Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Social Protection

Leadership in Schools: Discussion

1:00 pm

Photo of Joanna TuffyJoanna Tuffy (Dublin Mid West, Labour)
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I would like everyone please to turn off their mobile telephones because they interfere with the broadcasting equipment.
I wish to advise the witnesses that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if a witness is directed by the committee to cease giving evidence in regard to a particular matter and continues to do so, the witness is entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of his or her evidence. Witnesses are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and are asked to respect the parliamentary practice that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. The opening statements they have submitted to the committee will be published on the committee website after this meeting.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
Today's topic is leadership in schools, including support for existing and aspiring principals and deputy principals and the role of middle management in schools. We know the role of principals and deputy principals has changed greatly over the years, that it is one of a number of variables that affect school performance and there are many new demands on principals arising from new legislation, and so on.
I am pleased to welcome today Mr. Seán Cottrell and Mr. Brendan McCabe representing the Irish Primary Principals Network; Mr. Clive Byrne and Ms Mary Nihill, of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals, NAPD; and Mr. Eddie Ward, Mr. Alfie Barrett and Ms Deirdre Matthews representing the Department of Education and Skills.
To get our discussion under way I now invite Mr. Cottrell to make his presentation. I would like witnesses, as much as possible, to keep their presentations to between five and seven minutes to allow enough time for questions and answers.

Mr. Seán Cottrell:

I thank the Chairman for the invitation to this committee meeting on the issue of leadership in schools. The preparation of our submission has been informed by international research, consultations with principals' associations around the world and feedback from the 3,500 principals of primary schools who have approximately 500,000 children in their care every day.

We face a major challenge because we are failing to harness the power of leadership in schools.

I want for a moment to plant the thought among the members that the effect of a principal in a school is similar to the effect in yeast in dough. Our education system may not be the best in the world but it is not far off that when we peel back some of the layers, and that gap can be bridged if our school principals are empowered to be leaders of learning, a theme to which I will return. By empowering principals to be true leaders of learning in schools, we can significantly improve the educational outcomes for children and prepare them for the world of tomorrow, which is a very different world.

It is unrealistic and unsustainable to entangle principals with the myriad of tasks that have nothing to do with their role. Imagine the reaction of an airline company if it found that its CEO was doing work such as cleaning the airplanes between journeys? We do not have a focus in this country yet about the idea of the principal being the leader of learning as opposed to the leader of other work in a school. There are many challenges but the committee will be glad to know that we have solutions to these challenges.

There are eight themes in our submission but I will address only two because there is not the time to address them all. I will deal first with the early stages of a principal's career, namely, the recruitment and appointment phase. We must attract the best teachers into leadership roles in our schools. There is a saying among principals that good teachers do not always make good principals but poor teachers never make good principals. A principal teacher, first and foremost, must be a good teacher because to refer to it as Gaeilge, it is príomh oide - the main teacher, but that is something that we not value enough.

Many people think that teachers apply for principalship as a promotion but in reality the research shows that the main motivation people have to become a principal is largely that they have a belief that they are a good teacher and they want their philosophy and methodology of teaching to be over a full school, and not only their classroom, through the influence that they can have on teachers. Getting the right teacher for a school is critical. If that is not done, the implications are profound, particularly for the children.

We would recommend that, first, there needs to be a clearly defined job description for principals because currently the job description for principals is based on a 1973 circular, which is a long time ago. There has been much research done on the role of principals by many different groups, including ourselves, but there needs to be a system-wide definition for principals based on what best practice suggests.

The people who select principals have an onerous task and the people who select the selectors have an even more responsible task but often these people have no training in any form of recruitment, education or school leadership. There are horror stories about how some appointments are made. Appropriate training must be made available for people in selecting principals of schools.

There is a need for a flexible career structure-----

1:05 pm

Photo of Joanna TuffyJoanna Tuffy (Dublin Mid West, Labour)
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Some interference is being caused. It might be from a mobile telephone resting close to a microphone. I am not sure what caused that interference but I remind everyone to ensure their mobile phones are switched off because when one sees a broadcast of proceedings on "Oireachtas Report" or another programme, one cannot hear the contribution because of such interference. I ask Mr. Cottrell to proceed.

Mr. Seán Cottrell:

The current process of allowing a principal to step down from the role is flawed. Despite it being in the best interest of the pupils, the staff and the principal when a principal wishes to step down, first, there must be a vacancy in the school and, second, he or she is put down as the most junior member of staff in the ranking of seniority. It means that a person who may have served in a school for several years quite successfully and had the courage to know that it was no longer the best place for them and decided to step aside will get punished. It is a very undignified way to wind up one's career as a teacher in that the person will be first to go on the panel and be redistributed if the numbers in the school fall.

The second theme I would like to address is continuous professional development, CPD. It is part of the course in virtually every other profession and it is obligatory in many cases but we do not have any such obligation. There is no requirement for an aspiring principal to have undertaken any course in education management or leadership. It is not necessary. Even after appointment, there is still no requirement to undertake CPD because there is an assumption that if one was a good teacher and has been appointed principal that one is fine. However, the reality, is that teaching in a classroom and leading a school are two totally different jobs.

Professor Michael Fullan from Toronto, who is a world recognised expert on leadership in schools and such matters, says that if the goal is to improve student learning, investing in school leadership offers the best value for money compared with other forms of intervention. He said that it was the influencing effect of the principal teacher that brought that value.

We recommend that CPD become compulsory but it should not be necessarily compulsory for a person who applies for the role of a principal currently because there is not enough provision for such services. Rather than make it compulsory, there should be an extra weighting for points in a marking scheme for the appointment of a principal position, a person who has completed a relevant course should be awarded extra points for it. In other words, it should be highly incentivised rather than made compulsory. We are considering this proactively. Given the need to do something around CPD, we are establishing a national centre for leadership and innovation, which will be a virtual centre initially. We are excited about it because we have got a tremendous reaction from the different stakeholders to the establishment of the centre, including some international interest in it. It will offer programmes and leadership not only for principal teachers and teachers but for parents, children, boards of management and other interested groups. It is part of our five-year strategy. We hope to be a contributor to this rather than simply a commentator.

The committee has had our formal submission and hopefully the members have had a chance to read it. I decided not to repeat what is in it but to comment on a few topics covered in it. We have examined the issues of recruitment and CPD but I stress that the six other topics covered in the submission are equally important. We can no longer stand by and do nothing. If in ten years time we were to appear before a similar committee, there would be no excuse. We cannot say that we did not know about the leadership issue. I had the opportunity to visit a school in New Zealand many years ago. When we went to the school we could not find the principal. We found there was secretary, a receptionist and an administrator and we found the principal in a classroom. The principals there spend most of their time in the classrooms coaching new teachers, helping teachers with different challenges, dealing with children with special needs, children who are disadvantaged or whatever the issue may be. They consider that to be normal but we were surprised at the idea that the principal would be in the classroom. That principal did not know about the school electricity bill, plans or the types of responsibilities principals in Ireland have, which is a reflection on our governance structure. It is because we have ineffective and non-complete functionality from our boards of management that principals end up having to take up that parental slack.

To compare the effect of a principal in a school with the yeast in dough, without the best yeast we will not get great bread but with wonderful yeast we can make wonderful bread.

Photo of Joanna TuffyJoanna Tuffy (Dublin Mid West, Labour)
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Before calling the next speaker, I ask everyone to check to ensure their mobile phones are switched off because interference from them affects the recording and broadcast for people who are following the proceedings. The next speaker is Mr. Byrne, who will make a presentation on behalf of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals.

