'Investment in primary education is vital'
My Education Week: Gerry Murphy, President, Irish Primary Principals' Network
Team meeting in the Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN) at the national support office in Cork to overview plans for our annual two-day conference which begins at Citywest later this week.
This year’s theme, The Future is Now, seeks to highlight the importance of investment in primary education for Ireland’s recovery and the emergence of a fairer, more inclusive and equal society.
We have almost 1,000 principals registered to attend. It’s a huge number and, by my reckoning, the largest gathering of primary school principals in Europe this year. Our objective is to create a platform for school leaders, invited guests and speakers to critically reflect on our primary education system, and set out a vision that helps to renew our society and economy from the bottom up.
Today, we are finalising the conference schedule. This year, we are honoured to have President Michael D Higgins address our members. Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn will speak, too, and he will, as usual, be received with courtesy as our invited guest. Other contributors include the champion of the homeless, Fr Peter McVerry; educationalist, philosopher and abbot of Glenstal Abbey, Mark Patrick Hederman; and a cofounder of the global software programming movement Coder Dojo, James Whelton.
More than 120 companies are attending an education expo at the conference, demonstrating products and services that help principals and teachers deliver the curriculum in our classrooms.
Our education advocates workshop, planned for Friday, aims to build on the very successful symposium last year which reached out to industry for ideas on public policymaking in education. This year, more than 20 industry and academic leaders from household names such as Cisco, IBM, Eli Lilly, DCU and UL will meet to discuss leadership and future skills needs.
We follow up with our members on issues we discussed last week with Quinn and the newly appointed general secretary at the Department, Seán Ó Foghlú.
Among them are cuts to capitation grants that are causing a funding crisis in our schools; the withdrawal of the minor works grant; increased workload for school principals due to cutbacks, particularly those in special schools and schools with special classes; the relevant contracts tax which is turning principals into VAT collectors rather than allowing them to lead learning; the gaps in schools’ broadband and IT capabilities; the threatened closure of some schools because of the unfair increase in class size for schools with fewer than than 86 pupils; and the ongoing effects of budget cuts to DEIS schools in the form of the withdrawal of all resources for Traveller children.
I spend the day dealing with emails and phonecalls from members on the issues they would like addressed at the conference. Constant feedback from members is critical because it gives us an insight into what is happening on the frontline and helps us to fight for the issues school leaders care about.
Working on the latest draft of my speech. There are drafts and redrafts. I want to major on disadvantage and mental health – issues that are close to my heart and key to our future as a society.
If we cannot protect the most vulnerable, we fail as a society. I also hope to share some of the leadership strategies that sustained me and my colleagues in St Joseph’s School, Dundalk, Co Louth, for 32 years.
Early-morning phone call with Brendan McCabe, the IPPN deputy president, and my very own “special adviser”. We discuss the conference and the need to stress that, for educational reform, the moral imperative must be to focus on delivering equality of opportunity in student learning and achievement for all children, regardless of background. We also spar about the always-intense GAA football rivalry between Louth and Meath.