Jennifer Craw JKround
by Jennifer Craw and Jackie Kraemer

This month’s Top of the Class focuses on school leadership and the important role it plays in helping top-performing education systems deliver world-leading results. The Statistic of the Month explores what qualifications a sampling of top performing systems require of prospective school leaders.


*U.S. not included, as principal qualifications are state-determined and vary widely.

Of the top performers surveyed, all except Japan and Shanghai require not just a teaching qualification and teaching experience, but also a qualification in school leadership, and some require leadership experience before candidates can enter the principal track. While Shanghai is an exception, it too highly values leadership expertise. New principals in Shanghai must participate in an induction experience that includes 300 hours of experience under a mentor and a reflective assignment. They are then awarded a professional leadership qualification.

Singapore has one of the most structured systems for determining principal eligibility. There, all prospective principals must be highly rated teachers who also served as assistant principals. Aspiring principals then participate in the Leaders in Education Program, a full-time diploma qualification program that is required for all aspiring principals and fully funded by the Ministry of Education. It lasts for six months and is run by the National Institute of Education, which is the nation’s only teacher preparation program. The National Institute of Education also runs the Management and Leadership in Schools Program, which prepares vice-principals with a 17-week program of study.

In Ontario, all aspiring principals must have five years of teaching experience and complete the Principals’ Qualifications Program, which consists of 250 hours of coursework plus a 60-hour practicum. As part of the practicum, aspiring principals design a leadership project to undertake in their placement school. In Hong Kong, an educator who wants to become a principal must complete a Preparation for Principalship Course, pass an aptitude test and write a professional development portfolio to show leadership qualities and a vision for the school. Even in Finland, though no formal leadership experience is required to be a principal, prospective principals must have a strong track record as a teacher and complete a Certificate of Education Administration from the University of Jyväskylä Institute of Educational Leaders, which runs the national Principals’ Preparation Program, a 1.5 year program designed to be completed part-time while candidates are teaching in schools

In the United States, individual states determine eligibility requirements for school principals, and these vary widely. In New Hampshire, for example, principals must have at least five years of teaching experience and a master’s degree in education leadership or in education from an approved institution. This is typical of many states. Teachers generally self-select into leadership programs and there is little screening of candidates. In addition, many states have decided to allow non-educators to become principals. In Massachusetts, three years of employment in executive management or leadership can substitute for teaching experience. Principals can attain a professional license in educational leadership on the job through the required induction program. In New Jersey, candidates from the business community, with no teaching experience or formal teaching qualifications, may become school principals as long as they have a master’s degree in management or leadership. These requirements ensure that principals have leadership skills, but not experience developing curriculum or leading instruction.

For more on what top performers do to ensure high quality school leadership, see this month’s Global Perspectives.