Supporters hail it as evidence that ministers are starting to trust teachers. Critics warn of a two-tier system and complain that schools in challenging circumstances are the ones which most need a loosening of Whitehall's grip.
But for schools which qualify there is another problem. Coming from a party which has turned the branding of new initiatives into an art form (see Conor Ryan, right), the tag "earned autonomy" is a major disappointment.
Schools which want to use this latest cachet to attract the aspiring middle-class parents dear to New Labour will have to come up with their own pithy slogan for the school gates. Or they could emulate Labour and pinch ideas from the Tories. "Free school" anyone?