Mr. Clive Byrne:

I thank the Chairman for inviting us to appear before the committee. I am joined by Ms Mary Nihill, the principal of Calasanctius College in Galway.

In addition, Ms Kay O'Brien, who is in the gallery, is the deputy principal of Kells community school and a past president of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals, NAPD.
The National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals is the professional association for second-level school leaders in Ireland and provides a united voice for principals and deputy principals on issues of common concern across all three second-level sectors, namely, the voluntary secondary, community and comprehensive and the education and training boards, ETBI, sectors. One of the stated objectives of the NAPD is to support the professional development of school leaders. School leadership and the appropriate management structures are critical to the delivery of a world-class education system to children. Schools are large and diverse organisations with a wide range of different challenges and problems. Like all such organisations, Ireland's schools will not achieve their goals and objectives unless the correct management structures are in place. The NAPD believes there is a crisis of school leadership because of cutbacks and the failure to invest in management structures in the schools. While there are excellent people involved in school management, regrettably the management structures that currently apply in schools are not to the highest standards. Essentially, the middle management system in schools is not fit for purpose and the reason for this is there are insufficient middle management structures within schools to facilitate the changing nature of school activity and the increased demands on school leaders. Equally, there is no industry standard for professional development and promotion upon which to build such structures. These issues are outlined in greater detail in the NAPD's submission, which has been supplied to the joint committee.
In short, the problems stem from a lack of resources to develop effective management structures, the current system, which has developed in an ad hocand unstructured way, as well as the lack of a grand plan to develop effective leadership within schools. The lack of investment and resources to develop effective management structures is not unique to education. However, there is no reason the current system cannot be reformed in particular to ensure a more effective system of allocating posts of responsibility, of providing a set pathway for promotion of teachers to such posts and finally, for developing a long-term strategy to achieve the leadership objectives. The current economic situation limits the capacity to implement a whole new school management structure at present. However, it does not limit the ability to develop a new management architecture and nor does it prevent a real start being made on reforming the way in which schools are managed by ensuring that all future post appointments are in accordance with the new paradigm, once the latter is put in place.
The NAPD has five chief recommendations to tackle the challenges of school management in 21st-century Ireland. In the first instance, we propose that a centre for leadership planning, with ongoing professional supports, should be established. There must be ongoing professional development support for principals in order to attract, develop and sustain school leaders. At a time when more than two thirds of school leaders at second level have less than five years' experience, this is crucial. The NAPD proposes that a centre for leadership and planning be established, which would involve the principals' professional associations, expertise built up over many years by the leadership and planning arm of Professional Development Service for Teachers, PDST, and its forerunners, namely, the leadership development for schools programme and the school development programme, as well as other education partners, third level educational institutions and the Department of Education and Skills, chiefly through its teacher education section.
Second, the NAPD also believes the implementation of the recommendations of the Blackstock report, which dealt with second-level school funding, the McGuinness report, which dealt with second-level school staffing, the McIver report, which dealt with further education and the Martin report, which dealt with discipline, would help schools to put in place an administrative structure to meet the needs of the 21st century. While these reports made specific recommendations for funding, staffing, infrastructure and support structures, they have yet to be implemented. The NAPD's third point is that the Department of Education and Skills must implement the current circular at assistant principal level, that is, one per 100 or part thereof at a rate of 0.2 whole-time equivalents per 100 students and that this time be returned to the school to provide additional time for pastoral roles for the assistant principals.
Fourth, we call for the establishment of a steering committee that would drive reform. It should have a particular link to the Professional Development Service for Teachers and the Department of Education and Skills should form this committee comprising representatives from its teacher education section and inspectorate, the education centres, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA, the management bodies, the leadership and planning arm of PDST, as well as representation from the Teaching Council. Our fifth point is that because things happen as they do in Ireland's education system, we must learn from other performing education systems. For example, the school management system in New South Wales is one of the world's best examples of how post-primary schools could be managed. In the majority of schools, each principal has at least two assistant or deputy principals working under him or her. One is responsible for student welfare and the other for school curriculum. All appointments to middle management posts are made on the basis of capacity to undertake duties associated with this specific post to a high standard.
In conclusion, it is clear that the current post-primary school management system is in clear need of the three Rs, namely, reform, resources and restructuring. School leaders today cannot cope with every evolving demand of the 21st-century post-primary school environment. We owe it to our students to have properly qualified principals in schools who are not overburdened due to an onerous workload. What started as a problem more than a decade ago has developed into a full-blown crisis today. School leaders can have a direct impact on student outcomes as they progress through second-level education. School leaders can provide the leadership of learning to students and can act as the school system's primary agents of change. School leaders can ensure a supportive and orderly environment for students to learn and to thrive. Failure to act on this does a disservice to my colleague principals and deputy principals, to teachers and parents and ultimately, to the students. Ireland's schools must be managed to the highest professional standards to facilitate the quality education to which our children are entitled and I urge the joint committee to give serious consideration to the NAPD's proposals.

1:15 pm

Photo of Joanna TuffyJoanna Tuffy (Dublin Mid West, Labour)
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I thank Mr. Byrne. The last speaker is Mr. Ward, who will make a presentation on behalf of the Department.

Mr. Eddie Ward:

I thank the Chairman and the joint committee for the opportunity to attend today and to participate in the debate on leadership in schools. I am accompanied today by Mr. Alfie Barrett, who works in the teacher salaries section of the Department, as well as Ms Deirdre Matthews of the Department's inspectorate. At the outset, it is appropriate that I acknowledge the standard of leadership provided in schools since the foundation of the State. It is indeed true to state that the need for leadership is a priority for organisations, whether large or small and public or private and schools are no exception in this regard. It has been stated and is true that schools are complex organisations, comprising a community of participants with high expectations that may not always be well aligned with one another and where there often can be conflicting issues and demands. Our understanding of school leadership has evolved over recent years and that understanding has been enhanced considerably by the work of international organisations like the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD, that have scoped out the parameters. This has informed our thinking and certainly will continue to so do into the future. The quality of leadership is central to the setting of direction in a school and the achievement of good education outcomes for students. The primary purpose of school leadership, therefore, is to create and sustain an environment that is conducive to good learning and teaching. Effective school leadership is inclusive and distributed across a range of partners and personnel who have a shared understanding, ownership and commitment to transform and make change happen in a context that itself is changing.

In Ireland, school leadership has evolved from a model in which leadership was tightly held by a few, namely, the school owner, the principal and the Department, to the position today, where we have a more open, democratic model. As a society, Ireland has changed significantly over recent decades. The profile of student intake has changed, as have our expectations as a people. However, nowhere has this change in expectations manifested itself more than in people's expectations of public institutions and local schools. In response, new legislation, not all of which came from the education area, has been enacted that clarifies roles, responsibilities and the entitlements of citizens, much of which has an impact on the daily operation of a school. There has been a drive for curricular reform and change, as well as new programmes designed to improve education outcomes in a more holistic and inclusive way than heretofore. We are developing further the role of assessment in a learning context and from research, it is known that the management and mediation of change at school level is critical.

We know from research that the management and mediation of change at school level is critical. Leadership is key in this regard. The Education Act 1998 provides an enabling legal framework for the development of a distributed model of leadership in the schools. The Act envisages roles for the patron, trustees, board of management, the principal, teachers, parents, students and the Department.

The boards of management have a clear role in setting the direction of a school. The distributed model of leadership in place in the schools is comprised of a tier of management and middle management posts.

The Department has made significant investment in leadership development programmes, both directly through its support services but also through the work of the education partners, such as the IPPN and NAPD. The inspectorate, through its work, supports the development of high quality school leadership. The school self-evaluation framework, which every school has to implement, is a key strategy for school improvement at every level. The Teaching Council's work also will add to the capacity of teachers to teach and act as leaders within their school community.

