You are here


Printer-friendly versionPDF version

The school principal is a key link in the successful implementation of changes in the education. The school leadership, in its influence on the pupils learning process, comes second only to the teaching in a classroom [i]. According to the data of Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education, "Management of standards in education"), there are school principals, who are also highly evaluated by a school inspectorate [ii], at the head of more than 90% of schools, having good points. The British research suggests that the effectiveness of teachers work depends on the personality of the school chief executive [iii] to larger extent. In the interview, one of the school principals of Kazakhstan schools notes: "There are executives, by whom teachers strive to be hired in a school, however, there are those from whom they run away. The qualitative composition of teachers depends on the school principal" [iv].

Professionalization of school managers became a trend in the leading countries of the world long ago. But in Kazakhstan the attention given to their development is not enough. The researches in the field of management in education are almost not conducted. To make positive changes in the executive policy of schools, it's necessary to understand who manages them and what obstacles are on their way.

The executive body of daily comprehensive schools of a country includes 6702 school principals and 520 school administrators. A share of men-managers is 43%. There are more men among managers than among ordinary teachers (19%)  (Reference: In 34 countries, which took part in an international research of a teacher body TALIS-2013, 51% of school principals and 32% of teachers are men) [v].

Selection of the management personnel of schools plays an important role in the creation of the effective educational policy. Who may pretend to a rank of the head of Kazakhstan school? When employing the school principals, the main attention is given to the educational qualification, knowledge of laws and work experience, but not to the skills, competences and abilities to manage.

Mainly the experienced teachers become the school principals of Kazakhstan schools. Thus, 63% of them have the seniority of pedagogical work of more than 20 years. Only 2% of school heads worked as teachers no  more than 5 years. Ageing of the management staff is observed. A system of renovation of the principal body is not formed. Similar situation is observed in OECD countries. Middle age of a school principal from countries-members of TALIS-2013 is 50 years old with 21 years of the seniority in teaching work. Therefore in these countries ever more attention is given to an issue of creation of a reserve of school principals and their selection.

Education is one of the executives selection criteria. 99% of executives of Kazakhstan schools have the higher education, 1% -technical and professional [vi]. At the same time the school principals, as a rule, have only pedagogical education, but not qualification in the field of educational management. In the country, special programs in the field of educational leadership are absent, with an exception of master programs in Nazarbayev University.

The programs of pedagogical specialities do not contain compulsory disciplines on the management in education. For comparison in 24 of 34 OECD countries, 89% of school principals have education in the sphere of management and leadership [vii]. A wide variety of programs where one can receive knowledge and skills in the field of educational management exists in these countries.

The experience of employment of school principals on the basis of their competences is widespread in OECD countries. In Great Britain, Australia, the Netherlands, the USA, New Zealand and Chile, the necessary competences of school executives are written in professional standards [viii].

Thus, in Australia, besides the corresponding qualification, the candidate to the position of the school principal shall possess the certain knowledge, skills and experience in accordance with the five principal criteria: leadership in the sphere of education and teaching, self-improvements and others development, leadership in innovations, leadership in the school management, effective interaction with the community [ix]. In England the professional standards are based on 3 principles: orientation on pupils, leadership and professionalism.

In Singapore, the country occupying the leading position in a world ranking of schools in 2015, the process of school principals selection is one of the strictest ones. A program of determination of leadership qualities of teachers exists in their school educational system. Annually the leading potential of all teachers is assessed. Thus, a reserve of school executives is created [x]. The pretenders for the position of school principals shall pass the selection in the Evaluation Center, having performed certain tasks on the determination of competences. The candidates having potential pass a 6-month program in the National Institute of Education. During the program passing the evaluation of potential school executives continues. They get salary when passing the courses. Annually only 35% of candidates are selected for leading positions [xi]. After the claimants are approved in the position of school principals, they pass 2 years program. The first learning year is held in the institute for training the leadership. The second year passes in the form of apprenticeship in the school. In addition, the future school executives are sent to train abroad for 6 weeks. Training is fully paid by a state. Every 5-6 years school principals move at work to other schools. It allows to put a fresh eye on the development of each school, as well as contributes to the professional development of executives [xii].  

The experience of the Netherlands in attracting business leaders to the work in the school is interesting. The training program "Managers from outside" ("Bazen van buiten") is intended for the leaders from a business sector who become executives of the primary school. At the first stage of the program, 13 participants passed the training and became school principals. OECD experts consider this initiative as very perspective [xiii].

One of the disadvantages of an educational management system in Kazakhstan is a weak support of newly assigned school principals. In the country there are no associations and unions of school principals that allow executives to share their work experience, create mutually beneficial educational projects. While the professional associations of school principals function in 31 of 34 OECD countries. Based on TALIS-2013 research results, 82% of school principals in Finland, 86% in the Netherlands, and 89% in Malaysia answered that they often interact with executives of other schools [xiv].

In the opinion of an expert in the area of professional development of school executives Judith Chapmen, the most effective way of supporting school executives is a mentorship [xv]. The most successful school principals received the support from more experienced school principals in the first years of activity  [xvi].

In Singapore, mentorship is used as a basic strategy of school principals training, each future executive is fixed to the principal-mentor. Since 2008, the Academy of principals (APS) together with the Ministry have created a mentorship program for all newly assigned executives of educational organizations. New school principals receive the support of experienced colleagues during the first year of work in the position. At present the focus of these programs has shifted from the transfer of knowledge, skills of experienced experts to less experienced, to mutual benefits for both parties [xvii].

In the USA, the National Association of Secondary School principals launched the online platform Virtual Mentor Program with the help of which one can receive an advice from the successful school principals [xviii].

One of the way to support unexperienced school principals is professional courses promoting to their development. The in-service training courses for educational organizations executives exist in Kazakhstan.  In the Center of Excellence of "Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools" AEO, the in-service training program for executives of general education organizations of the Republic of Kazakhstan, developed jointly with the Faculty of Education of Cambridge University, functions. The program combines the theoretical and practical training and lasts for 9 months. Main priorities in the executives training within the framework of the Program of school principals: self-development of the executive, development of a school, social and professional partnership.

On the basis of branches of NCPD "Orleu", JSC, the executives pass short-term courses of in-service training. In 2015, it's planned that 3300 persons pass the  in-service training courses on management issues.  In the 1st half year, 43,3% (2600) persons passed courses.

The courses for the support of school principals on issues of the introduction of updated content of education and per capita financing in schools are also conducted. Trainings for the education updating are conducted in 30 pilot schools. In 2013-2015, "Finance Center" JSC conducted teaching workshops on testing the per capita financing of the secondary education in 7 regions of Kazakhstan.

One of the issues requiring the decision is the absence of incentives for attraction and deductions of the effective school managing staff. The school principal’s average wage insignificantly differs from the teacher's wage. The base salary of the teacher having experience of more than 20 years – 50 967 tenge, principal - 72 204 tenge [xix]. Moreover, after introduction of three-level in-service training courses for teachers, the teacher's salary may be 2 times higher than the school principal’s salary (teacher's wage after passing the courses is 169 609)[xx]"After the introduction of three-level courses, nobody wants to be the school principal. It's easier to be a teacher - have less responsibility and get higher payment" - notes one of school principals. For comparison: in Great Britain the maximum monthly payment of school principal can be 2-3 times higher than teacher's one (2013-2014 academic year: principal - $134 672, teacher-$51 862).

Absence of allowances to the wage of school principals of rural and low performing schools is also one of the problems. The practice of attracting the efficient executives in weak schools exists in many countries. In France and New Zealand the principals of weak schools receive allowances to the wage [xxi].

The Talented Leaders program exists in Great Britain since 2014. Experienced, successful school principals are involved in work of problematic schools. They are supported by means of mentorship and coaching programs, encouraged by allowances to the wage and the provision of grants in the amount of more than $76 000 for the improvement of a school and the development of leading capacity in the school [xx].

In Australia, experienced principals are attracted to work in schools with children having poor progress. They receive the allowance to the annual salary in the amount of $28 700, and reaching certain results they receive a grant in the amount from $24 000 to $57 000 per year for the school. Resources can be aimed at the professional development of teachers, acquisition of educational programs and improvement of physical infrastructure [xxiii].

It is necessary to create nonfinancial incentives for Kazakhstan school executives. In Russia, for example, to increase the status and attractiveness of the speciality of a school principal, the competition "School principal" is held annually, since 2010 [xxiv]. A similar competition is held among school principals of 50 states by the National Association of Secondary School principals in USA.

In the highly effective educational systems, executives devote around 80% of their time to the work on improvement of the learning, motivation issues and professional development of teachers. Their work is focused on the management of a learning process, but not on the administration of schools [xxv]. In OECD countries, the principals are spending 41% of the time for solving the administrative issues, the rest of the time – for issues of learning and teaching [xxvi].

And in Kazakhstan, a research on autonomy in the system of secondary education of Nazarbayev University testifies that 60-70% of the school principal’s working time are spent for solving the administrative issues. They are more economic executives than administrators of teaching and educational process [xxvii]. Whereby the administrators speak about the lack of knowledge in the issues of accounting, law, state procurements, and consider that trainings on these issues are necessary. "We shall be educators–teachers №1, lawyers, accountants, organizers in one person" – notes school principals in the interview [xxviii] .

