How long must schools stay open in light of changes to Leaving Cert timetable?

Ask Brian: Principals will face more demands on their time on foot of reforms

School principals are often left holding the ultimate responsibility for its implementation. Photograph: iStock

School principals are often left holding the ultimate responsibility for its implementation. Photograph: iStock


I’m principal of a secondary school and feel frustrated over changes to the timing of the Leaving Cert and CAO offers. The longer exam period and earlier offers mean schools will stay open until July 1st and reopen in the first week of August. If summer works are due – typically in July – this means there is virtually no time off. Did anyone check to see how this will affect principals?

It is often the case that as each positive policy initiative is implemented in the education system, it is the school principal left holding the ultimate responsibility for its implementation.

There was a time in the earlier part of my teaching career, in the 1970s and 80s, when a school principal – often a member of a religious order – could switch off and forget about their school management duties for at least two months.

Today, once a principal sits in behind their desk, they quickly realise that every issue that arises in their school – from the fall-out from the tragic death of a student, to the phone call from a security company in the middle of the night – is their responsibility.

Every other person employed in the school has a defined set of duties set out in the 1998 Education Act, or through agreements negotiated with the INTO, ASTI, TUI or other unions representing non-teaching staff. What is not their responsibility is yours.

As you read this column you may be a principal sitting as a delegate at one of the three teacher conferences taking place this week. You know that although each union has a committee representing their members who are principals, there is no support within the general membership or your leadership to fight on your behalf.


To improve your terms and conditions of employment would entail increased responsibilities for other teachers and, in terms of “real politic”, your one voice and vote is drowned out by their 30.

In the United Kingdom, principal teachers have their own unions, but to be effective in Ireland it would require the formation of a single union at best to represent principals at primary and post-primary levels.

In the short term, nothing is likely to change to improve your lot as a principal, but very quickly our system will buckle, as no sane teacher will seek the position of principal, and solutions will have to be devised to resolve the crisis.

From a teacher union perspective, ignoring the current crushing burden under which your principal members operate is not sustainable, given the current crisis in recruiting teachers to these posts.

The new arrangements in August make sense, but they may be the final brick in the wall that brings the entire current structures crashing down.

The Minister for Education Joe McHugh, as a teacher himself, might also reflect on this issue as he considers his presentations to the teacher unions over the next few days.