25th January 2007 - Primary Schools to end Fundraising for survival

Speaking on RTE's Morning Ireland today IPPN Director Seán Cottrell said "Principals, teachers and parents should not have to fundraise for basic running costs for primary schools. Fundraising for survival takes from the core business of school which is teaching and learning. If schools operate strictly on government funding, many schools would be forced to close between February & Easter."

A recent survey of 200 primary schools conducted by IPPN (the Irish Primary Principals Network) has found that 97% of our primary schools do not receive enough to cover their basic running costs and 80% of schools depend on fundraising from parents to cover the shortfall.

Primary schools get €161 per child every year. This is to cover the basic costs of keeping the building open and operating so that teaching and learning can take place. It is meant to pay for heat, light, insurance, telephone, cleaning, and security as well as Art and Craft supplies, PE equipment, science materials, books, software and other educational resources for use by children. The average grant for the schools surveyed was €25,000. Their running costs averaged €48,000. The shortfall was €23,000 or nearly 100% of what they received from the Exchequer.

"This survey shows that our primary schools are receiving only half of what they need to operate." said Seán. "Paradoxically, when a child leaves primary and starts in a second level school, the grant changes from €161 to €316. This begs the question: Does it cost less to heat, clean and insure a building with 200 four year olds than a building with 200 fourteen year olds? "

Almost half of the schools surveyed operate from a bank overdraft for part or all of the school year. Schools open each year in September but do not receive the first part of their capitation grant until January. "We are in the vicious circle that any fundraising goes into the black hole of an overdraft. The bank has refused us an extension to the overdraft facility and is looking to get us to take a Term Loan to help us." reported one principal.

Tomás O Slatara, President of IPPN said. "If we are serious about education as a driving force for economic competitiveness, we must at a minimum double the investment in the basic running costs of schools. Schools are depending on the goodwill and financial support of parents to keep the doors open. This is not how it should be in times of prosperity."

"Garda superintendents and chief fire officers do not have to fund raise to meet the running costs of their stations. The time and energy I spend fundraising is time lost from teaching and learning" stated one principal in the survey.

IPPN Director, Seán Cottrell is calling for

* An independent analysis of the actual running costs of schools. * A serious debate involving all education partners * An end to fundraising in schools for basic running costs

"We are going to invest billions through the National Development Plan - gone should be the day when the next fill of oil in a primary school is dependent on the cake sale."


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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 January 2007 01:00

26th January 2007 - Principalship in a Changing Ireland - Challenge and Opportunity

Good morning everybody. I must say that I am delighted to be here in Killarney in the company of such an esteemed gathering of 750 school leaders, most-welcome guests, colleagues and great friends... I wish to thank you, Minister, for addressing our Conference and for your strong support for IPPN. We admire your enthusiasm, energy, commitment and high visibility in your role as Minister. You have succeeded in increasing the primary budget, especially for buildings, Education Disadvantage and Special Education Needs. We also acknowledge your initiative in authorizing 20 substitute supply panels for Teaching Principals' administration days. We are especially grateful for your announcement today granting Designated Status to IPPN. This affirms the value placed by your Department on IPPN as an Education Partner.

IPPN is a solution-driven professional body of school leaders and we are committed to working with you and your officials in delivering real improvement in primary education. I would specifically like to acknowledge the support of Secretary General, Brigid McManus and Chief Inspector, Eamon Stack, as well as Martin Hanevy and Paul Ryan for our Professional Development programmes. In tandem with the work of LDS, this investment in school leadership is beginning to make a difference. We do appreciate your practical support as we seek to enhance the quality of school leadership.

Last evening you heard our President address the Conference theme, Changing Ireland, in the context of change as an adjective - how Ireland has changed and continues to change. This morning, I will explore the conference theme looking at Change as a verb, and the actions that need to be taken if we are to achieve real improvement in primary education for the benefit of all children.

Principalship in a changing Ireland is a significant challenge. For many, it feels more like a crisis. While my Chinese isn't great, I understand that the word 'crisis' in Chinese is represented by two symbols: one of which means "challenge"; the other "opportunity". My case to you this morning is that if school leadership is to be really effective in a time of constant change, we must find the courage within ourselves to define our role as Principal based on what we can, rather than what we cannot .. do. Principalship has lapsed into a state of disempowerment rather than empowermentâ€Â¦.. Later on, I will examine how the role of Principal needs to change and the responsibility we, as Principals, must take for those changes. But first, I want to take a closer look at the system itself.