In terms of evidence of how we are doing, we know from the chief inspector's 2013 report that the school leaders are performing well across a number of headings: teaching and learning; leadership; management; and school improvement. However, there is a significant number of schools, at both primary and post primary, where leadership and management require improvement. That is something that is of concern to the Department and will be guiding our policy development and planning in the future.

We are also aware of other concerns that are emerging in the system, some of which have already been identified in the international context. There is evidence of a lack of interest among teachers to apply for principal posts. There is also evidence that some of the school leaders are leaving their posts early. There is a negative perception of the role of principal which may have to do with the perceived lack of clarity of the role, the workload and the absence of support.

There is no doubt but that the expectations and demands being made of school leaders have increased. These matters are being considered by the Department and will be addressed as the availability of resources permit. We have already commenced discussions with the IPPN and NAPD, particularly in the area of ensuring that there is a continuum of professional support available to teachers, including preparation for the role of principal, induction and career-long support.

System reform has and will address some of the administrative workload issues with which school principals are dealing on a daily basis. We know that the best performing education systems place high value in quality school leadership. A number of factors distinguish these systems and we must take account of these as we plan for the future. These systems are clear that leadership is a shared responsibility for all teachers in a school, not merely the concern of a few. These systems pay particular attention to the selection and development of the correct staff for leadership roles and development must commence early in the teacher's career. These systems also have a clearly distributed model of leadership in place within schools where there is clarity of roles and responsibilities clearly set out for boards of management, principals and the middle management posts together with the provision of appropriate supports. These systems also place an emphasis on making school leadership attractive, which relates to role clarity, remuneration, training, supports, and career progression.

School leaders are leaders of teaching and learning first and foremost and managers second. Therefore, any policy framework must address those barriers that keep teachers away from making teaching and learning in their school their absolute priority.

1:25 pm

Photo of Joanna TuffyJoanna Tuffy (Dublin Mid West, Labour)
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We will take questions now. We will take a few and the witnesses might make a note of them.

Photo of Averil PowerAveril Power (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the groups that are before us today. I asked for this issue to be tabled a few months ago because it is one of the most important issues in education.

In any profession or employment, the quality of leadership at the top and the management and leadership structure that is available throughout the system is essential in ensuring that employees feel supported and that there is a proper culture throughout the system. Traditionally, notwithstanding that the IPPN and the NAPD and others have been pushing this issue for quite a long time, this is an area in which the Irish education system has been weak. The programmes that these bodies have developed for the training of teachers are fantastic, for instance, the mentoring programme from the IPPN, but it is an area where the Department needs to do much more.

There are good examples given in the submissions, and, indeed, the one sent in from the Joint Managerial Body, JMB, about more developed structures elsewhere and how in other systems there are principals, who are, to use the term of the IPPN, leaders of learning and for whom that is their job. Their job is not all the administrative work and red tape. They are freed up and have the support systems to be leaders of learning. I visited Canada a good few years ago to look at the way they do it there, and it is totally different, where principals are really leaders in an educational sense and they have the freedom to do that. They also play a strong role in performance management. They have a role in hiring staff and in making sure they meet their continuing personal development, CPD.

Photo of Joanna TuffyJoanna Tuffy (Dublin Mid West, Labour)
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Senator Power should concentrate on questions because one is only given three minutes.

Photo of Averil PowerAveril Power (Fianna Fail)
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I will get to questions in a second. I wanted to touch on that issue of performance management. Although we are a long way from the Canadian system, one of the issues with the Teaching Council that was highlighted when we were having the debate about the extra power that it is being given in the performance of teachers was that in the OECD research on performance management and whether teachers had received feedback from their principal, the Irish figure was very low internationally. Out of all the countries surveyed, Ireland was one of those at the bottom. Would the witnesses like to see us have such a strong performance appraisal system where the principal is freed up to play that role with his or her staff? What do we need to do to get there?

I want to ask about the strategy for where we go from here. We received some excellent presentations. I note there are other documents that have been sent into us over the past few weeks. I would like to see us as a committee put together a report on this issue - we will discuss this is private session. It is something that we should champion on a cross-party basis. We should be pushing on school leadership. Should we be looking at the reports that Mr. Byrne mentioned - McIver, Martin, McGuinness and Blackstock? Given that some of those were written 15 years ago, are those reports still relevant, or should we be looking to put together a new strategy, which is, perhaps, stepped out so that one is looking at the vision for school leadership over the next ten years, accepting that resources are limited at this time but at least having a clear strategy of where we are going, what an ideal system would look at and what supports we need to put in place to get there because this is a crucial issue?

If they were to prioritise one or two matters for the committee to champion on their behalf, what would they be? I suspect resources would be one of them. In the current context, and given the arguments that we have about the lack of resources, what are the two or three things that could still be done and should be pushed in the short term as well as, hopefully, working towards that long-term vision?

Photo of Jonathan O'BrienJonathan O'Brien (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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I welcome the groups before the committee today. Much of the information came previously and we have read through it.

It was interesting to hear the contributions from Mr. Cottrell and Mr. Byrne. When there are such persons come before a committee and tell us that we are reaching a crisis point, then we, in particular, the Department, have to sit up and take notice. Listening to the Department's presentation here today, even it is starting to come around to the idea that there are issues which need to be addressed.

I met Mr. Cottrell last week in Cork. We were having a brief discussion on other education issues. The IPPN presentation states that principalship is a high-wear-and-tear position. I note there is research being undertaken by Dr. Philip Reilly, in Monash University in Melbourne, on the impact borne by principals and deputy principals at present. It will be interesting to see that. If anyone looks at the change in the role of the principal over the past ten or 15 years, and the amount of additional legislation which has been passed and the amount of additional workload which has been put on principals, nobody could argue but that the job is more stressful and difficult.

It will impact on individuals on a personal level as well as on their ability to carry out the role. If we overburden those who provide leadership in schools, that will trickle down to the rest of the school and impact on the quality of education provided. We cannot blame the principal if he or she is completely overburdened.

Where does the Department stand in regard to what we heard today from the NAPD and the IPPN? I presume departmental officials have had an opportunity to study their detailed submissions, which include several constructive recommendations. If we do not address some of the concerns raised, our children will ultimately pay the cost. The issue of continuous professional development was raised in both presentations. What is the Department's view on this issue? Mr. Byrne suggested that a budget be allocated for professional development. Has he raised this previously with the Department?

1:35 pm

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin North Central, Labour)
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I declare an interest in this matter because I was formerly a primary school principal, and may become one again very soon. I am speaking with a certain level of knowledge, therefore. In regard to the issue of school leadership, when people go into the profession of teaching the idea of becoming a principal probably does not enter their minds. Is this something that should be dealt with at the teacher training stage, perhaps by way of a module, induction or conversation about school leadership? School teaching is a very isolating job and sometimes it is tempting not to look outside one's classroom and students. Should a sense of school leadership that could possibly be transformed into a consideration of the wider school community and the role of principals be encouraged at an early stage?

Many teachers become principals by accident. They may never have thought the day would come when the staffroom would ask them to take over. People step up to the role partly out of a sense of duty and often reluctantly because there is no boundary to a principal's responsibility. The biggest difference between my current job and my previous one is that I am no longer expected to fix the photocopier. As a principal, I had to fix the photocopier and everything else. There was no point at which I could say "that is somebody else's responsibility." That is a stressful position and it prevents principals from focusing on their primary role as a leader for learning. They are dealing with everything else, from paperwork to departmental requirements, and sometimes things get dropped. Do the witnesses agree there is a big difference, in terms of resources, between the principal of a school with 100 pupils and a school with 600 pupils? How best can we manage that difference? The stresses are similar but they have to be balanced with a reasonable expectation of resources.

