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Headmaster vs. Principal: What's the Difference?

Edited by Janet White || By Harlon Moss || Updated on November 7, 2023
A headmaster traditionally refers to the top official in a school, often private or boarding, while a principal is the leading authority in a public school.

Key Differences

The term "headmaster" is traditionally used to describe the person in charge of a private or boarding school, often imbued with a sense of tradition and authority. The "principal," on the other hand, is commonly the chief administrator of a public school, focused on policy implementation and management.
"Headmaster" often conveys a more hierarchical and sometimes gender-specific connotation, historically aligning with male leadership in education. "Principal" is a more modern, gender-neutral term, emphasizing the role as the primary leader of an educational institution.
In the context of governance, a "headmaster" may be seen as someone who carries out ceremonial duties, in addition to administrative responsibilities. A "principal" is typically seen as the lead manager of a school's day-to-day operations, including educational outcomes and staff oversight.
The title "headmaster" may also suggest a closer relationship with students and staff, in line with the pastoral care often associated with private education. "Principal" suggests a role that is more managerial, with an emphasis on educational leadership and community relations.
While a "headmaster" might be associated with elite educational institutions and may play a role in maintaining the school's prestige, a "principal" is often viewed as a public servant, working to meet educational standards and improve the school's performance.

Comparison Chart

Type of School

Often found in private or boarding schools
Usually leads public schools


Traditional, sometimes gender-specific
Modern, gender-neutral


Ceremonial and administrative duties
Management of daily operations


Closer pastoral relationship with students
More managerial and professional


Associated with elite institutions
Viewed as a public servant

Headmaster and Principal Definitions


A headmaster is the senior teacher in a school, responsible for disciplinary actions.
The headmaster handled the incident with firmness and fairness.


A principal is responsible for enforcing school policies and procedures.
The principal enforced a strict anti-bullying policy at the school.


A headmaster is the chief administrator of a private or boarding school.
The headmaster at the academy instituted a new policy for uniforms.


A principal is the chief administrator of a public educational institution.
The principal introduced a new literacy program to improve reading skills.


A headmaster may also be a figurehead, representing the school's traditions.
The headmaster gave a moving speech at the graduation ceremony.


A principal is involved in budgeting and resource allocation for the school.
The principal allocated funds for new science lab equipment.


A headmaster is often involved in curriculum planning and staff appointments.
The headmaster reviewed the new curriculum before its implementation.


A principal often plays a key role in hiring faculty and staff.
The principal interviewed several candidates for the math teacher position.


A headmaster is the presiding officer at school functions and meetings.
The headmaster presided over the annual parent-teacher meeting.


A principal may act as a liaison between the school and the community.
The principal organized a community event to showcase student projects.


A man who is the principal of a school, usually a private school.


First or highest in rank or importance.


A male school principal.


Of, relating to, or being financial principal, or a principal in a financial transaction.


Presiding officer of a school


What does a principal do?

A principal manages the administrative functions of a public school.

How is a headmaster different from a principal?

A headmaster often implies a role in a private school, while a principal typically refers to public schools.

Do headmasters teach classes?

Some might, but their primary role is administrative.

Are principals involved in teaching?

Principals usually focus on management rather than teaching.

What is a headmaster?

A headmaster is the leading official of a private or boarding school.

Can women be headmasters?

Absolutely, women can and do hold the position of headmaster.

Is the role of a principal gender-specific?

No, the term principal is gender-neutral.

Are headmasters only found in private schools?

Traditionally, yes, though some public schools may use the title.

Can a principal become a headmaster?

Yes, if they move into a role at a private or boarding school.

Can headmasters enforce school policies?

Yes, they have the authority to enforce school policies.

Do headmasters interact with parents?

Yes, they often communicate with parents regarding school matters.

Are principals involved in student discipline?

Yes, they often handle disciplinary measures.

What qualifications are needed to be a principal?

Similar to headmasters, usually an advanced degree and teaching experience.

Do principals make more than headmasters?

Salary depends on the school's location, size, and budget rather than the title.

Does a headmaster have a higher status than a principal?

Not necessarily; it's more about the type of school than status.

Who does a principal report to?

A school board or a higher-level school district administrator.

What qualifications are needed to be a headmaster?

Typically an advanced degree in education administration or related fields.

Who reports to a headmaster?

Teachers, administrative staff, and sometimes students.

Is the title of headmaster becoming less common?

Yes, some schools are replacing it with titles like 'school director' or 'principal'.

How do principals engage with the community?

They may organize events and foster relationships with local organizations.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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