‘We are looking forward to engaging with Ruairí Quinn meaningfully’
My Education Week: Tony Lee, principal of St Aloysius’ College in Carrigtwohill, Co Cork, and vice-president of the Joint Managerial Body
Busy week: Tony Lee. Photograph: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision
After some lighthearted banter with early-rising students at the school breakfast club, I leave them to their precious mug of tea and get to work. Oral examinations are starting this morning, and the home economics and music practical exams are continuing. I check with the subject teachers that everything is ready for these exams.
Then it’s straight into case conferences with the HSE. These are always difficult and emotionally draining. We all work very hard to help the families involved. We’re under pressure because the deputy principal and I have taken on the task of interviewing 109 Leaving Cert students in the wake of their pre-exams. This would normally be done by the year head, but because of the moratorium on posts I have had to take on the role of sixth-year year head. It’s a hugely rewarding exercise, but it was hard to find time in an already very busy schedule.
This will be a key topic at next week’s annual general meeting of the Joint Managerial Body (JMB), of which I am vice-president. We will be publishing a piece of research on the workload of principals, based on a number of focus groups that I have attended in the past few months.
JMB is a support organisation for boards of management and principals in the voluntary-school sector. The words I keep hearing are “overwhelmed” and “unable to cope” in relation to the variety of teaching initiatives that have been introduced to second level. It’s no exaggeration to say that there is a sense of crisis out there.
A regional development officer from the National Behaviour Support Service is coming to work with some of the girls. The officer and the service have been a great help to the school.
Then it’s off to Dublin for a meeting with the department officials dealing with special education. I am a JMB representative on the managerial representative group. This is a unique arrangement where representatives of the management bodies, including the Irish Vocational Education Association, the Assocation of Community and Comprehensive Schools and the JMB, meet the department and the National Council for Special Education (NCSE).
Many of the procedures now used in allocating special-education resources have evolved from these meetings. It is disappointing that, nationally, teaching hours available to special-needs students have been reduced in the past two years, even though department officials and the NCSE have managed to maintain the total allocation in difficult times. However, an increasing number of qualifying students need to avail of these resources.
These developments make it all the more daunting for principals trying to cope with the ever-increasing number of initiatives that we are required to manage: school self-evaluation, literacy and numeracy strategies and Junior Cert reform.
A fleeting glance at the papers this morning. School admissions policies are under the spotlight. As a representative body for schools under religious denomination, the JMB is hoping to be consulted on any proposed changes. It’s likely to surface as a discussion topic at the agm next week.
Only 20 per cent of schools are oversubscribed. Schools should operate admissions openly, transparently and inclusively. All voluntary schools are denominational, and therefore the focus is on faith-based education. So we’re hoping that a conversation will take place regarding valuing the ethos of Catholic and other denominated schools when it comes to admissions.
Down to work on a department survey on information and computer technology. This is vital for future planning, but it is quite involved. Principals tend to be inundated with a large number of vital surveys.
Morning assembly is cancelled – too many students involved in orals and practical exams. A sure sign that the end of the year is nigh, and a chance for me to prepare for tonight’s steering-committee meeting, where we will work on the schedule for next week’s JMB conference. Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn has graciously agreed to attend the conference and to take part in a question-and-answer session.
We don’t expect any interruptions from the delegates. We are very interested in what the Minister has to say and are looking forward to engaging with him meaningfully. This is an important opportunity for the JMB to get its point across, especially on the subject of management overload. Our group does not have a place at the negotiating table for Croke Park, so we need a forum to have the voice of management heard.
If Croke Park II is successfully renegotiated and passed, it could have serious implications for management. There is a proposal to dismantle the whole supervision and substitution scheme as it currently operates. If this happens it will fall back on school leaders to pick up the slack.
At 7.30pm we have the psychologist David Coleman giving a presentation on the transition from primary to secondary school. This is organised by our first-year transfer team and the parents’ association. The presentation is very well attended and received.
Administration. Salary and bank payments are processed and department online claims are returned. A social worker comes to discuss the progress of a child who is in care. Final preparations are made for the Leaving Certificate vocational programme examination, which takes place next week.
We meet two of our students who are playing for Cork in the All-Ireland camogie final on Sunday. It has been a busy week – is there any other kind? The staff and students have put a huge amount of time and effort into the oral and practical exams.
Driving away from the school, the tiredness seems to sneak in. For a minute I am happy that we have achieved so much this week. My mind then turns to the list of things that I did not get around to; with the ever-increasing workload, the list is getting longer.
First year all-Ireland basketball play-offs. Our girls are hosting teams from Dublin, Kerry and Wexford.
National finals of the Junk Kouture competition and All-Ireland Mock Trials law competition.
Sunday morning is my cycling morning. A group of Mamils, as my wife calls us – it stands for middle-aged men in Lycra – gather in the village.
This morning we don’t have the harsh north wind to deal with, and for the first time this year we head for Garrettstown through the rolling de Coursey countryside. We still have not worked out why you have to travel 80km to have jam and cream with a fruit scone.
It is very energising and seems to make the stress of the week recede if not fully disappear, but already I’m planning a call to Margot Hartnett, our deputy principal, to discuss the plan for the week ahead.