In regard to Senator Power's point about the various reports that have not been implemented, perhaps Mr. Byrne and the departmental officials could comment on the issues arising. It is wonderfully empowering to be a leader in any sphere but we must acknowledge at an early stage that the job of principal is very different to that of a teacher.

Photo of Jim DalyJim Daly (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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It is timely that we focus on the issue of leadership in schools given their importance to society. Like the previous speaker, I have interest in this subject as a former school principal. When I was first appointed 13 years ago, a teacher advised me that the children would be fine but that I should watch the teachers. That advice stuck with me because it came home to roost. It can be an extraordinarily challenging time, as anyone working in the field would know. The children, by and large, are not the issue but managing staff is a challenge in any career area. Principals find it particularly difficult to manage a troublesome member of staff or an underperforming teacher and supports in that regard is non-existent.

On becoming principal, I took the IPPN's Misneach course and I have said repeatedly since then that it was one of the most impressive course I ever took. I took the course in Ennis and it was extremely informative and valuable. I continue to use what I learned from it. I agree with the point raised by Mr. Cottrell regarding the inability to stand down as principal. If there was one progressive issue this committee could address, that would be it. When people become tired or burned out they should be able to stand down without going to the bottom or, in all likelihood, ending up on the panel for deployment to different schools.

I cannot believe that Circular No. 16-73 remains the blueprint for the duties of principals and that it has not been updated. Given that the circular only uses the masculine pronouns, there clearly were no female principals in 1973. I note with interest that principals are given 29 tasks, the 28th of which is "he should bring to the notice of his pupils the advantages both national and personal of the habit of saving". I was not aware of that responsibility when I was principal but it might have done no harm had I put more emphasis on it. I give credit to the authors of the circular because it was fairly forward looking for 1973 when, I hasten to add, I was one year old.

The role of boards of management is an issue of particular interest for me. Boards of management can be very good but they can also be very weak. principals heavily rely on them but I am not sure sufficient effort is made to ensure there is genuine support for managers in dealing with staff. In other words, business people and others with experience in this area should be represented on boards. That expertise exists in communities but I am not sure the selection criteria for boards is sufficient to recruit it. There is often over reliance on boards that are not up to scratch in terms of the job they are given. In an era when we are examining the role of boards and the separate issue of transparency, which I intend to raise in a different context, one of the last bastions left untouched are the boards of management in schools. Everyone kowtows to the fact that they are voluntary but I do not accept that they are beyond scrutiny. What do the witnesses think about the roles and qualities of boards of management?

I think the INTO is running the management of most schools because if principals have difficulties they go to the INTO. I am not sure that is always in the best interest of the schools concerned, however, because the advice given is not always up to scratch. In my view there is over reliance on the INTO for management tasks the board of management should be supplying but there is a gap and the INTO is filling it.

As I am well known locally as a former principal, I find myself holding the hands of a considerable number of principals because, thankfully, there has been significant investment in building projects in my constituency.

The devolved building projects are a major headache for school principals. They are not architects or surveyors, they do not understand planning and do not know how to meet and greet a builder. The boards are not doing it and in many cases it falls back on the principal. The Department is conveniently using the devolved grant system, sending the cheque and leaving the schools to it. Heretofore there was more support from the Department. It is an added pressure on principals and should be highlighted because they are not qualified in that area.

Have the witnesses any views on shared leadership for small schools? It is a contentious and thorny issue. I have publicly advocated having a full-time principal for, say, four small schools. Although it has not always gone down well, I would be interested to hear the witnesses' views.

1:45 pm

Photo of Brendan  RyanBrendan Ryan (Dublin North, Labour)
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Mr. Ward, on behalf of the Department, said the standard of leadership and a good learning environment are key. He also mentioned improvement was needed in policy development and planning into the future. An important element in some aspects of that is "whenever resources allow". On behalf of NAPD, Mr. Byrne mentioned five recommendations and the need for the three Rs, namely, reform, resources and restructuring. We may have to continue to wait for further resources while the economy improves. How much reform and restructuring can be done today without the need for additional resources?

Photo of Charlie McConalogueCharlie McConalogue (Donegal North East, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the witnesses for coming in. We discussed continuous professional development. Is there a case for stipulating that one needs a specific qualification, such as a masters degree, for the role? In other professions one must be qualified as one moves up. The early years sector is being professionalised. Many members and witnesses have outlined the importance of leadership in learning and that investment in school leadership will bear fruit. On the basis of that, is there a case for moving gradually toward a situation where principals are professional?
I would be interested to hear the witnesses' comments on Deputy Jim Daly's idea of shared principalship. Internationally there is evidence that principals have more power regarding management of staffs, such as increments, which are performance-related in many countries. Do the witnesses have a view on it? Mr. Byrne said middle management at second level is very much in need of reform having developed over the years. What are the witnesses' thoughts on how it developed and its weaknesses? How did it happen to develop as it did? There was significant development over the past ten or 15 years in terms of different posts and it seemed to be ad hoc.
We all see the difficulty for younger primary teachers. More experienced teachers who are higher up on the payscale, and whom one would have expected to have moved into principal roles, see the difficulties and stress of all that is involved in those roles and balk at taking them on because the pay incentive for them is not as strong. Therefore younger principals are appointed and have to manage more experienced teachers, which creates difficulties. I would welcome any thoughts on that phenomenon.

Photo of Hildegarde NaughtonHildegarde Naughton (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the group. We are discussing a very important issue. With the backdrop of lack of resources and funding issues nationally, could the group outline their short-term and long-term visions? To progress this as quickly as possible, could the witnesses outline what could be done in the short term with current resources to reduce principals' work loads. A witness referred to New South Wales where a person was responsible for student welfare and the curriculum. I would be very interested to know how the witnesses see the role of the board of management and how we could change it to assist school principals and management. The witnesses deal with this daily and have the knowledge.

Photo of Charlie McConalogueCharlie McConalogue (Donegal North East, Fianna Fail)
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Could the witnesses also comment on the role of the principal as secretary to the board of management?

Mr. Eddie Ward:

The Department very much shares the concerns out there. We meet IPPN, NAPD, parents and a variety of stakeholders from time to time. There are major concerns about what is happening in our schools. We are tied by resource limitations. In my presentation I outlined the evolution from when we held very tightly the ownership of the management of schools to a more open model. Much of what happens in schools is negotiated and worked out between national partners. The composition of boards of management is very much agreed through local decision making.

We are looking at the picture anew. The concept that we need a new strategy around promoting school leadership is at the forefront of the Department's thinking. A theme, echoed in the presentations of IPPN and NAPD as well as by the Deputies and Senators, is that a principal must be given the time and space to be first and foremost a leader of teaching and instruction in school and the management role must very much take second place. The research and the findings of the Department's inspectorate tell us we urgently need to address this and remove the barriers that prevent a school leader from being a leader of teaching and learning.

The middle-management tier in school was negotiated very much around tasks. We need to look to a time when all teachers accept that they have a leadership responsibility. I take the point that it must begin from the initial teacher education. We are probably at the cusp of a new framework when the Teaching Council legislation is commenced. The legislation sets out the criteria for the initial teacher education courses and the criteria and a register for teacher registration. We are moving to a time when teachers will have to engage in compulsory CPD, which must and will involve leadership because our teachers begin by being leaders in their classrooms. We are moving into that space when we discuss the CPD framework that will take us into the future.

