Department has placed school boards in an impossible position

A poisoned chalice when school management becomes challenging and high profile

Sir, – Reflecting on the Wilson Hospital School and Enoch Burke case, there is one thing that is notable and frustrating for me, as a school principal and a volunteer on a school board of management. It is the legal relationship between the school and the teacher, and the complete absence of the Department of Education.

Since boards of management were introduced in our primary schools in 1975, we have the ludicrous arrangement where the Department of Education pays a teacher’s salary, and as if by magic is not the employer. The department is never troubled by recruitment, contracts, disciplinary or dismissal cases. That duty falls to the volunteers on the board of management of the school.

Volunteers can only be commended for serving on boards of management and for donating their time so generously and free of charge, all in the interest of the students and communities that they serve.

However, this is a poisoned chalice when school management becomes challenging and high profile, as in this case. The Department of Education will boast in their publications of how board “volunteers have individually and collectively enriched and contributed to the management and operation of our primary schools”. Yet officials are in absentia when difficult hearings and decisions arise, offering no presence or support, leaving board of management volunteers to dissect Department of Education circulars for nuances, and the finer procedural details, and ultimately reaching out to engage legal firms.


Why do we volunteer for boards of management? I wonder if the chairperson who volunteered for a term in the Wilson Hospital School ever imagined that their name would be in every corner of the media this week?

I wonder again, why do we volunteer? Well maybe we should stop, and let the Department of Education, once and for all, step up to their role in Irish education, and become the employer of State teachers, and the manager of schools. While they are at it, they should also become the patron body for all schools and relieve the religious bodies of their agenda, given that the State through the Department of Education finances the running of schools anyhow.

The Department of Education has placed itself in the incredible position where it pumps money into schools and education, yet cunningly shirks responsibility in key areas of education, by placing it conveniently away from them, into the distant hands of volunteers and religious bodies.

Time for education reform, which will take decades. We need a long-term policy of change, with a commitment that it will remain untouched through government changeovers and new Ministers. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 12.