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D. Dou, G. Devos, M. Valcke

Ghent University (BELGIUM)
China has experienced a decentralization reform since the 1980s. Schools have been given increased autonomy to formulate budget, decide curriculum, select and dismiss teachers based on their own situations. Researchers have been making efforts to examine the effects of increased autonomy on school effectiveness and barriers blocking policy implementation. As the role of the principal becomes larger in a school autonomy context, the particular way they perceive school autonomy should be emphasized. However, less attention has been paid to this issue. This study tries to explore the principals' perception towards the school autonomy, the barriers they face and the possible strategies they apply. Based on principal interviews in 18 senior secondary schools in three cities in China, we find the arrangements and implementation of school autonomy are deeply embedded in school's idiosyncratic context. Moreover, principals reported a salient autonomy gap with regard to personnel decisions. The results also highlight the potential of school leadership to keep a good balance among conflicting demands and to convert the disadvantages under a given policy setting. Thus, improving the effectiveness and efficiency of the current policy of school autonomy through well-aimed pathways are urgently needed.