We are involved in conversations with IPPN and NAPD around that continuum of support for principals. We want to ensure we have people coming into principal roles who have some qualification. Whether one can make that compulsory is negotiable. There is a high participation rate in these courses. We have the initial training that aspiring principals do, an induction course and the development that takes place afterwards. More than 1,100 people participate in those courses each year. In conversation with IPPN and NAPD we want to identify deficits in the system. From our conversations and some mapping work we have done regarding what we do here and the best systems internationally, one of the clear deficits we have identified is around coaching and mentoring.

We are giving very active consideration to how we can support that. There is already a very successful induction and mentoring piece being developed in the context of teachers when they leave college and go into schools. That is giving very positive feedback as to the system's effectiveness. That is something we are looking at.

Other members of the delegation may want to take up one or two other matters. We are very anxious. It is a priority for the Department. We will be looking at it in all its facets in terms of role, clarity and setting boundaries. Clearly any leaders need to know who is doing what and there should be ownership by people who have responsibility.

1:55 pm

Ms Deirdre Matthews:

Regarding making the qualification for leadership compulsory, we should bear in mind that our counterparts across the water did that a number of years ago and have now rescinded on it because it becomes more of a paper exercise rather than a qualification for leadership. I agree with the IPPN suggestion that it should be incentivised rather than being compulsory. It could be partly incentivised by how the recruitment is done because the school boards of management have a certain amount of leeway in the elements they take into consideration when recruiting leaders. That is one way to incentivise it. I am sure we can discuss other ways of doing so with the IPPN and NAPD.

Mr. Seán Cottrell:

I did not realise that principals were getting the blame for the economy as well - we have not been teaching enough about savings.

Photo of Joanna TuffyJoanna Tuffy (Dublin Mid West, Labour)
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Only the Deputies who were principals.

Mr. Seán Cottrell:

We conducted a study of 500 boards of management about two years ago, which is a fairly considerable sample. It included quantitative and qualitative research. The findings were quite amazing. Most of the boards of management were considered to be supportive of the school and generally speaking working quite well. When one drilled down, they were benign and supportive and helped out with particular things but they did not perform like a board. I believe Sr. Eileen Reynolds said in 1975 when the boards of management were introduced that it was a lost opportunity and that they should have been called boards of governors because their function is really a governance role and not a management role. Management is hands on and governance is hands off.

A board of management is made up of volunteers and volunteerism is very laudable. However, it is estimated that a chairperson has to put in four to six hours a week on average. A good chairperson needs to be competent and available. Such people are generally not available because they are living their own lives. That was one major finding.

The secretary to the board is a primary-level function only in that the secretary is also on the board. At secondary level, I understand-----

Mr. Clive Byrne:

The person is not on the board.

Mr. Seán Cottrell:

So there are pros and cons there.

On the role of boards of management overall, we need to have a root-and-branch review of the governance structure, which has been there since 1975. The role of the single manager, typically the parish priest or vicar, was expanded into an eight-person role with representative functions. However, five of those eight people have no named function on the board. We believe that a member of a school board of management should have at least one meaningful responsibility of some sort, which does not arise unless they volunteer. It is not about their abilities - they are capable. However, school life and school business have moved on so much that it is very hard for people to contribute unless they are in the business.

On project management, buildings and the devolved grant, that is a major issue. It seems like a wonderful benefit to be given the money and told to build a building with it. I know of a principal whose school got a devolved grant and instead of putting in two prefabs, he built two permanent classrooms. When the Department officials came they were able to tick the box that said "no prefabs". The principal was able to use the money because he was entrepreneurial and that was his nature. However, most principals do not want to know the first thing about building - that is not why they became principals. There should be a fee for project management. It is ridiculous that principals spend July and August most summers ringing tradesmen and chasing up builders. It is no way to do business.

I am not sure if I picked up the point correctly about people becoming principals at a younger age. As outlined in the report, many principals are finding it very difficult in their first year. Sometimes there is resistance to their appointment - there may be disgruntled candidates. Principals need considerable care and support. A huge amount of our energy goes into supporting newly appointed principals with online programmes and face-to-face programmes. As Mr. Ward pointed out, it is an area we must get right because it is a very delicate time for a person. If a principal makes fundamental mistakes in his or her first year it is very hard to recover. Dealing with boards of management, parents' associations and staff is really important.

Someone suggested that it is not the children, but the staff. Any organisation, private, public or voluntary will identify the management of people as the single biggest issue. Schools do not make or sell anything, so it is all about interaction and eventually somebody will annoy somebody else. We are focusing much of our time in terms of CPD on the area of personal development and conflict management. Interpersonal skills are what make it for a principal. Professional development on its own is not enough and needs to be nurtured further.

I could not agree more with the point about teaching leadership to undergraduates in the colleges of education. In our centre for leadership that we are working on, we are talking about devising programmes for teacher leadership in second level schools and in primary schools because leadership as a concept and a function applies to even children at play through the whole business of teamwork and so forth. Leadership is not a fuddy-duddy concept that people discuss in rooms such as this one, but is a very real thing. Children are very responsive and can really do great things when they understand more about leadership.

Mr. Brendan McCabe:

I wish to make one further point on the board of management issue. Sometimes there is a dearth of skillsets among boards. This could possibly be helped by giving some of the back-office functions of schools to ETBs. For example, the maintenance of computer systems is a pain for most principals. There is no reason such a back-office function could not be handled on a regional level by an ETB. We propose that as a possibility in order to alleviate that stress and pressure both for principals and for boards.

Mr. Clive Byrne:

Some of the points made by Deputies and Senators would apply more in the primary sector than in the post primary sector. In post primary schools we regard it as positive that the boards in the 700 schools are there as resources but they operate in a different way within the different sectors. Regarding the representative quality of the board, whether it is staff, parents or the experts the trustees would put on, in many instances, as Mr. Cottrell said, the boards are benignly supportive but often they do not have the level of expertise that would make it easy for a principal or deputy principal to operate.

I am not sure if members are aware that the rights-based legislation, the Education Act 1998, made the second level school principal one of the most legislated for individuals in society, but without the resources to enable him or her to implement that. The second level school principal is named in the Education Act, the Qualifications (Education and Training) Act, the Education Welfare Act, the Teaching Council Act, the Vocational Education (Amendment) Act, the Ombudsman for Children Act, the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act, the Health, Safety and Welfare at Work Act, the Employment Equality Act, the Equal Status Act, the Protection of Employees (Part-Time Work) Act, the Protection of Employees (Fixed-Term Work) Act and the Equality Act 2004.

One would have to be an expert to understand it all. There have been many changes in the level of responsibility of the principal. While I made the point in my submission that many of our colleagues have less than five years experience, in the past to become a principal one did not require a professional qualification and were as likely as not a teacher on 31 August and principal on 1 September. In those circumstances, a whole plethora of events presented.
In regard to the role of the principal and deputy principal within second level education, previously we had, in theory, a generous middle leadership structure in the form of assistant principal and special duties posts. It would not have been unusual in a school of 700 to have up to 16 special duties posts and ten assistant principal posts. Given the economic downturn, this has changed in recent times. What we are saying is that as a first step an assistant principal post, at level agreed within the Department, should be provided. It must be remembered that in schools, while the timetable allowance for an assistant principal is 18 to 22 hours, the difficulty is that this is not recouped to the school in terms of teaching allocations. The schools have to find those hours from within their own resources. The assistant principal post, which had an allowance of €8,000 plus and special duties allowance of almost €4,000, worked in theory. It is often forgotten that the postal responsibility function was introduced in the late 1960s as a resolution to an industrial relations situation in respect of which it was proposed to give a special functions allowance on the basis of seniority, which would not be paid to everybody. This post has developed on an ad hocbasis.
In the past the most viable criteria for appointment to the post of principal and deputy principal was seniority. In this regard, we believe an element of suitability, flexibility and accountability should be factored in. What is often not realised by those outside the education sector is that in a school the only person who can have a professional conversation with a teacher is the principal. Nobody else has the authority or autonomy to speak to a teacher in regard to the manner in which he or she is doing their job. It is only within the past number of years that this was rectified by section 24(3) of the education Act.
A number of other points were raised by Deputies and Senators, which my colleague Ms Nihill will respond to.

