Help keep our schools open – support school leaders

Over the last number of months, our school leaders have stepped up and ensured each and every primary school in the country reopened at the end of August. Their tireless work is a credit to the whole profession.

For many years, the INTO highlighted the supports our school leaders need to run their school effectively. The government’s own Primary Education Forum has recognised the issue of workload as it relates to teaching principals, in particular. The INTO, alongside other key stakeholders, has called for effective management of the pace of change.

We have called on the Department of Education and Skills (DES) to initiate a comprehensive review of school leaders’ terms and conditions of employment. Teaching principals have seen their conditions of employment change considerably and workload increase exponentially in recent years. Increased paperwork and initiatives have seen school leaders overwhelmed and under-resourced. Time and time again, our teaching principals have shared the growing levels of stress and worry felt by post holders, who are grossly overworked and underpaid.

How can we help our school leaders?

The INTO is calling for one leadership and management day per week for teaching principals who are over-burdened and over-stretched with an ever-increasing administrative workload in addition to their teaching duties.

In response to the challenges posed in reopening our schools, the government has introduced a weekly release day for our teaching principals. However, we need to ensure this is retained and becomes a permanent fixture.

How might this work in practice?

The INTO is currently supporting a DES ‘cluster’ model whereby a number of schools with teaching principals may pool their administrative days to hire one teacher to cover all leadership days in the cluster. This is advantageous to all parties, including pupils who benefit from the continuity of the same teacher covering for their class teacher.

€10.2m has recently been allocated to support principals and deputy principals who also undertake teaching duties in primary schools. This funding will provide each teaching principal with one release day per week. It also provides release days for deputy principals in those schools that have an existing administrative principal.

Source: Dáil Q&A no. 659, 30 July 2020

We need to provide in-school support to our school leaders

During the recession period, a moratorium on promotion in schools was imposed. Over 5,000 ‘posts of responsibility’ (PORs) were lost, meaning an inability at the school level to meet the growing challenges in curricular and regulatory changes. These middle management posts were also positive steps on the career ladder for teachers. Such posts, referred to as ‘assistant principals’, involved a teacher taking on particular responsibility for activities or a curricular area (for example choir/music,  sport and physical education, science etc.) in return for a responsibility allowance (€3,769 or €8,520). As a result of the ban, no assistant principal posts in schools could be filled, and even when the moratorium was relaxed slightly, there remained very tight restrictions on the appointment of assistant principals.

The cutting of these posts left schools without supports in a range of curricular and other areas and abolished career progression for many teachers. Coupled with the issue of pay inequality for post-2011 entrants, for younger teachers this served as a factor which fuelled their interest in travelling abroad to teach overseas, enabling them to avail of opportunities denied in Ireland.

2017 saw the first, and to date, the only, structured restoration of assistant principal posts to schools since the moratorium was first introduced in March 2009. Though acknowledging some movement on this issue, the filling of these posts is merely a start. While 1,300 posts were restored in 2017, there were no further restorations in Budget 2018, Budget 2019 or Budget 2020. The INTO demands full restoration.

Why are primary school leaders paid less?

A burning injustice in the primary education system is the ongoing pay disparity between school leaders in primary schools and those in secondary schools. This simply isn’t fair. School leaders of similar-sized schools do the same job and they should be paid the same.

Thirteen years ago, in 2007, a public service pay review recommended an award for primary school leaders to align their pay more closely with those at second level. This followed an exhaustive review. Why has this still not been paid? Governments repeatedly acknowledge this is an outstanding debt which will be paid. When?

We are in danger of losing great school leaders who simply won’t stay in the post unless we get this sorted quickly. Our schools will lose out. Our pupils will lose out. Society will lose out.

It’s time to pay our school leaders fairly.

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