Without doubt our primary school leadership needs renewed and committed attention. Over the last decade the responsibilities of school principals have dramatically changed. However, their recompense, supports and resources have not kept pace. In fact, one of their key supports, middle management posts of responsibility have yet to be fully restored to pre-recession levels. This is impacting not only on the capacity of principals to effectively carry out their role but it is also impacting on their welfare and well-being.
On paper school leadership looks will defined and supported. In 2016 the Department of Education published Looking at Our Schools: A Quality Framework for Primary Schools. This document is
‘designed for teachers and for school leaders to use in implementing the most effective and engaging teaching and learning approaches and in enhancing the quality of leadership in their schools. Through the provision of a set of standards describing ‘effective practice’ and ‘highly effective practice’, the framework will help schools to identify their strengths and areas for development and will enable them to take ownership of their own development and improvement. In this way, the quality framework seeks to assist schools to embed self-evaluation, reflective practice and responsiveness to the needs of learners in their classrooms and other learning settings’
In particular the document sets out 4 Domains of Leadership:
- Domain 1: Leading learning and teaching
- Domain 2: Managing the organisation (school)
- Domain 3: Leading school development
- Domain 4: Developing leadership capacity
Each domain comprises of a set of statement of effective practice and a set of statements of highly effective practice. The illustration below summaries the 4 domains
To support the DES Framework, the Centre for School Leadership was set up
‘on a partnership basis between IPPN/NAPD and the DES represents a new departure and presents a unique opportunity for the development of a coherent continuum of professional development for school leaders. It is the shared objective that the Centre will become a centre of excellence for school leadership and the lead provider of supports.
The CSL’s responsibility will extend across the continuum of leadership development commencing with pre appointment training through to induction of newly appointed principals to continuous professional development throughout the leader’s career. The Centre will also advise the DES on policy in this area.’ (from CSL website).
However, the reality on the ground for many principals, particularly for teaching principals, is far from healthy and supported. Most principals would need to be miracle workers to achieve all the aims of the four domains above!
Considering the above responsibilities and the lack of appropriate supports and resources, it’s not surprising that principals are overburdened by administrative work and overwhelmed by continuous legislative additions, new circulars and new initiatives landing on their desks. These additions arrive without any meaningful lead-in to afford smooth implementation – by that I mean appropriate upskilling in the new requirement, resources and time to prepare staff and the school community.
This needs to change! It’s having a detrimental impact on the welfare and well-being of principals. It’s inhibiting younger teachers from aspiring to be principals – I’m very conscious of the impact on principals who are parents, particularly mothers, who have to juggle leading a school and nurturing a family.
If we are to effectively lead schools and ensure the best education system in the world principals need
- a full compliment of administrative staff paid directly by the DES – daily secretarial support (appropriately trained) to remove the burden of day-to-day paperwork and daily caretaker support to manage general school building needs.
- appropriate funding and sub-cover to avail of relevant professional development opportunities focused on enabling them carry out their responsibilities.
- all outstanding posts of responsibility fully restored
- proper professional supports, perhaps in the shape of bi-monthly facilitated cluster meetings (day long with sub-cover) to allow principals time, space and access to experts to discuss professional matters and build their own leadership capacity and expertise (as per the DES framework). These meetings could be provided by the CSL in local education centres.
- direct and timely access to expert advice particularly when it comes to drawing up policy and procedures to implement DES circulars or government legislation.
In addition to the above, teaching principals immediately need at least 1 day per week release time, increasing over 3 years to 6 days per month* and any teaching principal agreeing to open a special class or an autism class/unit should automatically gain the status of administrative principal.
Teacher supply panels
*The establishment of fully resourced teacher supply panels is critical to support the effective management of release days. Initially, one teacher per every five schools could be established. However, this number could be increased given the falling pupil numbers and the knock on loss of teachers and the panel could extend to covering sick leave, CPD leave, support meeting days etc. Indeed, we could aspire to a system whereby a teacher is allocated all schools with teaching principals for 2/3/4 days per week depending on pupil/staffing numbers so all absences are covered and the stress of trying to find a sub at 8 o’clock in the morning removed.
Step down facility
A step down facility needs to be negotiated to allow principals, for whatever reason, to step down from the role and return to the classroom or take up another opportuity. It may not always be able to step down into their own school but given our redeployment panels there is already a mechanism in place that can offer an immediate solution.
Pay and recompense
It could be argued that the current approach to principal recompense is outdated. It does not take account of all staff nor does it provide an adequate baseline salary scale for a leadership role that assumes responsibility for leading teaching and learning, managing the ‘organisation’, leading school development and developing leadership capacity . While it is imperative that the outstanding Benchmarking payment must achieved alongside the full restoration of pay inequality, the idea of a separate salary scale for the role of principal may be worth exploring – this scale could combine a core salary with an banded allowance that acknowledges full (teachers, SNAs, secretary, caretaker) staffing numbers. In addition to this, a teaching allowance for those principals who juggle leading and teaching needs to be considered.
Achieving the above
Lobbying our politicians on the above should be ongoing. However, the first formal step to achieving real progress on better supporting our school leadership is to sit down with principals – the INTO Principal and Deputy Principal Committee, Principal and Deputy Principal Fora Officers and working principals across the country who want to contribute and come to a consensus on a vision for school leadership.
The second formal step is working with our CEC to submit a strong demanding motion to INTO Congress and encourage as many branches as possible not only to do the same but to prioritise these motions to enable it get on the Congress order paper. Passing such a motion would formally place the realisation of an agreed vision for school leadership as an INTO priority.
Then, its a matter of developing a coherent, collective and collaborative campaigning strategy, incorporating all INTO members, parents and the wider school community to realise the vision – providing and presenting evidence based research demonstrating the need for the vision to be realised, seeking the support and buy-in of those in business and other influential sectors as well as lobbying those in power.
I’m committed to realsing this vision and working with all principals because I believe it’s fair and right and it’s in the interest of all INTO members and the children we teach.