Head teacher

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A head teacher, headmaster, headmistress, head, chancellor, principal or school director (sometimes another title is used) is the staff member of a school with the greatest responsibility[1] for the management of the school.


In the past, the headmaster or headmistress of a British public 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, the holder of this position is sometimes known as the "rector"; however, usage of this term mainly applies to independent schools. The slang term "heidie" is seldom used in Scotland today, and most Scottish schoolchildren now refer to their head teacher as "the head". In North America, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Ireland (including Northern Ireland), the position holder is usually known as the "school principal", but some schools, primarily independent schools (called "private schools" in North America), use the term "headmaster" or "head master". As in Scotland, the term "rector" is still in use in the United States in private religious schools, as by tradition the head of school was also a priest. Some American state schools (called "public schools"), such as Boston Latin School, Brooklyn Latin School,[citation needed] and Milpitas High School,[citation needed] also use the term "headmaster", either because of the schools' history or historical connections.

In the UK, the terms "headmaster" and "headmistress" used to be the formal titles in most state schools as well as 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 commonly used in day-to-day speech and are still the official titles at some of the remaining state grammar schools and most private schools. Some use other terms, such as "high master". In South Africa, independent schools and the majority of state schools use the gender-specific terms "headmaster" and "headmistress" when addressing their head teachers.

"Principal" is often used as the title of the head administrator of an elementary school, middle school, or high school or boarding school in some English-speaking countries, including the United States, India, Australia and New Zealand. Public schools in the United States generally use the title "principal" whereas private schools in the United States sometimes use the titles headmaster, headmistress, director, or head of school.[citation needed]


While some head teachers still do some teaching themselves, in most larger schools, most of their duties are managerial and pastoral. They are often used to discipline misbehaving students, help organize school sponsored activities and department heads report to them.

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, history, 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.

Executive head[edit]

Deputy head[edit]


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[edit]

Australia and New Zealand[edit]

In many Australian and New Zealand schools, a headmaster/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.

United States[edit]

In 1999, there were about 133,000 principals and assistant principals in the United States.[2] In the early decades of public education[clarification needed], the full title was "principal teacher", which accounts for the present day title having an adjectival form, essentially being a shortened version of the original full title. Yet the terms head(master/mistress) and head of school are still used in older schools.

School principals in the United States are sometimes required to have school administrator licensing, and, often, a master's degree in educational administration.[3][4]

Impact of school principals[edit]

While there has been considerable anecdotal discussion about the importance of school principals, there has been very little systematic research into their impact on student outcomes. Recent analysis in the United States has examined how the gains in student achievement at 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. Such research in the state of Texas found that principals have a very large impact on student achievement.[5] Effective school principals have been shown to significantly improve the performance of all students at the school, at least in part through their impacts on selection and retention of good teachers. Ineffective principals 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. The impact of principals has also been measured in non-traditional ways.[clarification needed] Some principals have focused their efforts on creating more inclusive schools for students with disabilities.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "High School Principal: Job Description and Career Information". Study.com. Retrieved 2019-04-02.
  2. ^ Digest of Education Statistics 2001
  3. ^ "Online Schools Offering Education Administration Degrees". Retrieved 12 July 2013.
  4. ^ Kate Rousmaniere, The Principal's Office: A Social History of the American School Principal (State University of New York Press; 2013) 197 pages
  5. ^ Gregory Branch, Eric Hanushek, and Steven G. Rivkin, "School Leaders Matter: Measuring the impact of effective principals," ‘’Education Next’’ 13(1), Winter 2013.[1]
  6. ^ DeMatthews, D. E., & Mawhinney, H. B. (2014). Social Justice Leadership and Inclusion: Exploring Challenges in an Urban District Struggling to Address Inequities. Educational Administration Quarterly. http://eaq.sagepub.com/content/early/2014/01/06/0013161X13514440.full

External links[edit]