2:05 pm

Ms Mary Nihill:

Many of the issues have been already covered by Mr. Byrne, Mr. McCabe and Mr. Cottrell. We welcome this opportunity. I know that some Members have been in the role we are now in. I have been a principal since 1993. Since then, the post has changed dramatically. Some of the issues with which we are now dealing have evolved over the years. We all recognise that society and schools have changed dramatically since 1993.

I work in the voluntary secondary sector. Many of us who work in this area are the first lay principals following the religious orders. The support structure which they had is now absent for anyone who takes over as a lay person. There was an expertise in the convent parlour or monastery that now has to be replaced by one's husband or partner. In that context, everything has changed. I am hopeful that things will change. There is a need for a fundamental change in culture around leadership and management in schools. All correspondence from the Department - this is not a criticism of the Department, which I accept is also at sea on this issue - is addressed to the principal of the school, be that correspondence in relation to the roof of the school, a maintenance grant, special needs issues or the names of students due to sit a home economics examination. That this is the case is symptomatic of the culture that needs to change. I am confident it can change.

In 1993, the role of the deputy principal at post primary level was significantly less than what it is now because the perception at the time was that this was a promotion as a recognition of long service. This is no longer the case. The combination of principal and deputy principal, which the association represents, is very much seen as a leadership duo at post primary level. I am conscious that it may not be as significant a duo at primary level. If that change can happen then the concept of teachers recognising themselves as school leaders can also evolve.

Deputy Ó Ríordáin mentioned the concept of initial teacher training and recognition of leadership in this area. One of the difficulties in our system is that formal remunerated leadership roles involve teachers leaving the classroom. This is at the core of many of the difficulties we are experiencing. In other words, teachers are promoted out of the classroom. We need to look at ways of recognising teacher and curriculum leadership. This would fundamentally change things. Senator Power asked about teacher appraisal. We need a model in this regard. In response to a question about the role of the principal, Mr. Byrne mentioned we are the people who can engage in that conversation. If genuine teacher leadership and quality teaching were recognised, it would be legitimate for that teacher to engage with a teacher experiencing some difficulty. This would symbolise what our colleagues in the Department want, namely, a more distributed form of leadership.

These are reforms that would not cost a huge amount of money. I am confident they would enable change to happen. Recognised throughout all of the research is the role of coaching and mentoring. If we were to invest in quality teaching and teacher leadership and to engage in CPD around coaching and mentoring not only for the principal, but for the teachers, it would enable teacher appraisal, which is a term not much like in the education system.

Photo of Mary MoranMary Moran (Labour)
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I welcome the witnesses and apologise for coming and going during the meeting but I had to attend other meetings also. I again thank them for their submissions, in particular Ms Nihill's which I found very interesting. As a former teacher, I agree with much of what she had to say. I was a secondary school teacher for many years and taught for half my career in the vocational sector and the other in the voluntary sector. As such, I have a well rounded knowledge of both sectors.

Deputy Ó Ríordáin spoke about leadership courses for people re-engaging in teacher training. When I did the H.Dip I had the option of training in school administration with a view to becoming a school leader. While that was many years ago, it was a very valuable course. What I learned has been of great assistance to me throughout my career. I am sure that course has evolved since I was at college.

In regard to the special duties posts, I agree that within the voluntary sector these posts are allocated on a seniority basis. However, this is not the case in the vocational sector, as it was. I was teaching in a school for a year before being given a special duties post. If it is not happening in the vocational sector, it should not be happening in the voluntary sector.

I stand to be corrected but I believed this is something that had been changed by the Department in recent years. Could that be clarified? It is very important that merit should be taken into account rather than just length of service.

There is the issue of inspection findings on boards of management at post-primary level, particularly the overall quality. It was indicated that there was 89% satisfaction but what steps were taken to improve the remaining 11%? What supports were put in place to try to improve the position? We sometimes fall down when we provide reports and argue that 90% satisfaction is great but we must consider the remaining issues.

I agree that the role of the principal in a school must be that of leader with interpersonal skills. We may see cracks when principals do not have such skills. There was mention of a problem when a role is not just that of principal or teacher, but when it involves fixing computers, etc. Every schoolteacher goes through this on a daily basis, as teachers have to cater for sick children, etc. I agree with Ms Nihill in that the role of the teacher has evolved over a number of years.

2:15 pm

Photo of Jim DalyJim Daly (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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I have a comment and some questions. I acknowledge the interesting comment by Mr. Clive Byrne regarding the special duty post versus the principal and assistant principal post. As somebody who chaired numerous boards giving those special duty posts over years, I can inform Senator Moran that in the VEC sector there was a farcical position where every second allocation had to go on seniority, with 50 points allocated for time and the rest for merit. With the next interview we could use a new model being negotiated. To give the Department its credit, there were partnership agreements with unions, which insisted on them. That ties up much of what is being discussed today. The partnership agreements did not always have the best interests of the education system. The point was well made about the evolution of responsibility and not just duties. A person with a special duties post could not correct another teacher, etc., so the responsibility stayed at the top while duties were devolved. Some of that process is a bit pathetic.

Is it correct that Circular 16/73 is the last outlining the duties of the principal? Will the Department officials provide a comment on the point about devolved grants for building projects? Is the assessment I provided fair and has the Department increasingly devolved work? That seems to have happened steadily over time. Are there plans to provide assistance in this regard? I do not believe any witnesses have commented on the question I asked about shared leadership for small schools.

Photo of Joanna TuffyJoanna Tuffy (Dublin Mid West, Labour)
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I have a question of my own. Mr. Byrne mentioned different sectors at second level with regard to the structure of boards of management, with primary schools different again. With the VECs and now the education and training boards, there has always been a system of democratic representation. Councillors would have been on the VEC and members of the VEC, including those councillors, would be appointed to be members of boards of management. It is my experience that many councillors on VECs have a particular interest in the area and get very experienced with interviews, etc. I am not saying everybody is perfect in this regard. The democratic representation on boards of management recognises that schools are for the community and there should be some form of democratic accountability. The witnesses mentioned supports for the education and training boards but should all schools have that?

