1. Is the School Only as Good as Its Principal?

Is the School Only as Good as Its Principal?

Published on 02 May 2023

Dr. Nicholas Duggan

Headmaster, Repton International School


The answer to this question is not surprisingly, a resounding ‘YES’. But to what extent a good school becomes a great school depends heavily on leadership style and the fundamental philosophies and beliefs held by the Principal about education.

For example, a Principal that focuses on managing the school, will do just that. Manage. A Principal who focuses on leading learning will develop a community of learners. This is the first divide between good and great schools. It will be no surprise therefore, to learn that out of the 10 standards defined for Head Teachers in the UK, six of these build on the ‘Teacher Standards’:

    1. School Culture 
    2. Teaching
    3. Curriculum and Assessment
    4. Behaviour
    5. Additional and Special Educational Needs
    6. Professional Development
    7. Organisational Management
    8. School Improvement
    9. Working in Partnership
    10. Governance and Accountability
A good Principal will have structures in place and a comprehensive list of check boxes all successfully ticked however, a more important element in raising the level from a good, to great, is its people. Therefore, developing strong professional relationships, and building positive communities are critical to schools becoming excellent.
The best Principals engage the whole school community from parents, students, teachers and support staff and ensure everyone feels valued and listened to.  They develop professional learning communities (PLCs) which are achieved through collaboration and are recognisable by the way teachers are frequently having conversations about student learning.
If we had to choose one essential skill a Principal requires in order to develop great schools, it would have to be his or her ability to impact on the culture of a school. For example, a principal must first model the right behaviours of the school. If the school has Respect as one of its values, then a great Principal exhibits respect for all. This is the foundation stone in developing successful school culture.
Great Principals also develop school culture by establishing and sustaining the school’s ethos and strategic direction in partnership with those responsible for governance and through consultation with the school community. They create a culture where pupils experience a positive and enriching school life.
In addition, great Principals promote ambitious educational standards which prepare pupils from all backgrounds for their next phase of education and life. They promote positive and respectful relationships across the school community and a safe, orderly and inclusive environment.
A great Principal never forgets to value the teachers. He knows that good teachers make good schools but great teachers make great schools.
This means having a plan of educational excellence that includes providing staff with opportunities for achievement, responsibility, creativity and for utilising talent, abilities and interests. In order to provide staff with the motivation to take full advantage of these opportunities, they need to be valued through:
  • Teacher development and appraisal
  • By demonstrating an interest in their lives and in what they hold important
  • Creating an atmosphere of approval and cooperation
  • Ensuring every teacher feels that his/her contribution is important
And finally, a Great principal must possess emotional intelligence because only an
emotionally intelligent leader, can improve self-awareness, increase accountability, foster communication, and build trusting relationships.

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