Candidates shun principal jobs
Top school role described as 'life sentence' in a bureaucratic quagmire
THE number of teachers willing to take on the top job in primary schools is dropping dramatically, with many schools being forced to re-advertise to attract candidates for the post of principal.
And researchers last night predicted this trend will continue and that the pool of well qualified staff willing to take on principalships will shrink even further.
In 1996, the average ratio of applicants for every post of primary school principal was 5.5, but this has now dropped below an average of two applicants per post. In some cases, initial advertisements attract no applicants.
Even the prospect of extra money will not convince them to apply. The allowance paid to a principal depends on school size.
The head of a school with five or fewer teachers gets an additional €9,310 a year, which rises to €21,386 for a school with 20 to 23 teachers.
DCU academics doctors Gerry McNamara and Joe O'Hara said even senior teachers who hold masters-level qualifications in educational management are unwilling to apply for leadership positions.
One reason these reluctant leaders will not apply is because there is no backing out once they take the job of principal.
A significant number of principals told the academic researchers they were sorry they had ever taken up the job and wished that there was an exit route available. Several described the role of principal as a "life sentence".
Both serving principals and reluctant leaders see principalship as a legal and bureaucratic quagmire, the researchers said in a paper prepared for the Educational Studies Association of Ireland (ESAI).
"The legislative avalanche of recent decades around issues of equity and equality, the re-emergence of school inspection and an increasingly litigious society have combined to place an immense strain on school leaders," the paper states.
Another interviewee said: "You must have every policy and procedure, entry policy, equality policy, discipline policy, suspension/expulsion policy, etc, etc, etc, a perfect paper trail on every issue -- make one slip and you are on your own."
Doctors McNamara and O'Hara said neither serving principals nor reluctant leaders saw the preparation for the role as remotely adequate.
Most get no training before taking up the job. One summarised the general view as follows: "One day you are a teacher or a deputy principal, the next you are behind this desk responsible for everything from the first minute." The academics recommend better succession planning, on-the-job training and an apprenticeship/induction system.
Meanwhile, a separate study shows that family responsibilities are the main barrier to female teachers applying for primary principalships.
Dublin teachers Claire Ni Chianain and Patricia Cahill-Rinn said in a paper for the ESAI that feelings of professional isolation and loneliness as well as dealing with ineffective staff were the biggest challenges facing principals.