The first person I heard talking about openness and change was Mikail Gorbachev when he introduced the notion of "glasnost" and "perestroika" - that by the way is the full extent of my Russian! The 1990s gave us a new culture of transparency and accountability. Nowhere has the appetite for accountability been greater than in education. The public now has full access to Whole School Evaluation reports online. But it strikes me that it is not entirely balanced or fair to focus all evaluation and accountability at the unit of service delivery, namely the school. Would it not be reasonable to also evaluate the system that controls schools including education policy and resources? What about if we were to have REAL WSE â€Â¦Ã¢€Â¦ whole SYSTEM evaluation?

Let's start by looking at the strengths of the system. Ireland has gained an international reputation for having a high standard of teaching and learning. We have a strong tradition of placing great value on education. The teaching profession has always been held in high esteem. Our teachers and Principals are highly professional and committed to their work. Practising teachers and Principals are engaged in designing and delivering Professional Development programmes. Our children are ambitious and eager to learn. Parents support their children's education and have opportunities to work closely with teachers. We have a Minister who is passionate about education and has brought it right to the centre of Government policy. We also have a Secretary General who is open to new ideas and focused on strategic planning and change. The Inspectorate has evolved from traditional Inspection to a research & evaluation role. Progress is being made towards the inclusion of all children in our schools. There is a growing emphasis on research and the provision of support programmes for teachers. The importance of leadership as an agent of positive change is becoming part of mainstream thinking.

This description of the strengths of our education system, is by no means comprehensive but nevertheless, profiles much of what is good about it.

Let's now look at some of the key weaknesses or, as they are called these days, areas for development bearing in mind the National Development Plan and Towards 2016.

Where better to start than with Funding. The rising cost of running a primary school continues to outstrip the rate of increase in grant aid. In our recent research you told us that your school is only funded to the tune of approximately half of its actual running costs. Successive governments must STOP regarding primary education as a charity - - particularly at a time when Ireland is one of the richest nations in the world.

Most schools are left to operate with part-time secretaries and caretakers, barely earning the minimum wage. And by the way, could someone explain to me, as I'm a little bit slow on the pick up, why a 13 year old in a secondary school needs twice as much heat, light, insurance and cleaning as his 12 year old sister .. across the road in a primary school? Is this not a form of educational apartheid?

So what's needed? Apart from capital investment, funding the everyday running costs of primary schools must be brought into line with that of second-level schools. This funding must be based on the number of children enrolled in the current school year and issued on a monthly basis. Secretaries and caretakers must be paid by the Department with secretaries given the same terms and conditions as Special Needs Assistants.

Next, I want to look at the role of the school itself It seems to me that just about every government department, statutory agency and lobby groupâ€Â¦ focuses on the primary school to solve all of the ills of modern society. There has been a progressive overloading of the Role of the School leading to expectations that are unreasonable and unsustainable. Some Teachers and Principals are being asked not just to educate children, but to feed, clothe and vaccinate them, to act as surrogate parents, amateur psychologists, social workers, paramedics and providers of crèche facilities. There a long-term risk that families will become even more disempowered by their over-dependence on schools in serving the basic needs of their children.

The time has come to re-examine the main purpose of the school. If the school is going to become the point where more than educational services are delivered, then the design, planning and resourcing of schools must include facilities and professionals for the relevant disciplines. The provision of comprehensive services to children is essential but not at the risk of compromising the core function of the school.

The Revised Curriculum is undoubtedly something we are all proud of. However, the myriad additional agencies and support services that now interact with schools collectively consume so much time and energy from teachers. Teachers that are already challenged with the detailed planning practices associated with 11 different subjects. We may yet see proof of the theory that "the thickness of the planning file is inversely proportional to the quality of the teaching". Within a few years, we may well be redirected to concentrate on literacy and numeracy because of falling standards â€Â¦.exactly as happened in England. To address this growing concern, I want to repeat IPPN's call first made in 2005 to re-structure the main support programmes - School Development Planning, Curriculum Support & Special Education Support - into one, locally-based, professional support service offering a more coherent, and less intrusive interaction with schools.

