headmistress n : a woman headmaster
- principal (US, gender-neutral)
female head teacher
- Bosnian: ravnateljica
- Croatian: ravnateljica
- Finnish: rehtori
- Serbian: ravnateljica
A head teacher, headmaster or headmistress (all often referred to simply as the head) is the most senior teacher in a school in the United Kingdom and elsewhere.
In Scotland such officials are sometimes known as the "rector", most commonly in independent schools. In North America and Ireland (including Northern Ireland) such officials are usually known as the "school principal" but the term "headmaster" or "Head Master" may be used in some schools. Some American public schools, such as Boston Latin School and Milpitas High School also use the term "headmaster" either because of its history or historical connections.
The terms "headmaster" and "headmistress" used to be the standard throughout both the state and private sectors, with "head teacher" usually being used only to refer to them collectively. In recent years, however, it has become usual to officially use the gender-neutral term in state schools. Nevertheless, the gender-specific terms are still in common use, and may be in more formal use in some schools, particularly the remaining state grammar schools. Independent schools usually still officially use the gender-specific terms. Some use other terms, such as "high master".
While some head teachers still retain some teaching responsibility, other than in very small schools, most of their duties are managerial and pastoral.
Most schools usually also have between 1 and 3 deputy heads (occasionally "depute-head" in Scotland) and several assistant heads, who act as assistants or subordinates to the head teacher. Commonly, a state school will have between two and six assistant head teachers (AHTs). Each AHT is normally in charge of a specific area of the school, such as administration, staff appraisal, first year, sixth form, discipline etc. Normally, AHTs have only a small teaching role within the school.. The difference between Deputy and Assistant heads is, the former are legally allowed to run a school (as well as being 2nd in command) whereas Assistant heads are not.
A state primary school will usually have a single deputy head, although they may sometimes be replaced by two assistant heads. In some larger primary schools (over 500 pupils), there may be two deputy heads or a mixture of deputy head and assistant heads. In primary schools deputy heads tend to be class based with some non-contact time to carry out leadership or management roles although in some primary schools the deputy head may not have a full time teaching role but have a range of whole school leadership responsibilities.
In Scotland the post of Principal Teacher (PT) is held by the third most senior teacher in a Primary School whose job it is to oversee a certain aspect of the schools organisation or by the most senior teacher of a department/faculty of a high school whose job it is to run and manage that specific department/faculty.
In Australia, the Head Teacher is in charge of one (in the case of a major subject) or multiple (often in smaller schools) specific departments, such as English, Maths, Science etc al, but maintains full teaching duties and status. They are considered part of the school executive, and often a Head Teacher position is a stepping-stone into administration.
Independent schools frequently use other titles for officials under the head teacher.
The official term for the third most senior teacher in state schools (as in many independent schools) was second master or second mistress, but these terms have generally gone out of use in the state sector.
Some schools, use the terms like "Head of the Upper School", or "Head of the Middle School" to identify those people who are in charge of the division of the particular school but under the direction of the headmaster of that school.
Some famous head teachers in fiction
- M. W. B. Pemberton-Oakes (aka "the Archbeako"), the headmaster of Linbury Court School in the Jennings books by Anthony Buckeridge
- The Demon Headmaster, from the books by Gillian Cross
- Albus Dumbledore, featured in the Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling
- Headmaster Cid of Balamb Garden in Final Fantasy VIII
- Miss Trunchbull, the child-hating headmistress of Crunchem Hall Primary School in Roald Dahl's Matilda
- Dr. Grimstone, F. Anstey's depiction of the Victorian cane-wielding bully in his classic Vice Versa
- Principal Seymour Skinner, the Principal of Springfield Elementary School in The Simpsons
- Jean-Pierre Delmas in Code Lyoko (the father of Elisabeth "Sissi" Delmas)
- Wackford Squeers in "Nicholas Nickleby" (The Evil Headmaster of Dotheboys Hall in Charles Dickens' book of the same name)
- Association of School and College Leaders
- National Association of Head Teachers (England, Wales & Northern Ireland)
- Society of Headmasters and Headmistresses of Independent Schools
- Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference
- International Confederation of Principals
- Australian Secondary Principals Association
headmistress in Danish: Rektor
headmistress in Norwegian: Rektor