A school principal (sometimes known as a headteacher or school director), is hired to be in charge of a school.
While some principals will teach lessons, their role tends to be more about stewarding the school, providing pastoral care, ensuring education standards are met, and disciplining children who fail to act appropriately.
Principals need to have a wide range of skills and abilities to carry out their role successfully. This includes, but is not limited to, a passion for education, ambitious vision, a proven ability to lead, attention to detail, an aptitude for problem-solving, and strong interpersonal and communication skills.
With so much day-to-day responsibility, it's essential that principals are put through a thorough recruitment process before being selected to lead a school. This should include a mixture of probing interview questions and tests that will give you a better sense of the drive, vision and morals of prospective candidates.
What should a principal be able to do?
First and foremost, a principal needs to be able to lead the teachers and students at their school. This normally means finding a balance between being personable and authoritative, and demonstrating a passion for education and the needs of the individual students that make up the school.
Principals must develop and maintain the school policies and rules, and ensure the staff that they hire also uphold these same principles. They will need to act as a support system for the teachers and employees of the school, while fostering the kind of atmosphere and culture they want their school to be recognised for.
Practically speaking, tasks may include ensuring teachers have access to educational resources; reviewing the progress of the students; working with governors to allocate funding; speaking to parents, and children who may be struggling; organising events; reporting on the school's performance, and ensuring the safety of all who work and attend the school. Some principals even take an active role in teaching to ensure they stay connected with the fundamental work of the school they lead.
Overall, being a principal is a challenging, rewarding and multifaceted job that requires a great deal of skill, insight and experience.
Skills to look for in a principal
Good principals usually have a varied range of skills, including the following:
Strong writing ability: whether it's writing reports, compiling information or communicating with parents, principals are required to have strong written communication skills to get their message across.
Problem-solving skills: no two days are ever the same in a school. Principals will be faced with new challenges on a regular basis, so it's important they demonstrate an ability to think on their feet, be adaptable and ultimately come up with good solutions to problems.
Logical thinking: logical thinkers usually make good principals. This is because the key skills used in logical thinking (like coming up with solutions from limited amounts of information) are needed to run a busy and demanding institution like a school.
Microsoft Office competency: principals undertake a lot of administrative tasks such as sending emails, scheduling meetings, presenting new ideas, compiling reports and filing information. This is why prospective principals must be able to demonstrate their experience with the Office suite.
Leadership skills: not only are principals responsible for the day-to-day running of the school, but they must also inspire staff and pupils to live by the morals and ethics of the school — which means leadership skills are essential.
Useful abilities for a principal
Abilities are more inherent skills. Sometimes hard to teach, the presence of the following abilities in a candidate indicate they could be a great hire for the school:
Emotional intelligence: successful principals understand the importance of building strong relationships with staff, students, governors and parents by using their emotional intelligence and adjusting their communication style to fit the situation they're in and the audience they're communicating with.
Vision: the best principals are those that don't want to maintain the status quo, they want to build something better. Whether that's supportive pastoral care, improved educational standards, or quite simply striving to improve on all fronts.
Passion: many would call teaching a vocation, so it's imperative that principals have an obvious and inspirational passion for education.
Persuasion: principals need to be effective communicators to sell their ideas, motivate people to effect change, and garner support from governors, staff and parents.
Leading by example: it's all very well setting out a vision for a school. But staff and students need to see the morals, values and ethics they're expected to live by being embodied by their principal. The best principals truly act as an example from which everyone else can learn.
Which soft skills tests could I use to hire a principal?
Soft skills are just as important as technical ability. Assessing soft skills can provide insight that will help you to hire the best candidate possible for the job.
Leadership: being able to inspire and motivate others is an essential soft skill for a good principal. Setting a leadership test, or asking interview questions about leadership can help ensure prospective candidates have this critical skill.
Communication: principals need to be able to communicate with everyone from students and parents to staff and governors.
Accountability: good principals are accountable for their actions. They need to feel the weight of the responsibility of the role, and demonstrate that they'll learn from any mistakes to continually improve.
Problem-solving: whether it's a challenging student, restrictive budgets, educational targets or answering to governors, principals will face daily challenges that they'll need to show they can resolve quickly, efficiently and effectively.
Which technical or aptitude tests could I use to hire a principal?
Aptitude tests are one of the best tools hiring managers or recruiters have when it comes to recruiting a principal. These aptitude tests will help you to find the best person or people for the role:
Verbal reasoning: a verbal reasoning test can help you determine how strong someone's comprehension and written communication skills are.
Logical thinking: assessing how strong a prospective principal's logical thinking and problem-solving skills are is important. The added time pressure of this test will show who can keep calm and think critically when faced with limited information needed to solve problems.
Error checking: typically, principals need to demonstrate a keen eye for detail and prove that they're able to spot incorrect information on anything from reports to presentations.
Our recommended test battery for a principal
While all of the tests listed above can be helpful in helping you hire a principal, it's likely you'll only have the time and resources to use a small number. If that's the case, we'd recommend:
Verbal reasoning test: comprehension and written and verbal communication skills are so essential. This test will help you to see whether candidates have the level of experience required in this area.
Communication skills: being able to effectively talk and listen to everyone from governors to pupils is such a critical part of the role.
Problem-solving test: school principals face a range of problems daily that they need to solve quickly and efficiently. A problem-solving skill test can help you assess that.
You'll find more information on pre-employment testing for a school principal on our principal test page.