The Role of the Principal

The role of the principal teacher is defined in legislation. Sections 22 and 23 of the Education Acts 1998-2018 set out the functions of the Principal teacher.

Section 22

  1. The Principal of a recognised school and the teachers in a recognised school, under the direction of the Principal, shall have responsibility, in accordance with this Act, for the instruction provided to students in the school and shall contribute, generally, to the education and personal development of students in that school.
  2. Without prejudice to subsection (1), the Principal and teachers shall—
    1. encourage and foster learning in students,
    2. regularly evaluate students and periodically report the results of the evaluation to the students and their parents,
    3. collectively promote co-operation between the school and the community which it serves, and
    4. subject to the terms of any applicable collective agreement and their contract of employment, carry out those duties that—
    5. in the case of teachers, are assigned to them by or at the direction of the Principal, and
    6. in the case of the Principal, are assigned to him or her by the board.

Section 23

  1. In addition to the functions conferred on a Principal by section 22, the Principal of a recognised school shall—
    1. be responsible for the day-to-day management of the school, including guidance and direction of the teachers and other staff of the school, and be accountable to the board of the school for that management,
    2. provide leadership to the teachers and other staff and the students of the school,
    3. be responsible, together with the board, parents of students and the teachers, for the creation in the school of an environment which is supportive of learning among the students and which promotes the professional development of the teachers,
    4. under the direction of the board, and in consultation with the teachers, the parents and, to the extent appropriate to their age and experience, the students, set objectives for the school and monitor the achievement of those objectives, and (e) encourage the involvement of parents of students in the school in the education of those students and in the achievement of the objectives of the school.
  2. For the purpose of carrying out his or her functions under this Act, a Principal of a recognised school shall have all such powers as are necessary or expedient in that regard, and shall carry out his or her functions in accordance with—
    1. such policies as may be determined from time to time by the board of the school, and
    2. regulations made under section 33.
  3. The Principal of a recognised school shall be entitled to be a member of any and every committee appointed by the board of the school.
  4. Wherever practicable, the Principal of a recognised school shall, in exercising his or her functions under this section, consult with teachers and other staff of the school.

In addition, a number of other statutory functions are assigned to principal teachers in the Education Welfare Act 2000 and the EPSEN Act 2004, and in the Governance Manual for Primary Schools.

Circular 16/73 Duties and Responsibilities of Principal Teachers

DE Circular 16/73 (PDF) sets out the duties and responsibilities of principal teachers, as well as outlining those duties which can be delegated to holders of posts of responsibility. While some of the language in the Circular may seem outdated, it is referred to in other more recent DE Circulars, and as such is relevant today. Adherence to circulars is also a term of a principal teacher’s contract.

Some key duties and responsibilities include consulting the Chairperson of the Board (Manager) and keeping him or her informed on all matters related to the school, responsibility for the general discipline of the school, organisation of and participation in the effective supervision of pupils, the organisation of pupils for learning purposes, the fair distribution of teaching duties and the maintenance of school records. Please see the Circular for the full list.

DE Circular 44/2019 sets out a leadership and management framework for posts in recognised primary schools. The determination of the leadership and management needs and priorities of the school for distribution shall be determined by:

  1. the identified leadership and management needs and priorities of the school,
  2. the roles and responsibilities which need to be performed for the effective leadership and management of the school taking into account the identified needs and priorities of the school, and
  • the distribution of these roles and responsibilities between the available in-school leadership and management posts by reference to the school’s own priorities.

In identifying the leadership and management needs and priorities, Boards of Management/ETBs are required firstly to have regard to legal obligations and may have regard to:

  • the school plan,
  • the school’s Mission Statement and its aims and objectives,
  • the pupil and curricular profile of the school,
  • requirements of the Department of Education and Skills (and the ETB in the case of a community national school) and its agencies, and
  • taking cognisance of the responsibilities being carried out by current post holders and responsibilities being undertaken by members of staff who do not hold posts of responsibility.

Looking at Our Schools (2022)

Looking at Our School 2022: A quality framework for primary schools and special schools provides a set of standards against which primary schools and special schools can consider how well they are performing in relation to teaching and learning and leadership and management.


Updated July 2023

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