17th Nov 2022: There can be no further prevarication on the unsustainability of primary school leadership. The time to act is now.

In his input at the IPPN annual principals' conference in Killarney today, IPPN President Brian O’Doherty focused on the current reality of primary school leadership setting out a roadmap to allow school leaders to focus on their core purpose of ‘leading teaching and learning’.

Launching a report based on research undertaken over the past two years by IPPN on the issue of sustainable leadership, he assured those present that ‘This is not an exercise in ‘woe is us’. On the contrary, the objective of the project is to enhance school leadership, which leads to more effective schools, which leads to better outcomes for children. It’s one of those rare opportunities where everyone could be a winner.

Mr O’Doherty summarised the purpose of the report: ‘Effective school leadership is second only to effective classroom teaching as a positive influence on and determinant of pupil learning. Anything that supports and facilitates effective school leadership will have a positive impact on our leadership practice, school effectiveness and, ultimately, learner outcomes. However, the opposite is also true; anything that negatively detracts from our potential effectiveness as school leaders has a detrimental impact on us, on our schools and, more importantly, on children.’

The system views the school leader as a key agent in enabling sustained school and system-wide change. Consequently, the role has been ‘leveraged’, leading to tasks and responsibilities being consistently added to the workload of school leaders, year on year.

In the recent report by former Chief Inspector Harold Hislop, one of the key recommendations was the need for those in leadership and management positions to ‘place a more substantial focus on the leadership of teaching and learning’. The IPPN president’s response: ‘We couldn’t agree more; our collective response is “if only”.’

Referring to a recent IPPN survey completed by over 1,000 principals, Mr O’Doherty highlighted that school leaders gave an average rating of 3.96 out of 10 for the sustainability of their leadership role, and commented that ‘When I was a student in school, anything less than 4 out of 10 or 40% did not look good on a report card and usually led to hard questions having to be answered at home.’

Another stunning statistic was the 97% of principals surveyed who strongly agreed (78%) or agreed (19%) that the key issue that undermines the sustainability of their leadership role is the number of tasks and responsibilities principals have to undertake that have little or nothing to do with the core purpose as school leaders. ‘In short, [school leaders] are not being given the time and space to do the job [they] signed up to do, which is compromising [their] effectiveness and undermining the sustainability of [their] leadership roles’.

The impact of this lack of role clarity and increased workload on principals’ health and wellbeing was also explored in research done by Deakin University, which compared results with research undertaken in 2015. The latest data reveals that the incidence of burnout, stress and depressive symptoms among Irish primary school leaders is almost double that of the healthy working population and more than double for sleeping troubles and cognitive stress. The two highest sources of stress at work were identical to the top two identified in the 2015 study, namely quantity of work and lack of time to focus on teaching & learning.

Summarising the issue, he spoke about the current reality of school leadership in Ireland: ‘Given the increased scores for negative health and wellbeing outcomes […] primary school leadership is taking a significant toll on the health and wellbeing of our school leaders, and the situation is getting worse over time.’

The report shows a way forward, a ‘roadmap to sustainability’, that focuses on six key areas:

  1. Defining what effective school leadership looks like in terms of the relevant behaviours, skills and competencies as well as what constitutes its core purpose
  2. How aspiring leaders can be prepared for and inducted into a role that should be both doable and impactful
  3. The procedures by which school leaders are recruited
  4. The importance of creating the time and space to lead
  5. How a culture of shared leadership is crucial to school and leadership effectiveness, and how it can be better supported
  6. What needs to happen in the governance space, to ensure a structure that provides oversight while also enhancing and supporting leadership.

Summing up, Mr O’Doherty concluded ‘We understand that meaningful reform and change take time but the urgency of the need for action is clear. There can be no further prevarication on the issue of sustainable leadership. In the interests of the professional efficacy and personal health & wellbeing of school leaders around this country and, in the best interests of the children in our schools, the time to act is now.

Speaking yesterday in Killarney, IPPN CEO Páiric Clerkin gave a commitment to principals that ‘the core objectives [of the sustainable leadership report] will remain the primary focus of IPPN’s mission until such time as our colleagues in Deakin University reassure us that we and the wider system have succeeded in creating the environment for leadership to thrive in our primary schools.’

The report Primary School Leadership: The Case for Urgent Action - A Roadmap to Sustainability is available to view here.


The Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN) hosts its annual principals’ conference at the INEC in Killarney this week. 1,000 primary principals have gathered for their first face-to-face conference in almost three years. The theme of the event is ‘REAL: Reflective, Empowered, Authentic Leadership’. Keynote speakers include Minister for Education Norma Foley, former Dublin football manager Jim Gavin, Chanelle, Lady McCoy, Director of the Centre for School Leadership Mary Nihill and CEO of the National Council for Curriculum & Development Arlene Forster.

Queries relating to the conference and to IPPN President Brian O’Doherty’s input can be addressed in the first instance to pro@ippn.ie or 086 8200399.