Mr. Clive Byrne:

Absolutely. In the voluntary secondary sector and community and comprehensive schools, the board is the employer. In the education and training board, ETB, sector, the board is a sub-committee of the ETB, which is the employer, so there are slight differences in how it works. The role, structures and supports made by the board are absolutely based in the community and should be seen to represent the parents, staff and interests of trustees. The skills built up by many councillors on the boards in the ETB sector schools are certainly put to extremely good use. Those interview skills count for nothing if there is only one applicant for a position, which was the default in many schools at one time. When a post arose, a meeting took place and often there would only be one applicant for the post. There would be no need for the finely honed skills of colleagues. Deputy Daly referred to clusters of schools and Mr. Cottrell has a more nuanced view on this. In discussions I have had with senior officials in the Department, I queried why up to eight or nine years ago there were 13 primary schools on Achill Island, given the level of structure in a school required to make it operate.
Another Deputy asked about the role of bodies in dealing with the Department of Education and Skills with our proposals. The teacher education section in the Department has the closest of links with the professional associations at the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals, NAPD, and we routinely meet those officials to discuss issues of concern. At the height of the good times, there were over 500 teachers seconded from schools to the professional development services but that went to fewer than 100 at one stage. We had close involvement in leadership development for schools and when times were good, there would have been up to 16 full-time people involved in that programme, delivering at primary and post-primary level, but the initiative is much diminished.
Recently there have been very fruitful meetings between the senior officials in the Department and us with a view to meeting the needs with a stream of newly appointed principals. There is also consideration of how to create a cohort of individuals applying for principalship, as in our sector the desirable job is the position of deputy principal rather than principal, with a far higher rate of applications for positions of deputy principal, depending on the context, size and location of school. There have been fruitful discussions in this regard and I am hopeful, particularly regarding the point made by Mr. Ward regarding coaching, mentoring and supports for existing principals and principals in situ, that there will shortly be proposals emerging to allow that happen.

Mr. Brendan McCabe:

I will return to Deputy Daly's question regarding the notion of shared leadership across schools, which is a contentious issue that is difficult to resolve. There was mention of an amalgamation or closure of a small school anywhere in Ireland, which would straight away become very political. It is a difficult issue. We have considered all possible types of configurations in this regard. In Scotland, for example, at a local level in many places they wanted to amalgamate or close some small schools but the national government has a policy against that. It is the opposite of what is occurring in Ireland. The Netherlands has many federations of schools, and it is probably a more interesting example, with potential for the Department to examine these more closely.

Where there is a desire for it, we favour the notion that schools would form different clusters. For example, one parish could have four small schools which between them might never have an administrative principal but they would if the four were put together. There is no reason all four schools could not stay open on their respective sites but be part of one school. This is a possibility but there are others. We propose that where there is a local desire, schools should be encouraged to form different types of pilot schemes and try out different models of clustering and federation.

That could be the starting point which would lead to a more formal rationalisation of small schools, rather than compulsory closure.

2:25 pm

Mr. Seán Cottrell:

That works in Queensland in Australia, northern Canada, Finland, France and Spain. There are several examples of it. As Brendan said, there are loose and more firm clusterings, leading ultimately to federations. The parents get to retain what they want, which is a school in their community, there are no extra buildings required and no transport is required. The back office functions of the schools are bonded. Ultimately, a fully federated school will have one board of management, one staff, one budget and one of everything, except that the school campuses stay as they are.

Mr. Brendan McCabe:

Also, I think the Department would look very favourably on pilots such as that if they were proposed locally through different patron bodies. That is probably what we should be encouraging.

Photo of Jonathan O'BrienJonathan O'Brien (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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That is the key issue with regard to the proposal for clustering and federation. It looks great in theory but I am not sure how it will work in practice when there are so many different patron bodies. I spoke to Mr. Cottrell last week about this. Perhaps it is something the witnesses have taken into account and they see some way of overcoming the issue of patronage.

I acknowledge what Mr. Byrne and Ms Nihill said. One of their proposals was the establishment of a steering committee under their direction. Could they give us a little more information on that? They go into detail in their presentation about what the remit of that committee would be. Will the Department comment on the possibility of that becoming a reality in the near future? Would the Department be open to it?

Photo of Averil PowerAveril Power (Fianna Fail)
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My question is for the Department about the issue of clustering. Does the system as it is facilitate that for a group of schools? I realise the Department is open to the idea that there would be a principal across three or four small rural schools, rather than a teaching principal in each one. Can something like that be done under the current structures or would it require change?

With regard to the ETBs, when we were debating the legislation on ETBs there was a great deal of discussion about how they could provide many support services for schools, in terms of back office functions, IT support, procurement and so forth. What is the position in terms of making that a reality?

Ms Deirdre Matthews:

With regard to clustering, the patron has more control over that than the Department. It is the patron who can decide whether the school closes or changes whatever function it serves. The Department would probably be interested in talking further to the IPPN and listening to what it has to say about a pilot. However, as Deputy O'Brien said, it is a local issue and the patronage is a major issue. However, many of these small schools belong to the same patron. The schools belong to the patron, so the patron would have to agree to doing it in the first instance.

Photo of Averil PowerAveril Power (Fianna Fail)
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The Department would just examine deciding what the entitlement is, such as the number of pupils from the combined schools in terms of deciding that they are entitled to a full principal.

Ms Deirdre Matthews:

That would be the issue we would discuss with them.

The Senator also asked about the ETBs. I will also reply to Senator Moran's question about what happens after inspection for the 11%. With regard to the ETBs, I am not aware at present, although some of my colleagues might be, of anything further happening from the point of view of being available to schools other than their own schools. However, it is certainly something that we would be interested in exploring.

On Senator Moran's question, when inspectors identify schools with serious weaknesses in respect of either leadership and management or teaching and learning, which we believe are the core functions, there is a group in the Department, the school improvement group which was established in 2008, to which those schools are referred. It is not an inspectorate group; it is a Department group made up of senior officials from a range of departments, predominantly school governance and the inspectorate. Those schools are dealt with, supported and monitored on a case-by-case basis, depending on what the issues are. The first port of call is speaking to the relevant people about what supports are available through the PDST or the national support services or through their patron bodies, which sometimes provide support. There are meetings between various officials from the Department and the patron, board of management and the principal, depending on what the issues are. They are monitored until they get to a stage where the Department is happy that they are in a position and have built up the capacity to manage themselves properly. From 2008 to the beginning of 2014, approximately 76 schools have been referred to that group.

Photo of Charlie McConalogueCharlie McConalogue (Donegal North East, Fianna Fail)
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With regard to principal days, and this refers to national schools that do not have a walking principal, could the representatives of NAPD comment on how they work? Each principal has a certain number of days each year which they are allowed to fill with substitute teachers. Undoubtedly, there is a knock-on effect in terms of continuity in the classroom. Perhaps they would comment on the impact of that and how it works. Also, there have been changes recently in respect of sick leave and substitution availability for staff out on leave. There were changes relating to uncertified sick leave and not being able to get substitution for the first day of certified sick leave. Perhaps the NAPD and IPPN representatives would respond on that point.

Finally, Ms Matthews mentioned that the UK is rolling back with regard to compulsory qualifications for principal teachers. Will she elaborate on what the UK had in place and why it is moving away from it?

Photo of Jim DalyJim Daly (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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Chairman, could I ask for an answer, for the third time, on the 1973 circular and the devolving of the building grants?

Ms Deirdre Matthews:

I apologise. I forgot to reply although I have written the question down. There is a more elaborate circular in 2003 that outlines the structure of all the posts at primary level. However, 2003 is a long time ago so it probably needs to be revisited at this stage.

Photo of Jim DalyJim Daly (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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What about devolving the building grants?

Mr. Eddie Ward:

I am not aware of any change in that. We can refer back to the committee about it.

Mr. Alfie Barrett:

With regard to the devolving of grants, at times schools find they can get better value and achieve more at local level than if something is handled centrally. The school principals might comment on that.

We can agree that there are many issues and problems, and the challenge is to arrive at decisions that can address them. Senator Power spoke about the small steps that can be taken versus larger steps. That is the real challenge for us - what reforms we can get into place now in the absence of resources. A question was asked about post holders and their appointments. We have essentially reached agreement or are close to agreement on that for all schools for the future. Out of 100 marks, length of service will be 20 marks and the rest will be for items such as knowledge, understanding, capacity to do the job and capacity to contribute to the overall organisation and management of the school. Therefore, 80 marks out of 100 will be for that. These are the reforms we can achieve that do not cost in the absence of resources. While we do not disagree on many of the issues, the challenge for us is to take what steps we can at present to help in the areas where we have identified issues that must be addressed.

