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Principal (school)

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Principal (school)

"Headmaster" redirects here. For the type of Transformers, see Headmaster (Transformers). For headmaster in Japanese martial arts, see soke (martial arts).
"Principal (school)" and "school principal" redirect here.

A head teacher or school principal (also known as headteacher,[1] headmaster, headmistress or the head, sometimes informally in Scots, the heidie or heedie) is the most senior teacher, leader and manager of a school. In the past, the headmaster or headmistress of a British private school was often the owner of the school or a member of the owning family, and the position often remained in the family for many generations.

In Scotland, such officials are sometimes known as the "rector", most commonly in independent schools. In North America, Australia and Ireland (including Northern Ireland), such officials are usually known as the "school principal", but some schools, primarily independent schools, use the term "headmaster" or "head master". As in Scotland, the term "rector" is still in use in the United States in independent, religious schools as by tradition, the Head of School was also a priest. Some American state schools, such as Boston Latin School, Brooklyn Latin School, and Milpitas High School,[dubious ] also use the term "headmaster", either because of its history or historical connections.

In Britain, the terms "headmaster" and "headmistress" used to be the official title throughout both state and private schools, with "head teacher" only being used as a term to refer to them collectively. In recent years, however, most state schools have switched to the gender-neutral "head teacher" as the official title. Nevertheless, the gender-specific terms are still in common use, and is still the official title at some of the remaining state grammar schools and most private schools. Some use other terms, such as "high master". Private schools frequently use other titles for officials under the head teacher.

The official term for the third most senior teacher in British state schools and many private schools was "second master" or "second mistress", but these terms have generally gone out of use in the state sector.

Some schools use terms such as "Head of the Upper School" or "Head of the Middle School" to identify those people who are in charge of a particular division of the school, but who are under the direction of the school headmaster.

"Principal" or "Head of School" is used as the title of the head administrator of an elementary school, middle school, or high school in some English-speaking countries, including the United States, India and Australia. Public schools in the United States generally use the title principal whereas private schools in the United States sometimes use the title Head of School. Books and documents relating to the early days of public education in the United States show that the title was originally Principal Teacher.


While some head teachers still retain some teaching responsibility, other than in very small schools, most of their duties are managerial and pastoral.

In Australia, the head teacher is sometimes in charge of one (in the case of a major subject) or multiple (often in smaller schools) specific departments, such as English, Maths, Science, Writing, Technology, etc., but maintains full teaching duties and status. They are considered part of the school executive, and often a head teacher position is a stepping-stone into administration.

Deputy head

Main article: Deputy head teacher


In larger schools, the principal is assisted by one or more "vice-principals", "assistant principals", "associate principals", or "deputy principals". Their position is secondary to the principal with regard to school governance. Assistant principals generally perform specific duties such as handling student discipline, curriculum, student council or student activities whereas the principal has the ultimate responsibility for the school as a whole (including faculty and staff, physical plant, etc.).

Regional information


In many Australian schools, a principal is the head administrator of a school who has been appointed to her/his position by the school board, superintendent, or other body. The principal, often in conjunction with the school board, makes the executive decisions that govern the school, as well as having the authority over the employment (and in some cases firing) of teachers. The principal is often the chief disciplinarian of the students.


In Scotland, the post of Head Teacher is held by the third most senior teacher in a Primary School, whose job it is to oversee a certain aspect of the school's organization, or by the most senior teacher of a department/faculty of a high school, whose job it is to run and manage that specific department/faculty. Head teachers in Scotland are normally in charge of all of the departments, for example in Art there will be 6 teachers and one of them will be a head of the art department, and same for mathematics, English etc. and the head teacher will be in charge of all of them together.

United States

In 1999, there were about 133,000 principals and assistant principals in the United States.[2] In the early decades of public education, the full title was "principal teacher", which accounts for the present day title having an adjectival form, essentially being a foreshortened version of the original full title. Yet the term Headmaster is still used in some schools. School principals in the United States are expected to have school administrator licensure, and, often, a master's degree in education administration.[3][4]

Impact of school leaders

While there has been considerable anecdotal discussion about the importance of school leaders, there has been very little systematic research into the impact of them on student outcomes. Recent analysis in the United States has provided evidence by looking at how the gains in student achievement for a school change after the principal changes. This outcome-based approach to measuring effectiveness of principals is very similar to the value-added modeling that has been applied to the evaluation of teachers. When this was done for principals in the state of Texas, it is found that principals have a very large impact on student achievement.[5] Effective school leaders have been shown to significantly improve the performance of all students at this school, at least in part through their impacts on selecting and retaining good teachers. Ineffective principals, however, have a similarly large negative effect on school performance, suggesting that issues of evaluation are as important for school administrators as they are for teachers.

See also


External links

  • Association of School and College Leaders
  • National Association of Head Teachers (England, Wales & Northern Ireland)
  • Society of Headmasters and Headmistresses of Independent Schools
  • Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference
  • International Confederation of Principals
  • Australian Secondary Principals Association
  • German information for Head Teachers
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