9th April 2014 - School Principals to be identified earlier, trained better and supported by clearer roles for Deputy and Assistant Principals - IPPN

By improving how potential school principals are identified, trained and supported, our schools and the education of our students can be improved radically. This was the core message of the Irish Primary Principals' Network’s (IPPN) presentation to the Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection today. Having been asked to address the committee on the subject of school leadership, IPPN examined international and national research as well as feedback from its 3,350 school leaders in order to map out how the entire life cycle of a school principal can be adjusted to improve outcomes for schools and the children attending them.

“What we are suggesting to the Committee and the Department is that it should be possible to improve the performance of school principals and to do so, we have looked at every stage of their careers,” said Sean Cottrell, Executive Director, IPPN. “By spotting their potential earlier, preparing them to lead sooner and training them on a CPD basis throughout their careers we can improve their professional ability. And we also need to have clearer roles for the deputy and assistant principals – oddly enough, there is no clearly defined job description for the principal nor deputy principal.”

Extensive research shows that effective principals are best deployed as ‘Leaders of Learning’ and in that role, can have a greater impact on the learning outcomes for students than any other single factor. There is an urgent need to radically reduce the administrative duties for which principals are currently responsible. We believe that there is a need to create a leadership strategy, which develops potential and aspiring principals and provides a comprehensive training programme to meet the needs of school leaders throughout their career. IPPN informed the Committee members, that they are committed to playing their own part to implement the proposed solutions through the creation of a National Centre for Leadership and Innovation (NCLI).

“Let us be clear, we are looking to improve the level of professionalism and skills not just for the principals but for Boards of Management who are tasked with choosing these leaders,” said Cottrell. “Clearer, more transparent recruitment processes are identified as vital as well as tackling anomalies. So, for example, if a principal has to step down from the role they automatically are placed at the bottom rung of the seniority scale, meaning that in any reorganisation, they, and the knowledge and skills they possess, will be the first ones lost to the school.”

IPPN’s views are based on the OECD report Improving School Leadership (2008) which sets out the pivotal role played by school leaders in improving the quality of student learning. This report also confirms and supports the findings of Prof. Michael Fullan (Quality Leadership <=> Quality Learning, 2006) and Prof. Kenneth Leithwood et al (How Leadership Influences Student Learning, 2004). It was by taking the idea of school principals as ‘Leaders of Learning’ that this research posits and through consultation with IPPN’s 3,350 members, including principals, deputy principals and assistant principals that the 8 point plan presented today was created. 

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