ACT principals are some of the keenest proponents of school autonomy in the country, despite other states starting to warm to the idea, local education experts say.

The heads of the ACT Education Directorate and ACT Principals Association believe support for the concept across the territory is now verging on 100 per cent.

Education director-general Jim Watterston said at least 23 of the capital's 84 schools would exercise autonomy powers this year, 40 more had applied and many more were keen to make the move. ''I spoke to a lot of schools during the phase two applications for autonomy this year and of those who did not formally apply, I know a lot were keen but did not feel ready and didn't apply because they knew it was a competitive process,'' he said. ''My view is that the overwhelming majority of principals in ACT schools want this.''

His comments follow the Federal Government's Staff in Australia's School Survey, which showed at least a third of government school principals wanted greater authority to recruit and dismiss staff, and determine their school's staffing profile.

The survey found government schools were least likely to report having ''extensive authority'' in staffing decisions and were more likely to indicate they'd like greater authority in the future.

Independent and Catholic schools indicated a comparatively high level of authority already and hence were less likely to demand more in the future.

Government principals placed dismissal powers highest on the priority list, with 44.3 per cent of primary principals wanting more sway in this area and 51.3 per cent of secondary principals.

Despite this, only 13.4 per cent of primary principals and 27.8 per cent of secondary principals thought having the power to review teacher performance was as important.

The Australian Council for Educational Research said 789 (4percent) of the 17,045 teachers who responded to the survey were principals.

ACT Principals Association co-president Michael Battenally said the ability to dismiss staff was as essential to running a school efficiently as it was to running any other business.

Australian Education Union ACT branch secretary Penny Gilmour said it would be a great loss to the public education system if principals could arbitrarily fire teachers without any protocols to abide by. Mr Watterston agreed and said the media placed too much emphasis on firing powers.

School autonomy was introduced to eight schools last year and will be extended to a further 15 this year.

The new schools to exercise autonomy this year are: Ngunnawal Primary, Kingsford Smith School, Hawker College, UC High School Kaleen, UC College Lake Ginninderra, Melba Copland Secondary School, Canberra High, Lanyon High, Erindale College, Isabella Plains Early Childhood School, Yarralumla Primary, Red Hill Primary, Telopea Park School, Malkara School and Canberra College.

At a glance

  • Independent and Catholic school principals most likely to report authority in staffing decisions.

  • A third of government school principals want greater autonomy.

  • Dismissal powers (44 to 51 per cent) and right to determine staff profile (39 to 54 per cent) key priorities for government primary and secondary principals.

  • Financially rewarding high performers a key priority for Catholic (28.6 per cent) and Independent (16.4 per cent) secondary principals.

    This reporter is on Twitter: @breanna_tucker