24th January 2014 - Irish Primary Principals Network (IPPN) Director Seán Cottrell calls on Minister to take action on the “unreasonable expectations” threatening pupils’ future

In a hard hitting message delivered directly to Education Minister Ruairi Quinn, who’s attending this year’s IPPN conference at the City West Hotel, Saggart, Co. Dublin on 23 and 24 January, IPPN Director Seán Cottrell said primary school principals are in imminent danger of neither having the time nor the resources to deliver the service their pupils deserve because of the increasing and often conflicting demands being made on their time and workload. Significantly increased administration requirements alongside decreased budgets and resources and changes to recruitment policy have left many Primary Principals struggling to continue to provide their pupils with high quality education in the face of “unreasonable expectations” from The Department of Education and Skills.

In his address to the 1,100 strong audience Mr Cottrell said,

“Every IPPN member understands that we have to do much more with a lot less in the current economic environment. And we have. We have worked long and hard to maintain pre- recession standards of service with post-recession funding and resources. But there does come a point at which this will not be possible. And we are fast approaching that point.

Primary schools set children out on the path to their future. It is in primary school that children learn many of the skills which will lay the foundations for achievements throughout lives and careers; lives and careers which are also going to contribute this this nation’s future.

We cannot fail them at the first step on that journey.

Our pupils are our first priority and as leaders in the primary school sector it is our duty to draw attention to the issues that threaten the service we provide to them and, as a result, their future".

Mr Cottrell went on to detail some of the key issues threatening to impact Principals focus on their pupils.

“Since the year 2000, The Department has issued 430 separate circulars with 34 in 2013 alone. Each requires significant input from the school Principal in terms of time and workload in an environment where their resources are already stretched to the limit.

Minister, the biggest threat to the quality of children’s learning is the initiative fatigue that is draining morale from teachers and principals. The level of expectation on principals is not just great, it’s unreasonable. Principals and teachers need the time and space to absorb and implement those initiatives that have already been introduced and ensure their primary focus remains on their primary responsibility, providing high quality teaching for the children in their schools. You’ve imposed a moratorium on new posts and you continue to reduce or freeze our financial resources. So, how about a moratorium on new initiatives. Give us some breathing space to put the resources we have to the best possible use and free us from the burden of needless additional administration initiatives.”

Mr Cottrell also called on the Minister to be aware of the potentially damaging fallout from the cutbacks imposed on special needs education; the increased workload on resulting from reduced resources and changes to recruitment policy which have replaced advertising and open competition with redeployment thereby giving schools little say in the teaching staff allocated to them.

“‘Enabling learners to achieve their full potential’ is a stated objective in the Department’s mission statement. That objective is in danger of being no more than wishful thinking given the reductions in teachers, special needs assistants, resource teachers and operational grants.”

He asked the Minister to reconsider the cutbacks in special needs support and provide the funding, to allow Principal’s one non-teaching day a week to focus on the administrative demands of their role and to agree to a 12 month moratorium on new initiatives.

“It is time to put primary school children first.”

(Ends)

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