In my opinion: The stark reality of life in schools shorn of key personnel
In March 2009 the Government, in an urgent and dramatic response to a serious budget deficit, introduced a moratorium on filling vacancies across the public sector. In the education sector the moratorium was implemented through a ban on filling any vacancy that occurred in the middle management structures.
The provision of middle management services in schools is dependent on a post of responsibility system. In this system teachers are granted additional allowances for undertaking a specified range of duties in addition to their teaching duties.
In Voluntary Secondary schools the typical duties assigned to posts of responsibility holders include that of year head, examination secretary, programme co-ordinator, special needs co-ordinator and health and safety co-ordinator.
Secondary schools have developed pastoral care systems which are serving pupils well.
The Task Force on Behaviour Report, School Matters, in 2006 recognised the importance of Year Heads within the school community. So what does Government do? Instead of supporting the role of year head, many such posts are abolished. A severe recession is no excuse for removing an essential source of support for teenagers.
Recessions come and go, regardless of the severity, but young people only get one chance at growing up. The Joint Managerial Body, on behalf of the management of Voluntary Secondary schools, calls on the Government to immediately recognise the damage being done to this generation of young people.
Within the network of Voluntary Secondary schools there are some who have, as a result of retirements, lost all of their middle management posts at the rank of assistant principal. The most likely scenario in such schools is that there are no year heads, examination secretary or programme co-ordinators.
What happens when a pupil is experiencing a difficulty, where does he or she find support if the pastoral care structure has been abolished due to the recession? Who does a parent contact should he/she wish to seek advice as a result of being worried about his/her child? Equally, how is the Leaving Certificate Applied Programme or the Transition Year programme to operate if there is no co-ordinator?
The only people left to respond to the situations outlined above are the principals and deputy principals. It has long been recognised that managing a school is a challenging and demanding role. However, for many principals the role has sadly become a source of frustration and severe stress.
Principals in our schools are utterly dedicated and caring professionals. However, for some the stress of trying to perform a role that has become impossible has led them to make the difficult decision to retire early, as reflected in the numerous advertisements for vacant principalships.
The Joint Managerial Body calls on the Government to recognise the importance of education for our young people and society at large. It is time to recognise that we are in danger of irreparably damaging our excellent education system for our young people. We are also in danger of irreparably damaging the health of some of the most dedicated professionals in the public sector in this country, namely our school principals.
The answer to all of these dangers lies in the Government addressing the impact of the moratorium by an immediate restoration of posts of responsibility in schools.