Reconciling top-down policy intent with internal accountability: the role of Chinese school principals

  • Haiyan QianEmail author
  • Allan Walker


The purpose of this paper is to explore the role school principals play in managing the intersection of external and internal accountability systems within Chinese schools. Specifically, the paper seeks to understand principals’ perception of top-down accountability demands and the strategies they adopt to build and strengthen internal accountability while responding to external demands. The data was drawn from in-depth interviews with primary school principals across six regions. The study suggests that a complex mix of leadership practices defines school principalship in China. On the one hand, their work environment seems to be highly political and they must be conscious of their role as state employees. On the other hand, there is a strong professional expectation of school principals and they must gain legitimacy by demonstrating expert knowledge in curricula and instruction and by approaching teachers in a way that combines sincerity and benevolence. This emphasis on relationship building may help to advance theoretical understandings of leadership in the face of accountability demands.


School principalship Accountability China Instructional leadership 



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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Education Policy and LeadershipThe Education University of Hong KongTai PoHong Kong
  2. 2.Faculty of Education and Human DevelopmentThe Education University of Hong KongTai PoHong Kong

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