How to become a school principal

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Begin your career as a school principal

The career path to become a school principal isn’t a straightforward one. It requires several levels of qualification (first, you need to become a teacher!), experience, soft skills and of course, time.

School principal job ads usually require at least two years of teaching experience. In reality, most principals take at least eight years and usually more, to reach their position.

The good news is, the number of principal roles is forecasted to grow 11.5% between 2021 and 2026—this translates into the creation of 2,600 more jobs. Here’s how you can gain the necessary qualifications to become a school principal. (Already a teacher? Skip ahead to step no. 6.)

  1. Complete a bachelor degree in primary or secondary education. If you’re keen on studying online, have a look at these options. 

    Want to test the waters to see if education is for you before committing to a longer-term qualification? Try an undergraduate certificate or diploma, both of which could help you step into a degree later. You could even start with a short course or single subject.

  2. Head straight for a postgraduate course in primary teaching or secondary teaching instead if you already have a degree in an unrelated field. As always, you can trial the field by signing up for a graduate certificate or graduate diploma first.

  3. Once you graduate, register with your local teaching regulatory authority.

  4. Teach while continuing your professional development and actively seek opportunities that will help you to segue into head of year level or head of department roles.

  5. Look at further postgraduate study in educational leadership or administration. This can be a strong indication to future employers of your intentions to become a successful school principal. This can be at a masters or PhD level, it’s up to you.

  6. If you choose to do a masters, you’ll want to look out for degrees with titles like ‘Master of Education’ or ‘Master of Educational Leadership’, such as these online options, instead of degrees titled ‘Master of Teaching’, which are meant for those wanting to qualify as classroom teachers.

What is a school principal?

The leader of a school, also commonly called a headmaster or headmistress, or school director. School principals are the CEOs of secondary or primary schools, and are instrumental in creating a culture that motivates teachers to innovate and improve on their performance, thereby positively impacting student outcomes.

What does a school principal do?

Like a CEO, the role of a school principal is to strategise on ways to continuously improve processes as well as teaching and learning methods. A good principal should cultivate an environment that empowers teachers and students, promoting communication, accountability, emotional intelligence and a good work ethic.

Duties and tasks

  • Modelling collaborative leadership; engaging with parents, other schools and the wider community
  • Managing the school’s budget and administration
  • Recruiting, training and managing teachers
  • Working in conjunction with the school council to develop or finetune policies and procedures
  • Creating processes to monitor student enrolment and performance then interpreting data into strategies for improvement
  • Representing the school to the public
  • Creating a standard disciplinary code and enforcing it within the school
  • Planning and overseeing curriculum that meets the standards set by educational authorities

Must-have skills for school principals

  • Leadership
  • Learning strategies
  • Decision-making
  • Communication
  • Active listening
  • Critical thinking
  • Problem-solving
  • Negotiation
  • Conflict management
  • Emotional intelligence

A school principal's salary

In Australia, a private school principal may earn a significantly higher salary than that of a state school principal. However, the average salary range is as follows:
Type of school  Amount
Primary school and secondary school salaries Currently, $145,000-$165,000/year on average, with early-career principals earning around $125,000/year and experienced principals taking home up to $185,000/year. Source: Seek.

Contrary to what many think, state secondary school principals do not earn more than state primary school principals. (It’s unclear whether this is true for private schools.) In state schools, salary is determined by the school’s operating budget—bigger budgets mean more complex work, therefore, more pay.

According to the Victorian Department of Education, the salary range for state school principals will rise to between $156,000-$238,676/year by 2025.

Industry bodies

  • Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER)
  • Australian Secondary Principals’ Association (ASPA)
  • Australian Primary Principals Association (APPA)
  • Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia (AHISA)

Discover related degrees

Postgraduate SCU-EDU-GCE

Graduate Certificate in Education

Postgraduate ACU-ELD-MAS

Master of Educational Leadership

Postgraduate FLI-LED-MAS

Master of Leadership in Education

Available majors

  • Specialisation

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