Last Updated: Thursday, 17 November 2022 18:35

16th Nov 2022: School leaders are managing a crisis in staffing, lack of resources and supports for children’s mental health and special educational needs

The Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN) hosts its annual principals’ conference at the INEC in Killarney this week. 1,000 primary principals have gathered for their first face-to-face conference in almost three years. The theme of the event is ‘REAL: Reflective, Empowered, Authentic Leadership’. Keynote speakers include Minister for Education Norma Foley, former Dublin football manager Jim Gavin, Chanelle, Lady McCoy, Director of the Centre for School Leadership Mary Nihill and CEO of the National Council for Curriculum & Development Arlene Forster.

Opening the event, IPPN CEO Páiric Clerkin paid tribute to the 'authentic, compassionate and resilient leadership' shown by primary principals over the past few years. Referring to a number tragedies in school communities, including Creeslough, the Ashling Murphy case in Tullamore, and the many schools supporting 8,000 primary-age children and their families fleeing the atrocities in Ukraine, he commented that principals 'continue to support those distraught communities as they endeavour to navigate their way through times of incredible sadness. Once again, the primary school principals of Ireland have risen to the challenge of leading our schools under extremely difficult circumstances, always putting the needs of the children in your care above all else'.

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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 November 2022 19:38

Primary school representative bodies raise concerns regarding support allocations for children with additional needs

Primary school management bodies Educate Together, An Foras Pátrúnachta, National Association of Boards of Management in Special Education (NABMSE) and the Muslim Primary Education Board, supported by the Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN) are today issuing a joint statement regarding teaching supports for children with additional needs in Irish schools.

The representative bodies note the publication last week of the Department of Education's staffing schedule for primary schools for the 2021/22 school year and information provided to schools regarding their Special Education Teacher (SET) allocation. In particular, they note that the Department intends to maintain the existing Special Education Teacher allocations for all schools for the 2021/22 school year and will not now conduct a re-profiling exercise in 2021 as was originally planned.

School management organisations have expressed serious concern about the impact this will have on children in developing schools, who they believe will suffer from a lack of sufficient Special Education Teaching supports in developing schools in the 2021/22 school year.

They are writing to the Department of Education to outline the need for increased resources to ensure that children with additional needs who attend developing schools receive the supports they need in this very challenging year. The group is also seeking a meeting with Department officials on the issue.

Speaking on this issue, Emer Nowlan said:

“This is an issue for developing schools in all parts of the country. Pupils need more supports this year, not less, and it is imperative that additional resources are allocated for this September so that all pupils with additional needs have the supports they need, regardless of the type of school they attend.”

Alan Sheehan, principal of Rochestown ETNS commented:

“Our school prides itself on being inclusive but we are currently unable to support the needs of our pupils as we are chronically understaffed. A similar sized school across the road from us has seven Special Education Teachers. We have four. We are effectively half-staffed in the area of Special Education solely due to the fact that we are a rapidly developing new school. This limited SET staffing ultimately negatively impacts our ability to support all children in our school. This cannot continue any longer.”

The needs of the most vulnerable children in our school system must be met in an appropriate, effective and timely manner. Primary management organisations are committed to working closely with the Department of Education to achieve this shared goal.


(Published 29th March 2021)

Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 March 2021 18:25

Budget 2021 – IPPN calls for urgent clarification


IPPN welcomes the reduction in the pupil:teacher ratio to 25:1 announced in Budget 2021 yesterday. We acknowledge the positive impact this will have in all schools and also welcome the additional funding to support pupils with special educational needs, both in terms of additional teacher and SNA posts and the additional therapists and psychologists, which are all badly needed in our schools.

IPPN prioritised three key areas for primary education in Budget 2021:
1. Put one leadership and management day a week for teaching principals on a permanent footing
2. Increase middle leadership capacity
3. Funding to keep schools safe and open during the ongoing pandemic.

The budget seems to have delivered on the last of these to an extent, with contingency funding set aside to keep schools open and safe (‘Additional costs may also arise in the Education sector in schools and further and higher education depending on developments in relation to the virus in advance of the next academic year and developments in areas such as school transport.’)

We have sought urgent clarification from the minister to ensure that funding has been set aside to continue the support for teaching principals into 2021 and beyond, and also to clarify the nature of the 87 posts provided ‘to alleviate the risk of a school losing a teacher in 2021’. The potential to lose teachers owing to parents deciding to keep children at home due to anxiety around COVID-19 infections is a key concern of many school leaders and the Department needs to urgently clarify this, as requested repeatedly by IPPN over the past several months. The September 30th returns in 2020 do not accurately reflect the true enrolment in schools, due to COVID-19-related anxieties. This is especially critical for developing schools who may lose posts in the current school year. IPPN’s position is that, where parents have indicated that they intend to return their children to the school once the virus risks have abated, those pupils should be counted as part of the valid enrolment.

We are disappointed to note that there appears to be no additional funding to improve middle leadership capacity in primary schools.

IPPN will continue to advocate for adequate funding to enable all school leaders to carry out their leadership and management role effectively and in a sustainable way.

Source: budget.gov.ie – Part II – Expenditure Allocations 2021

Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 October 2020 10:43

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