Our schools are losing vital leadership experience when they need it most
GF Chesterton's comment that 'education is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to the next' provides us with a significant challenge as we reflect on the impact of a deep and enduring recession on our education system.
The Joint Managerial Body (JMB), working with boards of management and school management in the network of voluntary secondary schools, believes that no matter how difficult our economic situation, education and the future prospects of our young people must become a national priority.
Reductions in the allocation of teachers, reductions in the numbers of specialist teachers for special needs pupils, English language support, Traveller education and guidance counsellors have all made it very difficult to provide an effective educational experience for pupils. The moratorium on filling vacant posts of responsibility, introduced in March 2009, has led to a loss of over 7,000 middle management posts, such as year heads, in schools.
It is essential that our school leaders have the time and resources to provide leadership in order to ensure an effective education for pupils. Over 60pc of our principals are fewer than four years in their positions. New people are always welcome at leadership level. However, a large turnover of school leaders, with a consequent loss of experience, cannot be in the interest of the education system.
In addition, our boards of management have expressed serious concerns about the high stress levels being experienced by principals as they attempt to cope with a massive workload with ever-decreasing supports and resources.
At the very time voluntary secondary schools are trying to come to terms with the impact of cut-backs, a range of teaching and learning initiatives have been launched. Initiatives such as the promotion of a national literacy and numeracy strategy, school self-evaluation and Junior Cycle reform help to challenge schools to provide an effective and relevant educational experience for young people. However, the capacity of schools to truly embrace such initiatives is severely constrained as a result of six years of recession.
In response to these enormous challenges the JMB, in collaboration with the Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools (ACCS), has launched a proposal for management structures in post-primary schools. It is timely that we set out a purposeful, meaningful and cost-effective approach to the management of our schools in such a way as to provide each school with the opportunity to develop an approach to management that best supports teaching and learning in their school. One thing for sure is that the present situation cannot continue and the JMB and ACCS are determined to pursue this vision for change in the way we manage our schools.
The proposal will be launched at the JMB/AMCSS annual conference over the next two days.
Commentators, of late, have expressed the hope that growth in our economy will bring, in the first instance, an end to cuts in resources to vital areas such as education. Hopefully, such developments will also persuade our political leaders to acknowledge that investment in our schools and young people is central to 'the soul of our society as it passes from one generation to the next'.
FERDIA KELLY IS GENERAL SECRETARY, JMB/AMCSS (ASSOCIATION OF MANAGEMENT OF CATHOLIC SECONDARY SCHOOLS)