We're not allowing for harsh realities


LEFTFIELD:IN THE MIDST of the discussion about allowances paid to teachers, it is difficult to see the bigger picture. Of course, the debate surrounding allowances should encompass a value-for-money analysis of the management structure in our schools, but the bigger question is whether that structure is fit for purpose in the modern age.

Schools have become almost paralysed because of outdated and restrictive practices, which often work against the best interests of the management of a modern postprimary school. The current wave of cutbacks has merely exacerbated the situation. This is what we need to be talking about. This is what Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn needs to review.

The current moratorium has meant that the special-duties post has been effectively abandoned as a promotional position, with no replacement. Similarly, the level of appointments to assistant-principal post has been severely curtailed, and these responsibilities have largely fallen on principals and deputy principals.

But the structure of the assistant-principal post itself creates problems. Assistant principals are only required to complete the normal school-teaching year of 167 days, even though their responsibilities can often stretch outside term time. It is not generally known that, in many cases, these assistant-principal posts have a cap on class contact time of 18 hours, rather than the normal full-time teaching hours of 22 per week; principals of VEC schools are required to cover these four hours from their teaching allocation, without recompense.

This is unsustainable, especially when it is not required of principals in the voluntary sector. I believe that assistant principals are already being compensated appropriately. They shouldn’t require additional time off to carry out their duties. A large school could easily have 12 assistant principals. At four hours each, that’s leaving the school short of two full-time teachers. At a time when career-guidance provision has been abolished in quota, this situation cannot be allowed to continue.

Then there are the people for whom promotion is all but impossible in the present situation. In many schools, nonpost-holders do an equal amount of management work voluntarily. They assume responsibilities without allowances or hours off. Despite this, there is little or no opportunity for younger teachers to achieve promotion, as the system is skewed towards seniority, especially within the school or VEC group of schools. This deflates younger teachers in terms of their ambition and penalises those who may wish to advance their careers in other schools.

The problem is that posts of responsibility, once appointed, are effective for the entire career of that teacher as long as they remain at the same school. There is no effective mechanism for review or replacement, and there is no real accountability for inefficiency or incompetence.

So what’s to be done? For starters, appointments should be based on merit rather than seniority and appointees should be openly reinterviewed every three to five years. Performance should be openly assessed and allowances should be graded according to the size of a school and the level of responsibility. Management should have the ability to acknowledge the extraordinary voluntary work done by teachers by means of a reward and merit system.

In relation to the other matters, all teachers should be required to attend work for the full week. They should be at the disposal of the senior management for substitution, planning and consultation.

The solutions are relatively simple, but the discussion needs to go further than allowances. The Minister needs to undertake a root-and-branch review of middle-management positions in postprimary schools. Only then will we see true efficiency and value for taxpayers’ money.

Noel Malone is principal of Coláiste Chiaráin in Croom, Co Limerick