Organizing the education system: central versus decentral models

03 May 2023 8 min. read
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All over the world, governments apply different approaches to organize and deliver their education system. While education systems can vary across dozens of design principles, at the two ends of the spectrum are a central and a decentral model. Experts from Strategic Gears walk through the two models and their key benefits and challenges.

A school education system, in simplest terms, is everything that goes into educating school students from the ministry of education level (or equivalent) to the school level. This includes laws, policies, regulations, public funding, resource allocation, procedures, logistics, human resources, curriculum & pedagogy.

Organizing this system can be done in a range of ways, with two extremes: centralization and decentralization. Each model has unique traits, benefits, and drawbacks that set them apart from one another.

Organizing the education system: central versus decentral models

The decision as to how the school education system is organized has an impact on the entire chain of activities, from how education is financed and delivered, through to operational activities such as education delivery and personnel management.

Based on our analysis of educational systems worldwide, at Strategic Gears we break down the education value chain into six main dimensions. The approach chosen for the education system has an impact on the mechanics of each of these dimensions.

Organizing the education system: central versus decentral models


This is the state in which a centralized entity, rather than the local community, has full administrative control over education. All resources, including money, knowledge, people, and technology, are entirely under the control of one single organization. This centralized entity is responsible for setting curricula, hiring staff, constructing educational buildings, managing budgets and others.

When an educational system is centralized, upper levels of management are given the responsibility for making decisions, while lower levels of management are given control for implementation and operational issues. For example, choices on the curriculum are standardized, made at the ministry.

Strengths of centralization

Planning and development get more integrated.

Shared utilization of assets.

Centralized decisions result in standardized policies and procedures that are uniform and followed throughout the educational organizational structure with the aim of making coordination easier.

Uniformity of action, where the educational organizational structure wishes all operative units to do certain things in the same manner. Centralization of appropriate decision-making can bring on such uniformity.

Top management personnel are experienced and have a broad view of the educational organizational structure which ensures high-quality decisions. They frequently make mature judgments with the educational system’s best interests in mind.

In emergency situations, decision-making works fast since no authorization is required to act.

Centralized decision-making makes the power structure simple to understand. There is no ambiguity or conflict regarding decision-making power within the educational organizational structure.

Challenges of centralization

Schools lack the autonomy to ensure, for example, what curriculum best fits the students.

Due to work overload, top-level managers are constantly making decisions and are unable to focus on key tasks and issues.

Because of the centralization of power, top-level roles will have a heavy workload, necessitating the hiring of more staff, which might eventually lead to an imbalance in the educational organizational structure.

Top management personnel determine how to put all the decisions into action. Others are expected to only follow instructions. Individual efforts are constrained by this technique, which also prevents the development of a second chain of command inside the educational organizational structure.

In the event of an emergency, decisions coming from top-levels may be too late to implement. The unavailability of top management may also leave schools without a decision when urgently needed.

Since top management may not be aware of all aspects happening on the ground, their decisions may not necessarily address the needs required.

In a centralized school staff evaluation system, evaluators’ experience and relevance to whom they are evaluating could be minimal which could affect the quality of evaluations and actual performance.


Decentralization relates to how much power has been delegated to schools at an individual level. Decentralization has three forms: deconcentrating, delegation, and devolution.

Organizing the education system: central versus decentral models

One of the most well-known forms of decentralization through devolution and delegation is School-Based Management (SBM), also known as site-based management. Under this system, individual schools are allowed to make their own decisions about their budgets and curricula, but the central entity still retains overall authority.

School-Based Management does not anticipate that governments will be fully out of the decision-making picture by making specific schools the centre of educational policy change. Public schools will always operate inside a wider administrative and policy framework that influences their daily operations

The majority of SBM projects involve a transfer of responsibility and decision-making, typically for school operations, to a group of principals, teachers, parents, and other members of the school community to speed up and improve the relevance of school-level decision-making. The “who” (the party to whom decision-making authority is delegated) and the “what” (the degree of autonomy that is devolved) are the two key areas where SBM methods differ.

Estimates show that there are more than 800 School-Based Management models in the United States alone.

Strengths of decentralization

The concerned decision-makers may make a choice right away when one is required. For the majority of the task, it is not necessary to refer to the top level. Additionally, subordinates could be more knowledgeable about regional circumstances that impact their fields of expertise and can make more informed decisions as a result.

Enables diversity in leadership approaches.

Subordinates have the opportunity to demonstrate their abilities and creativity. They could result in something that high management is unable to even see.

When exercising delegated authority, lower levels gain decision-making experience.

Lower levels of management communicate less frequently with top management, giving upper levels more time to think about long-term strategy

Resource management is more efficient since each school’s decision-makers are well-versed in its requirements.

More transparent use of resources.

Due to community involvement in administration, a more inviting and accessible educational atmosphere.

Challenges of decentralization

Strong decentralization might lead to top-level control being lost. It is possible for several organizational units to begin operating independently and in contrast with the educational system’s general interests.

Duplication of management functions in various departments/units resulting in increased costs.

Sometimes, lower-level management areunable to use their power in a dignified manner. For example, in opposition to the educational system’s goals, someone could utilize power for their own personal gain.

It can result in organizational discrepancies; for instance, it is possible that different divisions do not follow the same standard methods for the same sort of job, which can make coordination and control challenging

Lower management levels may not have the necessary knowledge, skills, and capacities in decision-making and resource management, which might result in possible failures.


Overall, centralization and decentralization management systems of education may be thought of as two extremes. In practice however, given the variety of country policies and complexity of education systems as a whole, most systems portray unique characteristics and fall somewhere between the ends.

Since there is no one-size-fits-all system, governments should consider several factors when determining the ideal setup of a country’s education system.