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ETBI Survey of School Leaders finds serious concerns about the effectiveness of middle management structures in schools

Education and Training Boards Ireland (ETBI) Education Research Officer, Pat O’Mahony, told the Annual Conference of the Principals and Deputy Principals in ETB Schools (PDA) in Limerick today that:

‘While many countries are challenged in the area of school leadership, Ireland is in the midst of a deepening and terminal malaise that demands urgent and radical surgery – particularly in the post primary sector.’

According to Mr O’Mahony, whose recent survey of principals and deputy principals in ETB schools about their role and workload received responses from 61% of the schools polled, school leaders are being stretched to their very limit and the capacity of schools to implement much-needed educational reforms will depend on a modernisation of middle management structures in schools.

The survey of principals and deputy principals resulted, inter alia, in the following findings.

  • 90% believe their school does not have an adequate guidance and counselling service and 80% of those who think the service is inadequate feel it would need to be increased by 50% or more to make it adequate. Furthermore, 80% believe that their work has been very significantly increased as a result of the removal of schools’ ex quota entitlement to guidance and counselling staff from budget 2012 onwards.
  • 85% believe that their school does not have a sufficient number of assistant principal posts (posts of responsibility) and 63% of those who feel this believe that the number would need to be increased by 50% or more to facilitate the effective operation of the school.
  • 73% believe that their school does not have adequate clerical or administrative support and 66% of those who think this believe that the support would need to be increased by 60% or more to facilitate the effective operation of the school.
  • 50% feel that while the work of a principal or deputy principal is rewarding and important, the workload is so excessive that it impacts negatively on their work-life balance.
  • 22% say that their workload and responsibilities are so onerous that they feel constantly stressed.
  • 64% say that the inadequacy of the middle management system results in constant distraction from their core functions.
  • 59% believe that the current middle management system is ineffective in developing effective future principals and deputy principals.
  • 71% believe the current post-of-responsibility system is ineffective in facilitating educational reform in schools such as the implementation of the new Junior Cycle Framework, school self-evaluation, implementation of programmes to improve student health and well-being, etc.
  • 74% do not believe that the current post-of-responsibility system effectively meets the specific management needs of schools.
  • 51% feel that the post-of-responsibility system’s weaknesses outweigh its strengths.
  • 90% feel that the post-of-responsibility system leaves far too much responsibility and workload in the hands of the Principal and his/her deputy.
  • 90% feel the post-of-responsibility system is not fit-for-purpose.
  • 98% believe that the education partners urgently need to agree a new middle-management system for second-level schools.

Several respondents to the survey indicated that the role of the second level school principal as it currently exists is beyond the capacity of even the most committed and able, and they could not see themselves continuing in the role for much longer.

In concluding his address, Mr O’Mahony recommended the establishment as a matter of urgency of a time-limited forum on school management, along the lines of the recent Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector, to develop practical proposals for reforming school management structures. These proposals could then be drawn into a White Paper, following which the Education Act (1998) could be amended to give effect to the proposals. The whole process, he stated, could be completed within two years.

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