Warning over ‘emergency’ shortage of secondary school principals

Less than a third say they will remain in a school leadership role in five years’ time

The next “emergency” in education will be a shortage of secondary principals due to the growing burden on school leaders, a national representative body has warned.

Research commissioned by the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD) indicates that less than a third predict they will still be in a leadership role in five years’ time.

The findings are based on research conducted among more than 250 principals and deputy principals.

Their colleagues in the staffroom see the unrelenting stress, pressure and psychological strain that comes with the role and decide against pursuing such positions

The new report, Wellbeing of Leaders in Post-Primary Schools in Ireland, is due to be published on Tuesday ahead of the association's national symposium on school leader wellbeing, workload and work-life balance.

NAPD director Clive Byrne said the findings were of little surprise to those in second-level teaching.

“The role of a modern principal is akin to running a complex business, and school leaders are looking for support. They are navigating rapidly growing student populations and evolving student and staff needs without the required parallel government investment or supports,” he said.

“By extension, their colleagues in the staffroom see the unrelenting stress, pressure and psychological strain that comes with the role and decide against pursuing such positions.”

Wellbeing dip

Mr Byrne said the issue of recruitment and retention of school leaders was going to become more acute in the years ahead.

According to the research, school leaders’ wellbeing increases year-on-year until they have been in the same role for 10 years, at which point it falls off sharply.

Among the biggest sources of stress for principals and deputy principals are dealing with people and cultivating positive professional relationships.

Other sources of stress include oversight of plant management, external agency engagement and administrative responsibilities.

The research found that the three most stressful responsibilities are managing employee relations, new teacher and substitute teacher appointments and financial management.

The three most important sources of support cited were a school leader’s partner or spouse, his or her principal or deputy principal and the wider school leadership.

The report also identifies potential solutions such as better distribution of workload, additional administrative support, training and skills enhancement and improved salaries.

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