Preparing future leaders

Are aspiring school principals well prepared for this challenging role?

AITSL makes five major recommendations for preparing future school leaders:


Take a systematic, standards-based and coherent approach

To be effective, principal preparation must be systematic and coherent, based on clearly articulated professional standards.

It should include the following elements:

  • a thorough appreciation of leadership demographics and trends
  • clear and shared understandings of the principal role, underpinned by professional standards
  • a focus on the attractiveness of the principal role so that teachers are eager to make the move into leadership
  • responsibility for identifying and preparing future leaders shared between employers, system leaders and the profession
  • structured professional development opportunities for aspiring principals that focus on leadership abilities.

Identify and nurture talent

In the best approaches to principal preparation, potential leaders are identified early in their careers and given a range of opportunities to develop their leadership skills.

Successful succession planning requires:

  • structured, transparent career pathways
  • clear selection prerequisites for promotion.

Match learning to an individual’s capabilities, career stage and context

Pathways to advancement should be clear, with professional learning appropriate to each level explicit, well understood and sustained after appointment.

To be effective, learning for aspiring leaders should occur in three broad stages:

  • developing deep and comprehensive pedagogical knowledge as the foundation for strong instructional leadership. This learning can be done relatively early in the journey to principalship as it is compatible with a teaching role
  • developing the many higher-order and interpersonal skills required by principals, including strategic thinking, change leadership, and emotional and social intelligence. This learning is best developed over time and should occur well before an aspirant takes on the role of principal
  • developing management skills. This learning is best undertaken immediately prior to assuming a principal role, as it can then be consolidated through immediate practice.

Use evidence-based adult learning techniques

Highly effective preparation programs reflect an understanding of a range of adult learning techniques that have been shown to be effective and provide a diversity of experiences over time.

They include:

  • discriminating application and selection processes matched to the learning opportunity
  • spaced delivery, blended learning and the opportunity to apply new skills and knowledge, collaborate, gain feedback and receive ongoing support
  • a degree of personalisation that takes into account the needs, career stage and context of the individual
  • an emphasis on learning from experts and practitioners
  • recognition for the learning undertaken.

Evaluate programs for impact

It is critical to engage in rigorous evaluation for purposes of accountability and improvement.

Principal preparation evaluations should:

  • provide evidence of participant readiness for the role
  • measure impact upon take-up of role
  • demonstrate growth in the number of well-prepared aspirants available to take up future vacancies.

The above recommendations feature in the following report

Preparing future leaders: Effective preparation for aspiring school principals [1.0mb PDF]

Preparing future leaders: Effective preparation for aspiring school principals

This report is based on the following research

cover imageEnvironmental Scan: Principal Preparation Programs [0.7mb PDF]

This report outlines the current principal preparation programs offered in Australia and identifies successful features.
> Print version

cover imageAspiring Principal Preparation [0.6mb PDF]

This report explores effective leadership development based on practices in Australia and around the world.

Quick look fact sheet

Fact Sheet [0.4mb PDF]

Relevant facts and figures about principal preparation are collated here.

“All principal preparation programs need to be totally aligned to the Standard* so that new and aspiring principals are reflecting on practice and moving towards leadership.”

Participant, AITSL Focus Group of the Profession

*Australian Professional Standard for Principals

“Principals play an important role in collaborating with systems to identify talent and build capacity.”

System leader, Qld

“The quality of training principals receive before they assume their positions, and the continuing professional development they get once they are hired and throughout their careers, has a lot to do with whether school leaders can meet the increasingly tough expectations of these jobs.”

Darling-Hammond et al., 2007