Last evening you heard our President describe one of the biggest demographic changes in Ireland since the Famine - the arrival of the New Irish. We-are, at best, struggling to embrace these changes in our schools. The Department has consulted widely in the last year and is aware of what needs to be done, particularly in relation to improving the quality and accessibility of language support services. Improved services are urgently required if schools are to meet the needs of these children. However, a much bigger challenge to be resolved is the uneven distribution of New Irish children among schools. This is an issue which equally applies to children from disadvantaged homes, Traveller children and children with Special Education Needs.

Complex problems require radical solutions. IPPN proposes the creation of a pre-school facility similar to Early Start which can deliver as a key objective, a language competency that enables every child to commence Junior Infants without disadvantage. Such pre-schools would also facilitate other children who have been identified as requiring pre-school language support. Furthermore, schools must be resourced to employ people with the appropriate skills in translation, language teaching and cultural education as Integration Support Assistants.

Affirmative action must be taken to address the unequal distribution of New Irish children in schools. Factors such as language groups, access to rental accommodation, transport and jobs tend to create concentrated enrolments of New Irish in certain schools. There is anecdotal evidence of some schools deflecting applications for enrolment to other schools in their area with a more open door policy. All Principals have a moral responsibility to be fully inclusive in this regard. Two actions are required: first, we need a comprehensive audit of all school enrolments from the New Irish community. This will enable strategic planning to be based on facts rather than estimation. Second, the Department should engage its Regional Offices in the coordination of enrolment applications from the New Irish community. While this may require an amendment to the Education Act, I believe it is necessary if we are to address this fundamental issue. It will not resolve itself.

Moving on to technology, nine years ago, we were getting ready to embrace the digital revolution in schools. We all know what happened - a digital damp squib. Now there's a huge difference between the ICT haves and the ICT have-nots depending on a school's fundraising capacity. This means that children's access to technology is unequal. How many of our children will be dunces in the Knowledge society?

What needs to happen? First, looking at ICT as a tool for learning, we urgently need to develop a strategy which will enable the delivery of the curriculum for all children through appropriate technologies. Start by targeting one core subject such as Mathematics and make ICT the vehicle through which it is delivered for every child. This strategy must fully integrate pedagogy, training, software, hardware and technical support, with multi-annual funding for ongoing reinvestment. Second: It is both urgent and important that the Department commences work on a National Pupil Database. This must be capable of capturing information from schools electronically and sharing this information where relevant.

Let's now talk about the "elephant in the corner". Teaching Principals lead 7 out of every 10 schools. They account for almost half of all primary children. We know from research that the quality of education in smaller schools is excellent. We also know that such schools are crucial to their communities particularly given the disappearance of most other services in rural Ireland. Why then are virtually all Department policies & programmes designed for larger schools and single-grade teaching? Is there some secret strategy to have fewer, larger schools? If so, how could such an arrogant approach be justified? What IS the Department's policy for small schools? Does it have one? If not, why not?

Three actions are required as a matter of urgency if we are to show even a modicum of respect for the needs of the parents, children, teachers and Principals of small schools.

First, small schools must be facilitated to form clusters enabling them to access the facilities of full-time secretarial, caretaking and other shareable resources. This would allow small schools to create a critical mass, and acquire the benefits of larger schools.

Second, Teaching Principals must not be prevented from filling the role of support teacher.

Third, systematic and sustainable support must be provided for Teaching Principals. This will allow meaningful time outside teaching hours for instructional leadership and school management.

To achieve this, IPPN is calling for a radical change to the current redeployment panel. This would involve the creation of new supply panels for clusters of small schools. Teachers who become available through redeployment are allocated to a cluster of five small schools. This will provide guaranteed substitute cover on a rotational basis for those Teaching Principals. Minister, I urge you to take this as an absolute priority from this conference.

The last system weakness that I want to refer to today has to do with recruitment and retention of Principals. A system that recognises, but fails to reward the leadership role of Principal has to be questioned. All legislation and policy confirms the Principal as the pivotal person to lead school improvement. Yet Principals continue to be rewarded as a teacher with an add-on allowance for their leadership role. The opportunity to review pay comes just a few times over the course of our careers. Our research evidence points clearly to the need for a different reward system that is based on a separate salary scale. IPPN argues that this is the only strategy that will reward the leadership role and provide incentives for teachers to seek promotion to Principalship. Tweaking the allowances alone, fails to address the key issues. Principals are required to fulfil a 21st century leadership role while rewarded on a 20th century model.

IPPN has no direct role in this process. However, on your behalf, we have conducted research, consulted with members and published our findings. We have presented a clear goal and a viable strategy to our Union. The responsibility now rests with THEM to deliver this time for Principals.

In summary, we have a lot to be proud of in our education system. But we must not live on past glories and continuously play catch-up. If we want Ireland's next generation to enjoy our current prosperity, we must not just compete with the best education systems in the world, we must surpass them. This is absolutely achievable but it will take vision, leadership and, above all, the courage to act. Perhaps it's now time for people with the courage, vision and decisiveness of a Donagh O'Malley to show such leadership - this time for PRIMARY education.

Having looked at strategies to address some of the weaknesses in the system, we must now turn to Principalship itself and how it needs to change. Evidence from our recent research confirms that most of you love your jobs! You feel privileged to be able to guide your team of teachers as you influence generations of children. Why then are so many Principals not getting job satisfaction and looking for a way out? The simple answer is that you have been let down. You have been overloaded and suffocated by work imposed on you by others. You either feel guilty about the quality of teaching in your own classrooms or, in the case of Administrative Principals, feel guilty for not having sufficient time to influence the quality of teaching and learning across the school. Perhaps it's time to develop the Stay Safe programme for Principals - Say No, Get Away, Tell Somebody.

However, sometimes we neglect to speak about the Principals who have courageously defined their own roles in an effort to manage rather than react to change. What sets them apart is their courage, creativity and their healthy lack of respect for the status quo. They are driven by a passion to make a difference for the children in their care by doing whatever it takes.

The Department's decision to relieve Deputy Principals in larger schools of their teaching duties is a welcome case in point. More than ten years ago, some Principals took the courageous decision, with the backing of their Boards, to free up their Deputy Principals. And now we see policy following the lead of good practice. This, by the way, must be extended to a far greater number of Deputy Principals.

Courageous leaders often don't conform and either get themselves into deep trouble or become the evangelists whom others later seek to follow. Such people rarely look for permission - only forgiveness. Thinkâ€Â¦

As Principal teacher you have experienced phenomenal levels of change both in your own role and in the lives and work of the children, parents and teachers you encounter on a daily basis. Sometimes we forget the extent to which those very same people look to you - the Principal - as the one who can change things for the better.

So what does this mean for us?

It's time to stop waiting for good policy to arrive and start pioneering your own best practice. After all, has good policy ever emerged in the absence of good practice preceding it? Think of Special Schools and special classes.

However, for Principals to develop best practice, we must have a strong moral compass. We must be able to differentiate between "doing the right thing" and "doing things right". To achieve this, it is necessary to boil down Principalship to its fundamentals - our job is essentially to make sure that what we do individually and collectively is in the best interest of all the children in our care.

Naturally, every leader has to be accountable. Legally, Principals are accountable to their Board, Patron, Minister and to the Law of the Land. As Principals, we are also accountable to our own moral conscience and to the children who enter our schools every day. If we use our moral accountability as a guiding principle, we will be less inclined to feel restricted by the 'what ifs' and the 'if onlys'. We need to become greater risk-takers. I think it was Michael Fullan who said "it is a far greater risk to maintain a dysfunctional status quo" .

Sometimes, being a leader means not being over-compliant. Sometimes the leader has to be subversive, not afraid to challenge the system and upset the status quo. They like to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.

So, how do I become the change I want to see? If I want to reclaim my role as Principal as well as get job satisfaction, I need to be absolutely clear in my mind that when confronted with difficult decisions, I focus on what is the right thing to do for all the children in my care. I need to know that I have the right to say yes and no, the right to delegate, and the right to expect support from my peers and those to whom I report. The key message I want you to take from today is that you are NOT alone, that there IS support and that you CAN act.

