Schools face shortage of principals, new report says

Call for creation of regional school boards to ease principals’ administrative duties

Primary and secondary schools face a shortage of principals as the job increasingly becomes bogged down in administration, according to a new report.

While the role of the principal should be to lead, teach and promote the school in the local community, the report finds these duties are being “sidelined” in order to fulfil duties such as procurement and utilities management.

The finding are contained in a report, Towards a Better Future: A Review of the Irish School System, jointly published by the Irish Primary Principals' Network and the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals.

The report, written by Irish education academics, suggests the creation of regional primary and secondary school management boards – similar to those that exist in the Education and Training Board sector – to take on these duties.


Managerial workload

This, it says, would reduce the managerial workload on principals and give them more time to teach and lead. The report is due to be launched on Tuesday at a conference in Dublin.

The report also notes a spending disparity between social welfare, healthcare and education over the past decade and a half.

Since 2000, spending on social welfare has increased from 27 per cent to 38 per cent, while healthcare has jumped from 20 per cent to 26 per cent.

By contrast, the report notes, education has only increased from 14 per cent to 17 per cent.

It says says greater resources must be allocated to education to ensure the  existing school infrastructure can cope with the rapidly increasing number of Irish primary and secondary pupils.

The report does, however, recognise the State’s commitment to providing high-quality schooling to all sections of society, despite the tough economic backdrop of recent years.

Learning standards have remained consistently high and, compared with other countries, Ireland continues to rank among the best for literacy, numeracy and science learning.

Clive Byrne, director of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals, said Ireland was well positioned to become an "educational superpower" in Europe.

Remain cognisant

But he warned: “We must remain cognisant of the challenges that our education system faces and move to address structural flaws as quickly and adroitly as possible.

He said the creation of an intermediary management board to ease the administrative burden on principals was one such step.

“This will help principals take on more teaching and leadership roles, and encourage teachers and aspiring leaders to consider the position as their career matures,” he said.

Seán Cottrell, chief executive of the Irish Primary Principals’ Network, said the report identifies and reiterates the core problems affecting both primary and secondary schools, and highlights their shared success stories.

“Ongoing collaboration between primary and secondary organisations, and the Department of Education, will be crucial to achieve long-term sectoral reform and meet the objectives of the action plan for education,” he said.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent