Not enough supports in place despite more pupils with additional needs, schools say

Stress leading 84% of primary school principals surveyed to consider leaving roles

Seventy per cent of primary school principals surveyed reported mental health issues. File photograph: Laurent Gillieron/ EPA

Seventy per cent of primary school principals surveyed reported mental health issues. File photograph: Laurent Gillieron/ EPA

 

The vast majority of primary schools in Ireland have experienced an increase in the number of students with additional educational needs but say the resources they have are insufficient.

A survey conducted among over 500 primary schools by the National Principals’ Forum (NPF) found 84.4 per cent of respondents witnessed an increase in the past four years.

Of these schools, almost three quarters say their current Special Education Teacher (SET) allocation does not meet the needs of pupils with additional needs.

Stresses from the system have led to 84 per cent of primary school principals saying they have considered stepping back from their roles, and 70 per cent reporting mental health issues.

The NPF has argued that the current “front-loading” model used since 2017 to fill SET posts leaves most schools significantly short of the supports required.

“From experience and due to lack of real consultation, school leaders are not optimistic of the model, which they fear will also ultimately lead to a further cut in supports [this year] and cause friction between their school and families,” the Forum said.

Its survey also found that principals have experienced a related year-on-year increase in their workloads as a result of ongoing cuts. It noted that in 2012 special education teaching resource hours were reduced by 15 per cent per child and have not been reversed.

“Primary education is overlooked and underfunded budget after budget,” said Alan O’Ceallaigh principal of Carrigallen National School in Co Leitrim.

“With one of the highest pupil-teacher ratios in Europe it would be a disservice to our children for us to remain silent.”

The NPF said that for the last three years it has been flagging principals “at breaking point due to the excessive, ever-increasing workload”.

The Department of Education did not immediately respond to requests for comment.