The one thing that I am certain of is this: the Principals I know who love their jobs are the ones who are clear about the purpose of their role and who get a buzz out of putting their own stamp on change. They are the ones who invest in their own personal and professional development and who have developed a strong survival instinct. These are the qualities that I observe in the Principals who have stepped forward to drive the Irish Primary Principals' Network. Each and every one of you, through your membership, can take credit for IPPN. It, is indeed, living proof that collectively, school leadership is a powerful and positive force. We have established leadership credibility and are in a strong position to influence change.

Minister, we have the leaders with the experience, the commitment and the passion to bring about dynamic change in Irish primary education. You have at your disposal this potential which is waiting to be unlocked. Minister, you hold the key. Empower principals now with the supports we need. Just imagine what we can achieve.


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Last Updated: Friday, 26 January 2007 01:00

6th February 2007 - Cheaper holidays and full school attendance not mutually exclusive.

Cheaper holidays and full school attendance not mutually exclusive.

For families with school going children, where the choice of timing of a holiday is limited by the standardised closing of Irish schools, there can be a great temptation to make significant savings by choosing to go outside the school holidays. This has led to some children missing out on school time.

Is there a way in which, nationally, there could be greater flexibility in schools choosing the timing of their breaks while still maintaining co-ordination at local level? IPPN (The Irish Primary Principals Network) thinks there is.

"Schools and teachers - as much as parents - appreciate the need for co-ordination of school closings and holidays. As principals, we are very concerned that all children should attend school fully. There is no argument about this." said Tomas O Slatara, President of IPPN. "However, the main need for co-ordinating school closures is at a local or regional level, not a national one."

In other European countries, where there is pressure on ski resorts and holiday destinations, they have adopted a staggered approach to school closings on a regional basis. Germany has ten regions where the closings are co-ordinated on a regional basis but staggered nationally. France has three zones. Denmark allows flexibility within a certain number of minimum days a school operates with municipalities deciding at a local level. Italy has eleven regions where closings are co-ordinated but staggered nationally. "These countries have had to come up with a sensible arrangement to cope with this issue.

If, as it appears, some children are missing out on school time because of pressure to avail of cheaper holidays, then we should look at a regional or local arrangement which would maintain co-ordination for practical purposes at a local level but which would stagger breaks nationally.The travel and holiday industry is no different to any other in the way that supply and demand works. Greater demand allied to lower supply means higher prices. If everyone is looking to go away at the same time, then availability will be restricted and prices will be higher" said Seán Cottrell, IPPN National Director

"The move in recent years to standardise school holidays arose out of a number of factors. Many parents were frustrated where they had children attending a number of different schools in the same locality and where these schools closed at different times for breaks and holidays. When schools did not all close at the same time, some families had to make arrangements for childminding and transport over a protracted period. One child in primary on break this week and another on break next week meant two weeks of special arrangements instead of just one. Co-ordinating school transport and other services was another reason for making all schools close at the same times."

The IPPN proposal can allow for the flexibility of arrangements to meet these different needs while still maintaining the integrity of the school year.

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Last Updated: Tuesday, 06 February 2007 01:00

20th February 2007 - IPPN Statement on Teacher initial education, induction and probation

Teacher initial education, induction and probation

If the findings of the DES report on the quality of teaching practice in a sample of final year students are accurate and reflective of the overall picture, then we would expect that up to one in three newly qualified teachers in their first year of probation would "fail" their probation. How many teachers in 2004, 05, 06 have not been probated? In this first year, significant support and expertise by principals and senior teachers goes to helping new teachers hone their craft. Principals put significant time and resources into helping newly qualified teachers. In 7 out of 10 cases, this is an additional responsibility on top of a full class teaching day.

Principals are concerned at the timing of this report in the context of other moves. It would appear that there is a steady and persistent move towards shifting the responsibility for induction and probation away from the DES and the Inspectorate and on to BOM's and Principals. This was traditionally an area of responsibility and competency for Inspectors. Now apparent that schools - and this means principals - expected to shoulder more and more responsibility in this matter.

It looks like the pilot programme on teacher induction might be extended fully. This is a very intensive and formalised programme of what is informal good practice by principals. It could be considered as replacing the proposed 4th year of the initial B.Ed. course. This is yet another responsibility being handed on to schools without any corresponding recognition of additional resources needed to do so. 7 out of 10 principals also teach a full class day. How can they be expected to take on formal teacher induction and probation matters as well?


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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 February 2007 01:00

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