Monday 26 September 2016

Overloaded second-level school principals need support teams

In my opinion...

Published 02/03/2016 | 02:30

Eileen Salmon
Eileen Salmon

Recent research has revealed some very disturbing concerns regarding the position of principals and deputy principals. Principals experience nearly twice the level of threats of actual physical violence than other population groups. In addition, they experience more than three times the frequency of bullying at work than the general population. Their average working week is approximately 50 hours and the majority work up to 30 hours a week during school holidays. The sheer quantity of work coupled with the lack of time to concentrate on teaching and learning are further stressors.

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Recent research has revealed some very disturbing concerns regarding the position of principals and deputy principals. Principals experience nearly twice the level of threats of actual physical violence than other population groups. In addition, they experience more than three times the frequency of bullying at work than the general population. Their average working week is approximately 50 hours and the majority work up to 30 hours a week during school holidays. The sheer quantity of work coupled with the lack of time to concentrate on teaching and learning are further stressors.

Previous research identified that the workload of the principal is a cause for concern in that the demands of the job far exceed the capacity of most people.

The embargo on recruitment and promotion, introduced in 2009, reduced the number of assistant principals and stopped the appointment of special duties teachers, and greatly added to the principals' workload. While there has been some alleviation, the majority of schools still have only a fraction of the number of post holders which they previously held.

As a result, long-term educational planning takes a back seat to the 'urgent' demands of the moment so that principals are distracted from their core function of leading quality instruction, teaching and learning.

There are those who would argue that the present Post of Responsibility structure of assistant principals and special duties teachers, introduced in 1998, established a middle management system in schools. The rationale behind their introduction was excellent. Unfortunately, the implementation of the agreement never lived up to expectations and the systemic review promised has never taken place, with the result that it is no longer fit for purpose.

There are solutions. The second-level school management bodies, the Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools (ACCS), the Joint Managerial Body (JMB) and the Education and Training Boards of Ireland (ETBI), have jointly proposed to the Department of Education and Skills (DES) the establishment of a flexible leadership team structure based on individual school needs.

The very detailed proposal aims to provide a model framework for the management of schools and will provide opportunities for post holders to assume responsibility and accountability for significant leadership and management functions in the school. It will support a path that accommodates a teacher's career development.

ACCS acknowledges the DES' understanding of the current difficulties. The Minister for Education and Skills granted an enhancement at deputy principal level for second level schools of up to 500 students in Budget 2016. ACCS acknowledges this as a first step and hopes that this enhancement can be granted to larger schools in the next Budget.

However, a key concern in our proposal is the context in which a school operates. We argue that schools need flexibility and fluidity in deciding on a middle management structure, rather than a 'one size fits all' model. What is important is that the leadership team has the capacity to meet the needs of the school and improve student outcomes.

Our proposal recognises the significant influence that teacher leadership has on student achievement.

Accordingly, it advocates that our schools become 'learning communities' where a model of shared leadership creates an environment where students and teachers can learn to their potential and where team structures and processes enact and enhance collaboration.

ACCS believes that this proposal provides an opportunity for the teaching unions to become collaborators in the change process and urges them to get involved in the development of a fit-for-purpose leadership team structure for our second level schools

Eileen Salmon is general secretary of the Association of Community and Comprehennsive Schools (ACCS)

Irish Independent

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