The Board of Management has been the governance structure underpinning Irish primary education for almost four decades. The leadership potential for governance is immense given that there are approximately as many people directly involved in school governance as there are teachers teaching in schools. It is for this and other reasons that IPPN has been keen to spotlight governance and to review the composition, roles, operation and effectiveness of the current governance model in Irish primary schools.
This report belongs to those who have contributed to it – the board members of the 500 primary schools randomly selected to participate in the study. Their response has provided – for the first time – real information on who is governing schools, what structures and practices operate locally, and how board members perceive their role and the roles of others. It looks at the extent to which the board functions as a corporate body rather than a gathering of representative groups, whether it works proactively or reactively, leads and governs or follows and manages. IPPN is indebted to all who have contributed to this work but most particularly to the many patron, community, parent and teacher members of boards of management who not only commit voluntarily to the governance of their schools but who also took the time to contribute to this work.
Many principals who participated in this study were keen to acknowledge the contribution over many years of church management bodies – Catholic Primary School Management Association (CPSMA) and the Church of Ireland Board of Education in particular – to primary education in Ireland. The commitment of many priests, rectors, nuns and brothers to supporting schools, principals and teachers, parents and communities in the provision of a high quality education for children is noteworthy.
So where do we go from here? This report is timely, given the debate on governance and patronage that is gathering momentum. The reality is, as the findings of this report indicate, that national schools are fairly embedded in a management structure that for many reasons needs to be completely reconfigured. We need to ‘unlearn’ our management practices and begin again. Patronage is one debate. Effective governance is another. Regardless of what the outcome on ownership and patronage may be, schools need to lift their game on governance.
There is an African proverb that states ‘It takes more than one person to make a path’. We need to create a new path for school governance. IPPN presents this report on governance as its contribution to a first step along that new path.