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A school principal or head teacher(also known as headteacher[1], head master, head mistress or the head) is the most senior teacher and leader of a school.

In Scotland such officials are sometimes known as the "rector", most commonly in independent schools. In North America and Ireland (including Northern Ireland) such officials are usually known as the "school principal" but the term "headmaster" or "Head Master" may be used in some schools.


The terms "headmaster" and "headmistress" used to be the standard throughout both the state and private sectors, with "head teacher" usually being used only to refer to them collectively. In recent years, however, it has become usual to officially use the gender-neutral term in state schools. Nevertheless, the gender-specific terms are still in common use, and may be in more formal use in some schools, particularly the remaining state grammar schools. Independent schools usually still officially use the gender-specific terms. Some use other terms, such as "high master".

Independent schools frequently use other titles for officials under the head teacher.

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

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

"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.[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 in charge of one (in the case of a major subject) or multiple (often in smaller schools) specific departments, such as English, Maths, Science etc al, 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

Most schools usually also have between 1 and 3 deputy heads (occasionally "depute-head" in Scotland) and several assistant heads, who act as assistants or subordinates to the head teacher. Commonly, a state school will have between two and six assistant head teachers (AHTs). Each AHT is normally in charge of a specific area of the school, such as administration, staff appraisal, first year, sixth form, discipline etc. Normally, AHTs have only a small teaching role within the school.[citation needed]. The difference between Deputy and Assistant heads is, the former are legally allowed to run a school (as well as being 2nd in command) whereas Assistant heads are not.

A state primary school will usually have a single deputy head, although they may sometimes be replaced by two assistant heads. In some larger primary schools (over 500 pupils), there may be two deputy heads or a mixture of deputy head and assistant heads. In primary schools deputy heads tend to be class based with some non-contact time to carry out leadership or management roles although in some primary schools the deputy head may not have a full time teaching role but have a range of whole school leadership responsibilities.[citation needed]

Principal Teacher

In Scotland the post of Principal Teacher (PT) is held by the third most senior teacher in a Primary School whose job it is to oversee a certain aspect of the schools organisation 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.

United States

In 1999, there were about 129,000 "principals" in the United States.[2]


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 many US schools, however, student discipline is the vice-principal's responsibility, and broader school decisions are the duty of the principal.


In larger schools the principal is assisted by one or more "vice-principals", assistant 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 or curriculum, whereas the principal has the ultimate responsibility for the school as a whole.

See also

  • Rector
  • Schoolmaster


External links

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