Stellenbosch Working Paper Series No. WP01/2016

A rising number of school leadership changes have been occurring in South African schools as a large proportion of incumbent principals near retirement age. While this presents opportunities to replace weaker school principals with better performing ones, these changes may also destabilise school environments and impede on learning. This paper explores how these principal change events affect school performance in the context of South Africa using a unique administrative dataset constructed by linking payroll data on the population of public school principals to national data on schools and matriculation examination outcomes. Exploiting the panel structure of the data, a school fixed effects strategy suggests that principal changes are indeed detrimental to school performance especially when leadership changes are due to principals exiting the public education system. These results are robust to using an alternative estimation strategy proposed by Heckman, Ichimura and Todd (1997) which combines propensity score matching with a difference-in-difference estimation strategy. The paper also considers two mechanisms through which school leadership changes may impact on school performance, namely through rising promotion rates and teacher turnover.

JEL Classification:
J63, I29, J45

Principals, school leadership, principal turnover, teacher turnover, school performance