INTO calls for urgent action as chief inspector says principals’ workload is becoming “unsustainable”

The INTO has said urgent support is needed for primary school principals after the Department of Education Chief Inspector’s report today found the workload of school leaders is becoming “unsustainable”.

The Chief Inspector’s Report 2016–2020 found that many boards of management (BoMs) were ill-equipped to deal with all their responsibilities, which were being passed on to school leaders. “Many of these duties land back on the desk of the school principal,” the report found.

INTO General Secretary John Boyle said today’s report confirmed the union’s long-held view that support for administrating and leading schools has been grossly inadequate for over a decade. He said:

Middle management teams must be immediately restored to pre-austerity levels, while a suite of supports for school leaders and boards of management, including proper administrative and caretaking supports in all primary and special schools, are needed as a matter of urgency.”

School leadership in crisis

The Chief Inspector, Dr Harold Hislop, noted that BoMs, particularly in smaller schools, can be “overwhelmed” by the range of competencies required of them.

INTO General Secretary John Boyle said today’s report confirmed that school leadership has been in crisis for a number of years. He welcomed the recommendation of a significant revision of schools’ management, stating that the recently-started pilot scheme in small schools is a good starting point, but added that urgent action was needed before September. He added:

I agree with the chief inspector’s conclusion that failure to address the issue will lead to ever greater difficulties in recruiting and retaining high-calibre school leaders. This in turn will impact education outcomes for our pupils. One key approach to engaging the next generation of school leaders has to be the full re-instatement of middle management teams in schools.”

Class sizes

On class sizes, the INTO General Secretary noted:

The report highlights that average primary class sizes only reduced by 1.4 pupils per class over the period covered, and that class sizes in Irish primary schools remain significantly higher than the OECD average. The INTO will intensify its long-running campaign to convince Government of the need to create a level playing field for Irish children. Budget 2023 must finally bring our class sizes into line with the rest of the EU and it must also address the substitution crisis identified in the report by expanding the supply panel scheme to cover all primary and special schools.”

High standard in primary

The report found a high standard of teaching and learning in primary schools. It also noted that schools had undertaken commendable work in mediating the curriculum during the periods of school closure due to Covid, despite the challenges of putting the necessary communication and digital learning arrangements in place.

Among the positives noted in the report were findings such as:

  • 85 per cent of teaching and learning was rated as good or very good in primary and special schools.
  • Schools had demonstrated agility and responsiveness during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Schools and teachers demonstrated increased capacity to use digital technologies to support learning.
  • Primary pupils are ranked highly in international measures of English reading, mathematics and science.
  • High levels of enjoyment of learning and motivation were evident among primary pupils.
  • In relation to the Irish language, the quality of language use was rated as good in Gaeltacht schools and Gaelscoileanna, and it has progressed through the development of the Gaeltacht recognition scheme.

The Report also identified challenges for the primary school system, including how the new Primary Curriculum Framework can be implemented effectively, and how the learnings of the pandemic can be developed, particularly the use of digital technology.

The report noted that pupils’ learning outcomes in Irish in English-medium schools remained a concern, and that schools had expressed concerns that children’s learning in Irish had suffered disproportionately during the pandemic.

The full report is available via