7 March 2017 - Irish schools face shortage of principals as role’s managerial and administrative duties deter teachers from stepping up to leadership role—education report

• Increasing burden of administrative work, like procurement and school maintenance, stops primary and secondary principals from taking a more active role in promoting teaching and learning;
• The independent report, published jointly by IPPN and NAPD, suggests creation of regional management boards to take on these managerial duties on behalf of individual schools;
• Government must spend more on education, in line with increased social welfare and healthcare budgets, to meet increasing demand for school places and implement crucial reforms;
• Overall, successive Irish governments have remained strong on education, and Irish pupils rank highly in literacy, numeracy and science by international standards.


Irish primary and secondary schools face a shortage of principals as the job increasingly becomes largely, if not entirely, administrative and managerial, deterring teachers from aspiring to the role, a new education report suggests.

The report, titled “Towards a Better Future: A Review of the Irish School System”, written by a number of Irish education academics and jointly published by the Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN) and the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD), was launched today at a symposium at The Conrad Hotel in Dublin. The report takes stock of the Irish education system, reflecting on its recent developments and its future trajectory.

The role of the principal, the report says, should be to lead, teach and promote the school in the local community, but instead these duties are being side-lined to perform administrative work, like procurement and utilities management.

The report’s authors suggest the creation of regional primary and secondary school management boards—similar to those that already exist in the Education and Training Board (ETB) sector—to take on these duties. This would reduce the managerial workload on principals and give them more time to teach and lead.

The spending disparity between social welfare, healthcare and education was also highlighted. Since 2000, spending on social welfare has increased from 26.7 percent to 38 percent, healthcare from 19.6 percent to 26 percent, while education has only increased from 13.9 percent to 17 percent. Greater budget must be allocated to education to ensure that not only are crucial education reforms completed, but that existing school infrastructure can cope with the rapidly increasing number of Irish primary and secondary pupils.

The report does however praise the overall Irish education system and the state’s commitment to providing high-quality schooling to all sections of society, despite the tough economic backdrop of recent years. Learning standards have remained consistently high. Compared with other countries, Ireland continues to rank among the best for literacy, numeracy and science learning. Irish parents, too, are recognised and commended for the priority they place on their children’s education at primary, second and third level.

Professor John Coolahan, one of the report’s authors, emphasised that a major, interconnected reform programme for Irish schooling has been underway, but was impeded by the years of austerity. “It is vital now that the necessary investment be made so that the reform policy is achieved, which is crucial for the future well-being of Irish society,” he said. He stated that the analysis in Towards A Better Future “points the way forward”.

Clive Byrne, Director of the NAPD, said: “Ireland is well-positioned to become an educational superpower in Europe, and we believe the Government is on course to meet its goals as set out in the Action Plan for Education. This reflective report highlights the many strengths of the Irish education system and draws attention to the productive and consultative relationship that schools and educational bodies share with the Department of Education and Skills and the Government as a whole.

“However, we must remain cognisant of the challenges that our education system faces and move to address structural flaws as quickly and adroitly as possible. The creation of an intermediary management board to ease the administrative burden on principals is one such step. This will help principals take on more teaching and leadership roles, and encourage teachers and aspiring leaders to consider the position as their career matures.”

Seán Cottrell, CEO of IPPN, said: “Both IPPN and NAPD have previously published many independent reports. The Towards a Better Future report is a significant milestone for Irish education with both sectors working and researching together. Its findings and recommendations are a testament to the benefits of cross-sector collaboration.

“Indeed, the report identifies and reiterates the core problems affecting both primary and secondary schools, and highlights their shared success stories. Ongoing collaboration between primary and secondary organisations, and the Department of Education and Skills, will be crucial to achieve long-term sectoral reform and meet the objectives of the Action Plan for Education.”

Towards a Better Future: A Review of the Irish School System report authors:

Dr John Coolahan – Emeritus Professor of Education at the National University of Ireland Maynooth
Dr Sheelagh Drudy – Emeritus Professor of Education and former Head of the School of Education at UCD
Dr Pádraig Hogan – Senior Lecturer in Education at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth
Dr Áine Hyland – Emeritus Professor of Education and former Vice President of University College Cork
Dr Séamus McGuinness – Former Senior Lecturer in the School of Education, Trinity College Dublin

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