Stellenbosch Working Paper Series No. WP12.2015

Publication date: 2015

In the past decade there has been a notable shift in South African education policy that raises the value of school leadership as a lever for learning improvements. Despite a growing discourse on school leadership, there has been a lack of empirical-based evidence on principals to inform, validate or debate the efficacy of proposed policies in raising the calibre of school principals. In response, this paper profiles the labour market for school principals in South Africa, highlighting its overarching characteristics with implications for principal policy reforms. A defining feature of this market is that principals are unequally distributed across schools with typically less qualified and less experienced principals overly represented in poorer schools. In part, the patterns of unequal principal sorting across schools are attributable to historically imposed policies that matched teachers and principals to schools along racial lines. However initial matching of new principals to schools continues to persist in line with historical patterns. In a context of low levels of principal mobility and high tenure, policies should be aimed at improving the initial match of principals to schools while developing incumbent principals over their length of tenure. Moreover improving the design and implementation of policies guiding the appointment process for principals is a matter of urgency. A substantial and increasing number of principal replacements are taking place across South African schools given a rising age profile of school principals. Selection criteria need to be amended to identify relevant expertise and skills, rather than relying on observed principal credentials in payroll which are shown to be poor signals of principal quality in school fixed effects estimations.

JEL Classification:
J45, J63, J26, I28

Principal labour market, Principal turnover, Principal appointments, School performance, Retirement, South Africa