The federal government wants a quarter of public schools to have more independence but critics say there’s no evidence to back the plan’s claimed benefits.

School’s back and the federal government wants principals to think about having a bigger say in how they operate.

It has put $70 million on the desk to help 1500 state schools become independent public schools within the next three years.

Education Minister Christopher Pyne says principals, helped by local school boards, will have more say on which teachers they hire, the subjects they teach and in what area they want to specialise.

“The more a principal and his or her leadership team have control over the destiny of their own school, the more that seems to lift the school performance,” he told reporters on Monday.

He wants every government school to become independent eventually.

Critics say there is no evidence to show the change would help students.

Save Our Schools convenor Trevor Cobbold says international reports show increased autonomy over curriculum and assessment is what gives students the best chance, not allowing principals to hire and fire or control their budgets.

He accused Mr Pyne of “a cavalier disregard of evidence”, saying the overwhelming assessment of similar schemes internationally is they had little to no effect on student achievement.

The Australian Education Union believes the move towards principal autonomy is worse than doing nothing.

“Christopher Pyne is actively pulling apart our public education system,” deputy president Correna Haythorpe said in a statement.

Mr Pyne said all states and territories except South Australia, which is in election mode, had signed on to the initiative.

WA and Queensland have independent public school programs in place, while Victorian schools have had a high level of autonomy since the 1990s.

A spokeswoman for ACT Education Minister Joy Burch told AAP the territory was interested but wanted to see more detail before committing.

The Northern Territory is understood to be on board.

But NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli says his state already has the right balance between giving schools local authority and maintaining the collaborative benefits of centralisation.

“While we strongly support devolving authority to local schools, we have no plans to move further towards wholesale autonomy,” he said in a statement.

The $70 million fund works out to almost $47,000 a school, roughly in line with transition grants available in WA and Queensland, which have such programs.

Those states also give independent public schools $50,000 a year to help cover the extra administrative burden.

It’s unclear whether similar recurrent funding will be available to schools in other states that get federal money.

Asked to clarify, Mr Pyne’s office said states and territories would ultimately decide how much of the federal funding went to each school.

Opposition education spokeswoman Kate Ellis says the push for autonomy is cost-cutting in disguise.

“If this is a program the government really believed in, there would be ongoing funding attached to it and it would be rolled out in every public school across Australia,” she said.