School selection - Principal's management style

Lynne Tan, an ex-secondary school teacher, contributed this series to provide parents another perspective to selecting a school for their child. She is currently working as a consultant in one of Singapore’s leading character development consultancy firms.

THE PROCESS of selecting the right school for your child can be a stressful exercise. We want to ensure a constructive and engaging school life for your child.

While we value the traditional emphasis of schools on academic or sports performance, we don’t want these to be the over-riding concerns to the exclusion of other aspects we also value. One of these is school culture, explored in another part of this discussion. In this part, we examine the critical role played by the chief executive officer (CEO) of the school ie the principal.

Credentials and setting pace and direction

The principal being the CEO sets the pace and direction for the school. His management style, relationship with his team and ability to motivate them will determine the quality of the students groomed. Find out the principal’s track record in turning schools into success stories, his years of teaching experience which will aid in his policy planning, his personal achievements in turning students’ around, etc.


Apart from independent schools, most principals are required to serve at least one 5-year term before any transfer to another school.  Vice-principals are different, especially those who are marked for principal-ship, for their tenure in the school is shorter primarily to gain management exposure. Knowing the principal’s length of stay with the school will give you a good indication of the duration that your child will benefit under his leadership. A principal nearing the end of his term signals a possible change of school leadership in the near future. This could mean coming uncertainty along with a potential change in ethos and management style of a new principal.

Level of engagement

A principal’s extent of ground engagement with his team is key to successful school and student management. One that is highly engaged will be able to provide you with some details about his staff and their teaching attitude, challenges as well as the testimonials for success and failures, if any.  A principal who is constantly busy with ministry matters (at the top) and is hardly available to run the school is likely to experience department heads who will have their own way of doing things or not doing anything at all.  A school that is run without common goals and system will have a definite impact on the students’ learning progress.

School selection - Grades
School selection - Culture
School selection - Teacher development