Increasing anxiety among schoolchildren in primary schools has emerged as one of the biggest problems facing school principals.
The Irish Primary Principals’ Network says it has noticed a “disturbing trend” relating to the emotional wellbeing of students. The network has been tracking feedback from principals on children’s mental health for the past decade.
Its survey shows anxiety has replaced neglect as one of the most serious problems facing children, said the network. Other significant issues include marital breakdown, family financial difficulties and bereavements.
However, it also said a survey of members found that only 1 per cent of school principals considered themselves adequately trained to identify and support children who may be experiencing mental health difficulties. Moreover, one in five principals reported no training to deal with these issues.
The network’s chief executive, Páiric Clerkin, said the organisation would continue to be actively involved with education and health agencies in supporting wellbeing in our schools.
“However, we urge the Department of Education to be more proactive in providing targeted training and funding for wellbeing programmes in our schools.”
More than 1,100 school principals are due to attend the organisation's annual conference at Citywest, Co Dublin, this week, which will debate a range of issues relating to school leadership and how best to educate our children.
Other research based on a membership survey indicates that 55 per cent of schools are requesting “voluntary contributions” from parents. These contributions are used mainly by boards of management to fund basic utility bills and some school necessities, according to the network.
The survey indicates that only 12 per cent of school principals regard their schools as being in a sound financial position.
Network president David Ruddy is due to tell delegates that austerity-era cost-cutting has meant capitation grants – "the fiscal heartbeat of all schools" – reduced from €200 per pupil to €170 per pupil over the last 10 years.
“Many schools are breaking, if not already broke. And principals are spending valuable time fundraising for essentials instead of being allowed focus on their primary role: the leading of high-quality learning in their school. This withdrawal of funding is forcing more and more schools to turn to parents for financial support.”
Mr Ruddy is set to call on Minister for Education Richard Bruton to restore the capitation grant. He will also request that the Minister consider bringing forward the payment of the grant to the beginning of the school year, eliminating the need for schools to run deficits.