Contrary to the teachers evaluation procedure, the school principals certification is at the initial stage of the development in Kazakhstan (once in three years according to the legislation).   Formal criteria of the school principals certification are not established, therefore a procedure is actually conducted by the consideration of pupils progress (an average score for UNT, results of Olympics) and on the basis of annual reports on the professional development of teachers. Many school principals note «formality» of conducting the certification. The results of certification do not influence the wage of school principals and their career growth.

In New Zealand the professional standards of a school principal serve not only for their selection, but also for the evaluation of activity. Compliance with specific standards is associated with the professional development and increase of the school principals wage. In England, compliance with standards allows the school administrator to become a coach, mentor for other school principals of organizations of the secondary education [xxix].

The forthcoming reforms in education: introduction of 12-years education, renovation of the content of education, per capita funding, increasing level of autonomy of schools suppose that a large share of responsibility will be borne by school executives. OECD experts note that the school principals can become the weakest link in the implementation of reforms without corresponding support  [xxx]. In this regard for the development of a powerful body of school leaders in Kazakhstan the following series of measures should be taken:

·         Including of school executives training in the masters program;

·         Development and introduction of training programs on the leadership into pedagogical specialities;

·         Development of an integrated set of criteria for hiring school principals based on the best international experience;

·         Creation and training of the reserve of management personnel;

·         Creation of a professional association of school principals;

·       Development of a new system of compulsory professional development for school principals in the management and leadership field;

·      Development and introduction of rewards and incentives for school principals in accordance with the stages and elements of a new system of the mandatory in-service training.

[i]  NCSL, Seven Strong Claims about Successful School Leadership (2006).

[ii] Ofsted, School Inspection Data (20012/2013).

[iii] Andy Buck (2014). Teaching Schools: the story so far.

[iv] For the preparation of this article, 42 interviews with school principals of Kazakhstan schools were conducted

[v] OECD (2014), TALIS 2013 Results: an international Perspective on Teaching and learning, oecd Publishing.

[vi] Data of National Educational Database for 2014.

[vii] OECD (2014), TALIS 2013 Results: an international Perspective on Teaching and learning, oecd Publishing.

[viii] Centre of Study for Policies and Practices in Education (CEPPE), Chile (2013), “Learning Standards, Teaching Standards and Standards for School Principals: A Comparative Study”, OECD Education Working Papers, No. 99, OECD Publishing.

[ix] State Government Victoria. Development of Education & Training. Human Resources. Principal Selection. 2015.

[x] The Center for International Understanding (2008). “Learning from Singapore”.

[xi] McKinsey & Company. How the world’s best-performing school systems come out on top (2007)

[xii] The Center for International Understanding (2008). “Learning from Singapore”.

[xiii] Beatriz Pont, Deborah Nusche, Hunter Moorman. (OECD). Improving School Leadership VOLUME 1: POLICY AND PRACTICE (2007)

[xiv]OECD (2014), TALIS 2013 Results: an international Perspective on Teaching and learning, oecd Publishing.

[xv] Judith Chapman. Recruitment, retention, and development of school principals. International Academy of Education


[xvii] OECD/The World Bank (2015), OECD Reviews of School Resources: Kazakhstan 2015, OECD Reviews of School Resources, OECD Publishing, Paris.

[xviii] Judith Chapman. Recruitment, retention, and development of school principals. International Academy of Education

[xix] OECD (2014), Reviews of National Policies for Education: Secondary Education in Kazakhstan, OECD Publishing.

[xx] Ibidem.

[xxi] Ibidem.




[xxv] Mourshed, M., Chijioke, C. and Barber, M. (2010) How the world’s most improved school systems keep getting better, London: McKinsey & Company.

[xxvi] OECD (2014), TALIS 2013 Results: an international Perspective on Teaching and learning, oecd Publishing.

[xxvii] Omarbekova A. К. (2015) Autonomy in a system of the secondary education: independence and accountability of comprehensive schools in Kazakhstan. HSE. Educational questions №2. DOI: 10.17323/1814-9545-2015-2-152-172

[xxviii] For the preparation of this article, 42 interviews with school principals of Kazakhstan schools were conducted

[xxix] Centre of Study for Policies and Practices in Education (CEPPE), Chile (2013), “Learning Standards, Teaching Standards and Standards for School Principals: A Comparative Study”, OECD Education Working Papers, No. 99, OECD Publishing.

[xxx] OECD (2014), Reviews of National Policies for Education: Secondary Education in Kazakhstan, OECD Publishing.

Chief Analyst, Department for Secondary Education development