Mr. Brendan McCabe:

To address the issue of release days for teaching principals, in primary schools two thirds of all principals in this country are teaching full-time, so there are many principals involved. Release days are invaluable. They are the only means by which a principal can find the time to handle much of the stuff that is coming at them outside the learning and curricular issues within the school. Ideally, we would like all teaching principals to have one release day per week. That is what pertains in Northern Ireland and we would like to have the same here. Obviously there are financial issues involved in that and the Department will correctly say the money is not available. However, our aspiration would be that all teaching principals would have one release day per week. It would go a long way towards addressing problems.

With regard to substitution for sick days, for certified sick leave it would certainly be desirable that any teacher would have substitution available to them.

The reality in schools, at primary level, is that when a teacher is out a whole class ends up being divided across the other teachers. That does not just impede the learning of the class being divided; unfortunately, to some extent, it will also impede the learning of the other classes. It is far from ideal that classes are split up. For any legitimate absence, as in certified sick leave, it would be desirable that there is sub cover available.

2:35 pm

Mr. Seán Cottrell:

I wish to speak on a few remaining issues such as boards of management. As we know from our research on boards, sometimes a patron appoints two people - one being a chairperson - and there is a tendency for some boards to elect a chairperson within the membership, which is, strictly speaking, not in compliance with the rules. Some schools do so because the chairperson designate decides that he or she does not want to be chairperson. That is an area that is worth looking at because it would go a long way towards at least having people in the role who want it. There is nothing worse than having a chairperson who does not want to be in that role.

I shall mention continuing professional development. I do not think the matter has been mentioned so far today. Instructional leadership is one of the most difficult professional skills that a principal will encounter. It means working with one's peers, some of whom are more qualified and experienced, yet one has a responsibility to improve the quality of his or her instruction and get the best from all teachers. That takes a lot of skilful coaching and mentoring and is not something one learns by reading a manual.

Senator Power mentioned performance management. Michael Fullan wrote about the drivers of success in schools, listing the most popular methods Governments around the world choose to improve education. Most government wish to improve education and I must say that we have one of the best education systems in the world. However, four of the drivers listed work and four do not. The analysis was quite interesting. One of the drivers that does not work is the hammer-to-crack-a-nut approach because it builds up resistance and, if anything, standards of teaching go down. Obviously I will not go into all eight drivers now. The most successful one, believe it or not, is for principals to take teachers in groups and develop professional learning communities within schools. In that instance, the principal and teachers work together and share preparation, evaluation and ideas. It is the group dynamic, the famous peer pressure, that lifts performance in schools, not the hammer-and-nut approach.

Earlier somebody asked what can be done to make the situation better reasonably quickly. I can mention three things for primary schools. First, as Mr. McCabe said earlier, principals should have one day per week to deal with essential administration and have no contact with children. Second, an administrator should be provided, depending on a school's size, which measure would allow principals into the classroom to be instructional leaders. That will not happen unless help is provided to release principals. It does not matter how many circulars and policy documents are written; principals must be given time. We know that time is not malleable, but the way it is used must be changed. My suggestion would allow principals to be leaders of learning. That would be the biggest plus in attracting good new teachers to the role. Third, we must define middle management - the role of a deputy principal, the role of post holders - and make it meaningful. Unfortunately, a lot of tasks that have been taken on are trivial and menial. I shall be brief, as we have discussed this matter at length. One does not need to be a teacher to carry out some of the tasks that teachers have been asked to perform.

I will reiterate my three suggestions. A day per week provided to teaching principals to carry out administration; administrative support for principals of all schools; and a definition of the middle management structure. A lot of the improvements can be made without incurring much cost.

Ms Mary Nihill:

There is another issue that would not cost a huge amount of money but, again, it is a culture thing. There is some difficulty when we talk about the role and difficulties of school leaders. There is no uniform opinion on the role of a school leader, which breaks down very much at selection level. Selection committees are often confused about the primary role of a school leader, which perhaps crosses primary and post-primary sectors. In an interview with a selection committee comprised of five people, there may be a complete difference of opinion from one end of the selection committee table to the other on the essential requirements being sought. Perhaps some members of the selection committee will prioritise the leading of learning while others will prioritise other things such as compliance or care of the building. That concept needs to be looked at.

Senator Power asked for improvements that would not cost much, so I will outline another one. Perhaps we could look at the whole public service and redeploy people between Departments. As Mr. Cottrell pointed out, some of the stuff that principals spend a lot of time doing does not necessarily need a teacher to do it. Perhaps some creative redeployment from other sectors, such as the HSE or whatever, could create space for the teachers, principal and deputy principal to lead learning in schools.

Mr. Eddie Ward:

I will address some points that were not dealt with. Regarding boards of management, the Education Act sets out their broad legal framework and allocates specific roles to a variety of people. A negotiated model of the rules and procedures is now in place, and these are reviewed from time to time. There is also a budget for the training of boards that is agreed, and priorities are agreed annually through a consultation model. Perhaps that is something that we can look at in terms of emphasising governance roles and responsibilities more. I agree that boundaries are blurred and there needs to be clarity for everybody concerned.

Mention was made of ETBs and the administrative workload, in a variety of ways, of principals. There is a push for public sector reform and it is happening within the Department. In that context, we are conscious of the expectations and demands placed on schools. One of the significant reforms that have been put in place is the system of reporting on teacher absences at school level. A paper mountain no longer moves through the system because it is now done on a computerised basis. There is a lot of potential for ICT to improve the system.

In terms of the potential of ETBs, yesterday I attended a presentation by an ETB on its model of ICT support in a school. Not only has it taken over a lot of the school administration tasks; it is also heralded as a means to promote and facilitate teaching and learning in a school. ICT is never an end in itself but there are improvements to be gained in how teachers use ICT effectively for teaching and learning. I refer to an all-inclusive model. The Department is preparing an ICT digital strategy for teaching and learning and it is something that we will look at because of its potential.

Mention was made of the way the Department oversees leadership. We have in place a consultative format whereby we invite the partners to talk about CPD priorities and what we are doing about particular matters. We are engaged currently in bilateral negotiations with the NAPD and the IPPN, which have been very fruitful as they have generated very good ideas. We are looking closely at the coaching-mentoring gap that has been identified in the kind of mapping work that is going on.

With regard to the culture and expectation of leadership and the setting of boundaries - the following is probably true of the whole public service, but particularly of schools - we need to accept that everybody in the system and in a school has a responsibility. Leadership is not just the concern of a few, which is a point that is reinforced more and more in research. Although there is more international research available on the matter, the research emphasises the point very strongly. However, there needs to be clarity around the subject.

Certain practices have developed under the model that is currently in place and we need to show openness towards new ideas. One of the positive aspects of the circumstances in which we find ourselves is that they make people think about how we are doing things, what our vision should be and what point we want to reach. The Department is open to examining these issues, and the spirit of partnership shown by the bodies representing principals is very good news in that regard.

2:45 pm

Photo of Joanna TuffyJoanna Tuffy (Dublin Mid West, Labour)
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We will bring the discussion to a close at this point. I thank all the witnesses for their helpful presentations and responses to questions. I also thank members for their contributions and those present in the gallery for their attendance.

The joint committee adjourned at 3.30 p.m. until 1 p.m. on Wednesday, 16 April 2014.