Education People: A principal’s view of the ASTI action
School leaders have been left to deal with the day-to-day impact of the secondary-teacher union’s industrial action. It is a lonely place to be
Noel P Malone: ‘Principals and deputies are expected to stand up and be counted.’ Photograph: Don Moloney/Press 22
This is a time of great bewilderment and anxiety for school leaders. Having spent 15 years as principal of a large post-primary school in Co Limerick, I am around long enough to have experienced the last industrial dispute more than a decade ago.
There is a certain deja vu for principals and deputy principals across the country as they wrestle with huge uncertainty, low morale among teachers and administrative headaches, as the full extent of the unrelenting education cutbacks over recent years begins to bite. This is especially so for those working in schools with teachers represented by the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) and in particular, those schools with representation from both second-level unions, as is the case in my school.
School leaders continue to be placed in the firing line and many feel very isolated and left without any tangible support. Most of us are members of either the ASTI or the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) and may or may not be supportive of the rejection of the Haddington Road agreement. Regardless, my deputy and I are left to pick up the pieces and to try to keep the show on the road, in the interests of our students and the wider school community. It feels very often that nobody listens to what we, as principals, have to say. We are rarely consulted, except in a half-hearted, almost patronising manner.
Both teaching unions claim to represent school leaders, and yet have no qualms about reminding us that, when push comes to shove, the teachers are the ones they will back in the end.
The attitude of the ASTI, and indeed the TUI, in previous disputes shows scant regard for our position. Quite apart from the current predictable directives issued by the ASTI to its members, which include prohibiting attendance at out-of-school meetings and engagement with in-service training on the new Junior Cycle, it is the relaxation of the obligation to cooperate with school management in replacing absent colleagues that will place the most significant burden on us as school leaders.
It will have little or no traction with those who have got us into this mess in the first place, and yet it will add considerably to the stress endured by many of us school leaders, who are in many cases at breaking point, in terms of our health and wellbeing.
Isolated school leaders
The net result will be the inevitable diminution of extra-curricular activities which will seriously affect the children under our care. This is on top of the unilateral withdrawal of guidance services, which has left principals and their deputies carrying a huge additional burden in terms of counselling and mental health support for their students.