An Exploratory Study on Different Modes of Principal Succession Support Programmes and Their Impact – A Hong Kong Case Study

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Principal Investigator
Dr. Darren Bryant
Associate Director
and Research Fellow of APCLC,
The Education University of Hong Kong
Dr. Ho Sai-mun Stanley
Scholar Practitioner Fellow of APCLC,
The Education University of Hong Kong
Funding Source
APCLC Regional Research Grant
Project Duration
2019 - 2020


A much-reported challenge in schools internationally is that of potential school leaders choosing not to aspire to the principalship. This situation seems to be a product of rapid school change, intensification of school-based management and accountability measures, and increased time commitment required to do the job effectively (Caldwell, 2003, MacBeath, 2011, Walker & Kwan, 2010).

Attention to principal succession is important because effective transitioning from predecessor to successor can mitigate the known problem of initiative failure, which occurs when innovations, practices and policies fail soon after the initiating principal leaves a school (Giles, 2006). Another prominent consequence includes demoralised teachers who sense loss or abandonment (Hargreaves, 2005). Consequently, principal succession can impact negatively on school improvement trajectories, particularly when principals are hired from outside the school and assume duties with minimal information about school context and prior practice, and lacking trusting relationships with teachers (Lee, 2015). Changes in principal leadership “changes the school’s configuration of relationships, expertise, and authority” (Lee, 2015, p. 263). As such, successful principal succession is as much or more a matter of social process as it is administrative procedure. Although principals may attempt to redress succession challenges by “tapping” their own successor from within their school (Myong, Leob & Horng, 2011), successors are often hired from outside which inhibits the long-term development of identified aspiring leaders (Bengston, Zepeda and Parylo, 2013; Zepeda, Bengtson and Parylo, 2012).

In view of the continual trend of very high retirement rate of local principals in the recent years and the general lack of systematic planned principal succession support programmes in the school sector, the present study is the first exploratory study on this issue which will shed light on future improvement of policies and practices related to principal succession support at the school, SSB and system levels.  


To fill in a gap in research by developing a model of principal succession through the processes of relationship building, administrative handover and leadership development;
To tackle the common problem of unplanned failure of principal succession in many schools;
To categorize the distinct characteristics of the principal succession support programmes under study;
To document the impacts of the different kinds of programmes as perceived by the succeeding principals and the school leadership team;
To identify implications of the research findings for programme refinement and research.


Bengston, E., Zepeda, S.J., and Parylo, O., (2013). School systems’ practices of controlling socialization during principal succession: Looking through the lens of an organizational socialization theory. Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 41(2), 143–164.
Caldwell, B. (2003). A blueprint for leadership for the successful transformation of schools in the 21st Century. Keynote address at Educational Leadership in the New Millenium: From Teacher Development to School Development, Hong Kong organised by the Hong Kong Council for Educational Administration (HKCEA) and the Division of Continuing Professional Education (CPE) of the Hong Kong Institute of Education, Tai Po, Hong Kong.
Giles, C. (2006). Sustaining secondary school visions over time: Resistance, resilience and educational reform. Journal of Educational Change, 7, 179-208.
Lee, L. C. (2015). School performance trajectories and the challenges for principal succession. Journal of Educational Administration, 53(2), 262-286.
5. Hargreaves, A. (2005). Educational change takes ages: Life, career and generational factors in teachers’ emotional responses to educational change. Teaching and Teacher Education, 21, 967-983.
6. MacBeath, J. (2011). No lack of principles: Leadership development in England and Scotland. School Leadership & Management, 31(2), 105-121,
7. Myung, J., Loeb, S., & Horng, E. (2011). Tapping the principal pipeline: Identifying talent for future school leadership in the absence of formal succession management programs. Educational Administration Quarterly, 47(5), 695-727.
8. Walker, A., & Kwan, P. (2010). Vice-principals’ perception of ideal and actual responsibility. Studia Paedagogica, 15(2), 105-126
Zepeda, S., Bengtson, E., & Parylo, O. (2012). Examining the planning and management of principal succession. Journal of Educational Administration, 50(2), 136-158.