Head teacher

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A head teacher (also known as school principal, 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, New Zealand, Hong Kong 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,[citation needed] and Milpitas High School,[dubious ][citation needed] 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.[clarification needed][citation needed]

The official term for the second 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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

"Principal" or "Head of School" is 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 title Head of School.[citation needed] 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, 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.

Deputy head


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

Australia and New Zealand

In many Australian and New Zealand 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.

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 older schools. School principals in the United States are expected to have school administrator licensure, and, often, a master's degree in educational 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. The impact of principals has also been measured in non-traditional ways. Some principals have focused their efforts on creating more inclusive schools for students with disabilities.[6]

See also


  1. See American and British English spelling differences
  2. Digest of Education Statistics 2001
  3. "Online Schools Offering Education Administration Degrees". Retrieved 12 July 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  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