A “three-legged model”: (De)constructing school autonomy, accountability, and innovation in the Italian National Evaluation System

The widespread adoption of school autonomy with accountability reforms in education has generated debate regarding the relationship between autonomy, innovation and accountability. While at the policy design level, these three elements are highly related, several authors highlight the contradictions among them. By analyzing key documents and interviews, this paper aims to identify the program ontology behind the current Italian National Evaluation System (SNV), with a focus on the way in which autonomy, accountability and innovation have been conceptualized and linked together. The paper also aims to explore whether pitfalls and/or tensions exist that might hamper the achievement of the SNV goals. The findings highlight the peculiarities of the Italian autonomy with accountability system, which has resulted from the involvement of different stakeholders in the design and implementation of the reforms. The findings also reveal contradictions regarding some of its premises. Various rationales (improvement, efficiency, equity and transparency) emerge that seem to have acted as drivers of the reforms, however, the influence of globalizing discourses on international competition and the benefits of datafication also appears significant. A number of contextual aspects are finally considered which hamper the expected change mechanisms, highlighting the discontinuous ground in which such policy dispositifs operate.