Tuesday, 26 June 2018
Ar dtús ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an Aire agus comhghairdeas a chur in iúl chuige as ucht a bheith sa Teach inniu.
I welcome the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Richard Bruton, and thank him for his presence in the Chamber this afternoon. I acknowledge that the Minister comes to the Seanad on an ongoing basis and that is very much appreciated.
I commend and thank the teaching profession for their hard work and dedication on behalf of our children. We are very fortunate to have so many hard working and dedicated teachers. Today I am raising the current role of the school principal. In primary schools, the school principal is the manager or the captain of the ship. He or she is the leader of the school. Currently primary school principals are reaching out to the Department in respect of their ongoing workload and are seeking to have the allocation of release time increased in order to lessen the crippling workload they are undertaking and give them time to concentrate on their teaching responsibilities.
As the Minister knows, 56% of school principals teach a class of children full time. In addition to their responsibility to teach in the classroom, they have the responsibility of running the school, which includes administration, staff, curriculum, pupils, pupils with special needs, the board of management, the parents and building and maintenance of the school. The teaching principal really is a multi-tasker.
The situation has got to a point where it is no longer sustainable. Teaching principals are at crisis point. They are requesting the Minister to address this issue. A few miles over the Border from my constituency of Cavan-Monaghan teaching principals enjoy time out from the classroom one to two days a week to do administration work. They can plan to have a regular substitute teacher in place to allow for continuity for the benefit of the children in the classroom. That facility has been in operation north of the Border for the past ten years. Clearly I am here to plead with the Minister to look at the plight of school principals and the workload they currently have to undertake. It is unsustainable and in many cases it is affecting their mental well-being. It is at crisis point. Something needs to be done. I ask the Minister to review the current situation so that the role of school principals and their workload can be looked at with a view to finding workable solutions.
I thank Senator Gallagher for his kind remarks and for postponing this debate so that I could be in the Chamber to take it. I absolutely agree with him that one of the most important things we can invest in is the quality of leadership in our schools. If one looks at what influences a child's success in school, one is the teacher he or she experiences and second is the quality of the leadership of the school. I am very keen to invest in upskilling and upgrading leadership. I have done a number of things already. In the past two budgets, I made provision for 3,000 additional posts of responsibility in our schools, both at primary and post-primary. At post-primary, 475 deputy principal positions were created. At primary and post-primary, 1,300 assistant principal posts were sanctioned. The other very significant improvement is the new circular on management that has been negotiated with the trade unions and now circulated. It provides for a much more flexible distributed system of management in our schools and allows for more flexible allocating of responsibilities and a more open system for identifying and reporting on what is done under that and the possibility for changing those responsibilities. That is a real breakthrough in the way we allocate posts.I know the Senator's particular concern relates to small schools that have teaching principals. As my reply outlines, I made an arrangement this year to increase the number of days off that such principals have. The number of days off in each of the three size categories was increased by two days, three days and four days, respectively. As the reply sets out, I have added extra days so those who used to get 15, 20 or 25 days off now get 17, 23 or 29 days off, respectively. This reflects the need to provide more leadership resources and capacity.
I am very keen to see more initiative devolved down to local level. The new model of resource teaching allocation, which we discussed in this House last week, puts much more trust in the local school to allocate how teaching resources are deployed across the range of children with special needs. It represents a move away from the very inflexible system that has been in place up to now.
I have agreed to the creation of 50 cluster posts, which will be of benefit to small schools. This will allow groups of principals to combine their release days as a permanent position. The holder of that position will be able to fill in across the various schools. This will ensure principals do not have to contend with the hassle of trying to get substitute teachers on days which they have chosen to take as release days and allow them to plan the allocation of time in a much better way.
It is worth mentioning that we are making a significant and specifically designed investment in the Centre for School Leadership. This year, 1,000 of the country's 4,000 principals will have opportunities to avail of coaching or mentoring or to pursue postgraduate study. We are putting money into enhancing the quantity and quality of leadership time.
I gather from the text that has been provided that the specific request made by the Senator would cost €12 million if we were to accede to it. When these things are being put together as part of October's budget, we will have to look at the competing requests that are being made. As the Senator is probably aware, there are many other requests. We have debated them in this House and in the Dáil. We will have to make decisions on where priorities lie. As we have seen, it will be a fairly tight year for additional resources.
We will not relent in our interest in investing in the quantity and quality of leadership. We are investing in the Centre for School Leadership and building clusters to enable schools to come together for substitution and to do things together, for example, in the digital and DEIS spheres. I know there are many DEIS schools in the Border counties, perhaps not in Monaghan but certainly in Donegal. We are trying to encourage individual school leaders to show more leadership by working with others to achieve new things.
We are moving away from the much more rigid input-output way of allocating resources across our school budgeting. In my view, the conversation focuses far too much on pupil-teacher ratios, capitation grants and appointment rates. We need to look at what pushes on the experience of children. I think that is where the kind of good and well thought-out investment in leadership that we are trying to sponsor can make a big difference.
I thank the Senator for his interest. I cannot accede to his specific request today, but I will examine it in the context of other things we might be able to do in this whole area.
I thank the Minister for his comprehensive response. Some of its content was not to my liking. I ask the Minister to acknowledge that there is an issue. As he knows, school principals are engaged in an ongoing campaign. I am aware from my own experience that school principals are leaving their posts to return to mainstream teaching because, as I said in my initial contribution, the workload is affecting their well-being. I am sure the Minister is aware of that as well. This issue deserves attention. I welcome the Minister's confirmation that he is not closing the door to consultation with the stakeholders involved. I hope he will make a genuine attempt to find a resolution or a path forward to address this issue.
Like all other measures, we will have to weigh up its impact on outcomes. I am totally focussed on outcomes. I wish to pursue measures which lead to children doing better. The Senator's request is quite substantial. As I stated, I granted two to four extra days this year. Senator Gallagher requests an additional seven to 19 days, which would be a significant step up from what we have been able to do. In considering such provision, we must assess the impact of €12 million being spent in this way compared to the impact it would have on the many other areas for which we receive similarly passionate demands for investment. The ultimate arbiter must be whether children will do better as a result. I acknowledge that it is an inexact science and one must make choices but I will consider each proposal with that objective in mind.