Schools in crisis as workload sparks exodus of principals
A LEADERSHIP crisis is engulfing primary schools as principals head for the exit door in record numbers.
An unprecedented 389 principals retired in 2009, new figures reveal. And evidence suggests more than 400 others are set to follow them into early retirement this year.
While many have reached normal retirement age, an increasing number are leaving early because of the growing administrative workload.
Some are also quitting because of the threat to pensions, although no change is planned in pension arrangements this year. And if the Croke Park pay deal is accepted there will be no change next year.
Successive Education Ministers have promised to tackle the workload problem but, according to INTO, very little has been done.
"A priority for the new minister, Mary Coughlan, should be to tackle the bureaucratic and administrative nightmare that principals face," a spokesman for the union said.
The extra workload is caused by legislative and policy changes. For instance, schools now had to deal with legislation covering equality, employment and data protection and spend more time dealing with bodies such as the National Educational Welfare Board, he added. "They have to do this with the minimum of assistance," said the union.
A spokesman for the minister said she was examining ways of reducing the administrative burden as quickly as possible.
Official figures show that only three out of every 10 primary principals are what is termed 'walking principals' -- in other words, they do not have teaching duties. These are the heads of larger schools, for example, those with seven or more teachers.
The remaining 70pc have teaching duties in addition to the administrative tasks associated with the running of the schools. They are allowed a number of days off -- up to a maximum of 22 a year -- to undertake administrative duties.
The Irish Primary Principals Network (IPPN) president Pat Geoff said that "the exodus of more than one-fifth of all principals in just two years is creating a huge deficit in leadership experience in primary schools".
He said this leadership drain would almost certainly stagnate the education system and inhibit Ireland's ability to compete with its neighbours.
"More alarming is the growing reluctance of potential successors to apply for the position of principal," he told a conference of deputy principals in Citywest, Co Dublin.
"Most recent research figures indicate that, on average, less than two candidates per position are applying for the post of principal when it arises. In a number of cases, there were absolutely no applications for what was once considered a desirable position," he said.
Research showed that this was due to the untenable workload, inadequate support and a lack of middle-management structures, he added.
IPPN director Sean Cottrell said it was the organisation's position that a principal should be appointed on the basis of a seven-year contract.