Angela Dunne, Principal, Loughmore National School, Templemore, Co Tipperary.

Angela Dunne, Principal, Loughmore National School, Templemore, Co Tipperary.

Angela Dunne delivered the opening statement at an Oireachtas Committee meeting in September 2018:

My name is Angela Dunne. I am here today to represent the National Principals’ Forum.

I wish to thank the Chairperson, Deputy O’Loughlin, and the members of the committee for the invitation to engage in this important discussion. Sincere thanks also to the Committee Clerk, Mr. Alan Guidon, for his assistance in this process. 

National Principals’ Forum

The National Principals’ Forum has been established as a grassroots campaign set up specifically to highlight the intolerable working conditions being endured by Primary School Principals throughout Ireland.

We have reached unprecedented crisis levels of burnout and workload stress, as we attempt to maintain the high standards set in Irish primary schools, in the face of economic recession, societal, curricular and legislative change, in a climate of disillusion and exploitation of both our new entrants to the profession and the leaders of our schools.

Our group comprises of both teaching and administrative principals from every single county in the Republic. Currently, we have over 500 principals across Ireland actively engaging as members, and this is growing daily.

Though relatively new, our group is well-organised, vibrant and determined to achieve its goals by engaging with the stakeholders in education to affect meaningful and timely change. 

Main Challenges

We Principals are keenly aware that we are in the privileged position of being able to influence and direct our school communities towards optimal educational experiences and outcomes for all of our pupils. We hold ourselves accountable to high standards of leadership.

Ours is a very responsible and public position, which makes speaking out difficult. However we feel a sense of duty to both ourselves and our pupils to highlight our unsustainable work situation, or else it will continue to devolve insidiously and incrementally to the further detriment of all concerned.

Ever increasing workload

All Primary School Principals are under immense pressure from an ever increasing workload. The plight of the Teaching Principal is particularly arduous as this cohort of 57% of primary principals has dual responsibilities of full time teaching, while being charged with the full administrative duties of a Principal also.

We are finding that our punitive workload is adversely affecting both our mental and physical wellbeing. The system is beginning to haemorrhage many of its finest leaders as a result of this untenable situation.Click To Tweet

We are finding that our punitive workload is adversely affecting both our mental and physical wellbeing. The system is beginning to haemorrhage many of its finest leaders as a result of this untenable situation.

School leadership on brink of collapse

You will see in the submission a detailed report of the results of a nationwide survey we carried out in May/June 2018. The results of the survey are damning and expose an education system with school leadership on the brink of collapse.

  • 84% of Principals have seriously considered stepping down from their positions.
  • 89% of Teaching Principals have had their health adversely affected by their role.
  • Many excellent school leaders are being forced out of their roles, having to choose between their health and family life and their jobs.

Burnout

  • Between 62% – 91% of Teaching Principals across all small school sizes work an extra 20 -30 hours per week in addition to their school week.
  • Principals are working an average of 60 + hours per week, far in excess of The Working Time maximum limit of 48 hours per week. As we struggle to manage our relentlessly increasing workload, burnout is inevitable.
Principals are working an average of 60 + hours per week, far in excess of The Working Time maximum limit of 48 hours per week. As we struggle to manage our relentlessly increasing workload, burnout is inevitable.Click To Tweet

Impact on Education

The issues outlined in our submission unfortunately directly impact on the quality of education experienced by pupils in our schools. Despite our best efforts they suffer from having their daily routine disturbed by Principals having to deal with an increasing plethora of school management issues.

Release days disruped by substitute shortage

The haphazard system of organising the inadequate number of release days allocated to Teaching Principals is compounded by a substitute teacher shortage. This is due in large part to the detriment caused to our profession by pay inequality. This leads to planning issues and inconsistency of curriculum delivery, and is completely unfair and unacceptable for all concerned.

Escalating pressure is too much

We have been vigilant and diligent in protecting our pupils’ educational outcomes thus far, however this has come at a very high cost to our personal health and wellbeing – and we are now at a crux – with school leaders overstretched, under-supported and under resourced, we cannot guarantee that these outcomes will not be adversely affected going forward, under the escalating pressure we are experiencing. It is too much.

Recommendations

We have forwarded a carefully researched submission with recommendations of immediate, medium and longer term actions necessary to improve our leadership system and protect our education system. These recommendations are the solutions to this crisis and require government action and funding. As a matter of urgency we ask the Committee to consider our most critical needs:

  • An immediate allocation of a minimum of one day per week Release Time to all Teaching Principals to alleviate the current crisis.
  • To halt the rate and intensity of new circulars and initiatives from the DES and other agencies. To this end it is imperative that current principals are consulted and represented at discussions with the DES and stakeholders to develop educational priorities for each academic year.
  • Pay parity, agreed upon in 2007, should be implemented for all Principal Teachers. We should be fairly remunerated for our work. Instead, the DES, our employer, is grossly negligent in it’s’ duty of care to its school leaders.

Conclusion

To conclude, I wish to impress upon the committee that this is very much a national crisis and the future of the Primary Education System is at serious risk if the current trends around Principal burnout and step down are not addressed immediately.

Most worryingly, educational outcomes and the school experiences of pupils cannot but be negatively impacted unless changes are made.

Undervaluing Primary Education and Educators in this manner comes at a very high cost to our education systemClick To Tweet

Undervaluing Primary Education and Educators in this manner comes at a very high cost to our education system, relative to the cost to the exchequer of implementing the changes needed. This committee has the opportunity and influence to safeguard and prioritise the integrity of our Primary Education system, and save it from impending collapse.

Thank you for your time.

Angela Dunne is Principal of Loughmore National School, Templemore, Co Tipperary

Interested in reading more?  Check out this piece by Paul Fields, Director of Kilkenny Education Centre, on the effect of neo-liberal values on our school system; “Identifying School Values in a Value for Money Environment”

And remember to find us on Twitter @EdMatters and use the hashtag #EducationMatters to keep the conversation going.