrics, Standards and Alignment in Teacher Policy: Critiquing Fundamentalism and Imagining Pluralism with Springer.

John Yandell

John Yandell taught in inner London secondary schools for twenty years before moving to the Institute of Education, University College London, where he has worked since 2003.

As a teacher and a teacher educator, he has written extensively on policy and pedagogy, curriculum and assessment, particularly in relation to English as a school subject. He has a longstanding interest in school students as active and collaborative makers of meaning, and a commitment to investigating and representing classrooms as complex sites of cultural production.

He is the editor of the journal, Changing English: Studies in Culture and Educationand the author ofThe Social Construction of Meaning: reading literature in urban English classrooms(Routledge, 2013). Other recent publications include Rethinking Education: whose knowledge is it anyway?(with Adam Unwin, New Internationalist, 2016), andCritical Practice in Teacher Education: a study of professional learning, which he co-edited with Ruth Heilbronn.