Are we selecting our principals appropriately?

August 2015

Research shows that effective school leadership can account for a quarter of student learning outcomes (Leithwood, et al., 2004). Yet, in most government school systems, in India, teachers are automatically promoted to the position of principal based on seniority, and not aptitude. Recognising principals’ critical role, there is a need to shift from seniority-based to merit-based selection, so that we get the best and brightest in these roles.  In addition, we need to explicitly define the roles and responsibilities of the principals, build their capacity to move beyond administrative functions to larger leadership roles, and invest in their continuing professional development.


Innovative principal selection approach in Gujarat – Head Teacher Aptitude Test (HTAT)

Gujarat has been one of the first states to institute a policy that favours merit over seniority in its school principal selection process. In order to bring in and support principals who have the aptitude and desire to be in the position, the state has implemented the Head Teacher Aptitude Test (HTAT), as well as initiated reforms in their training and capacity building.

The Government of Gujarat (GoG) introduced the HTAT in 2012 for the selection of principals in the state’s government primary and upper primary schools. Principals are appointed on the basis of their performance on the HTAT, academic qualifications, and years of teaching experience. HTAT evaluates principal candidates for their knowledge in the areas of administrative management, education policy, pedagogical concepts as well as issues related to current affairs and primary school syllabus.


Process for school principal selection


Benefits of Government of Gujarat’s principal selection process


Definition of roles and responsibilities Gujarat has clearly defined the role’s expectations for cadre of new principals.
Promotion and Direct Recruitment Merit-based selection through the two routes of promotion and direct recruitment in the ratio of 1:1 ensures that motivated and meritorious candidates at different stages of their career receive an equal chance based on merit.
Transparent recruitment process The entire application, selection and placement system is conducted online and in a transparent manner, removing margin for manipulation.
Phased Recruitment Schools with higher student strength are given preference in recruitment of principals.
Training Gujarat has supplemented the selection process by designing an 18 day induction training programme for newly recruited principals.


Learning from other countries on school leader selection and training

Good education systems carefully select and invest in school leaders. Over time, countries such as China, Brazil, United Kingdom, Singapore and the United States have recognised the importance of school leaders in driving education reforms. While they have carefully invested in selecting principals on merit, they have also taken steps to provide them with the requisite autonomy to effectively lead their schools.

In the United Kingdom, those interested in school leadership are required to a take a National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH). The three essential modules covered under NPQH are:

  • Succeeding in headship
  • Leading an effective school
  • Leading and improving teaching

Singapore continuously assesses its young teachers for their leadership potential through the following:

  • Assuming educational leadership positions as part of teaching-career structure
  • Serving on committees and promotions to mid-level leadership positions such as head of department
  • Selecting potential school leaders to attend a Management and Leadership Programme in schools followed by a four-month executive leadership training programme.

Central Square Foundation is engaging with state governments to help them develop their school leadership frameworks. We have prepared a detailed note on merit-based selection of headmasters using national and international models as case studies. This can be accessed at Policy Briefs

For any queries or support, please reach out to

This note uses the terms school leader, principal, head teacher and headmaster interchangeably to indicate a person in a school leadership/ school headship role.