Wednesday 13 December 2017

In my opinion: Frontline services must be protected for schools to perform

Noel Merrick

The Joint Managerial Body/Association of Management of Catholic Secondary Schools welcomes the Government's commitment to education in the Programme for National Recovery.

Like the Government, management in the 390 voluntary secondary schools is committed to protecting and enhancing the educational experience of all pupils. The Government reflects this vision when it states: "Education is at the heart of a more cohesive, more equal and more successful society, and it will be the engine of sustainable economic growth."

While the pressure on the State's finances is undeniably real, we must always remember that investment in education pays off in multiples.

The truth is, however, that education in Ireland has remained under-resourced, even in good times. Ireland is currently ranked 30th out of 33 OECD countries in terms of expenditure on education and 27th place out of 29 when it comes to per-capita investment in each second-level student.

In this context, our voluntary secondary schools certainly have given value for money over the years. When one considers the excellent quality of the education provided, the tremendous sense of community that exists, the wide range of extra-curricular activities, the dedication of staff, principals and deputy principals and boards of management, what they have achieved is remarkable. However, the underfunding of the voluntary secondary sector compared to the other second-level sectors remains a vital issue of concern.

The JMB/AMCSS welcomes the Government's statement that: "It will endeavour to protect frontline services in education."

We know that there will be a significant increase in enrolment in second level over the coming years. We must ensure that the frontline services are maintained.

A central issue is the extraordinary and unsustainable workload of our principals. No other set of public servants are expected to work 12-hour days and at weekends. Principals cannot down tools at 5pm; they can't decide not to meet with staff, parents and students and to deal with the myriad of administrative tasks. It's widely accepted that the key function of a principal is to be the leader of teaching and learning. How can any principal perform this function in these circumstances?

The only answer for many principals is to retire. All over the country it is happening and no one wants the job. One school last year advertised for the post of principal -- there was one applicant. The same school advertised a teaching post and received 357 applications.

Schools with 1,000 pupils have second deputy principals; the JMB/AMCSS asks that this be extended over a number of years on a pro-rata basis to all schools. In schools of less than 500, it is remarkable that there is no allocation of time at all for the post of deputy principal.

The Programme for National Recovery contains a proposal to devolve locally some administrative functions; the last thing this country needs right now is the creation of another tier of bureaucracy.

If there are resources available, the Government should devolve them to the schools and let school management get on with running them.

In these times of hardship, we must keep our nerve, prize our young people, prize our school communities and give hope to our school leaders.

Noel Merrick - President, JMB/AMCSS. Principal, Meánscoil Iognaid Rís, Naas, Co Kildare

Irish Independent

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