Working alongside PhD student Mike Helal, Coelli has come up with a numerical equation to describe, as its colloquially called: ‘the principal effect’.

“Us economists we like to have nice solid evidence I guess, statistical evidence...” the University of Melbourne researcher shares.

“[We] said ‘well, if principals matter, well how might they matter? What are the effective ones doing?’

“Again, us economists like data sets, rather than case studies ... so we were looking for how we might measure this stuff.”

The answer lay in the collation of piles of department data, including information buried for years in literacy and numeracy test scores, HR documents and staff and parent surveys.

“We worked hard at trying to separate the effect of the principal from the effect of the school,” Coelli says.

The findings, released by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, have confirmed the impact, both on staff morale and academic outcomes, that truly effective school leaders can have.

“Principals seemed to have a marked effect on student test scores, more on maths than reading...” Coelli reflects.

“Having strong goal congruence in the school, having good interaction among teachers in the school and also good professional development [for] staff ... principals that had a really strong effect on all these things these were the ones related to better test score performance.”

The economist says he has been led to believe that his research will be acted upon by education departments across Australia.
“They are using the results to inform principal training all over the country ... so that’s pleasing!”