How much of a difference do principals make? An analysis of between-schools variation in academic achievement in Hong Kong public secondary schools

Allan David Walker, Moosung Lee, Darren A. Bryant

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)


This article aims to explain the role principals play in the variation in academic achievement between secondary schools in Hong Kong. The article draws on survey data from 179 key staff and 2,037 students from 42 schools. The study uses 2 analytical approaches. First, it employs classification and regression tree analysis (CART). This was used to sort out the most significant leadership practices associated with student achievement. Second, based on first-stage analysis, the study further explores the effects of leadership practices on academic achievement using hierarchical linear modelling (HLM). Results indicate that transparent and efficient communication structures as managed by principals explained approximately 12% of between-schools variation in academic achievement. Leadership practices related to quality assurance and accountability and resource management also contributed to explaining between-schools variation in academic achievement, yet they had negative effects on student achievement. Implications for research and practice are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)602-628
Number of pages27
JournalSchool Effectiveness and School Improvement
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2014 Oct

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors wish to acknowledge the funding of the Research Grant Council (RGC) of Hong Kong for its support through the General Research Fund (GRF 451407). The authors also appreciate the insightful comments of the reviewers and the editorial help of Conny Lenderink.

Funding Information:
Moosung Lee is a Centenary Research Professor at the University of Canberra. Prior to joining the University of Canberra, he held an appointment as an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Hong Kong. He earned his PhD in Educational Policy and Administration at the University of Minnesota in 2009, funded by a Fulbright scholarship. He has extensively published articles in the areas of educational policy and administration, some of which have been selected as best papers by academic societies such as the American Educational Research Association (AERA) and the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA).

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education


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