School principals call for overhaul of board structures

PRINCIPALS have called for an overhaul of how primary school boards are structured as figures show that almost half are still chaired by priest or other religious person.

Almost 27,000 volunteers will assume positions on the boards of the country’s 3,300 primary schools next week for a four-year term. Most boards have eight members, which must include two nominees of the school patron, the principal and another teacher elected by staff, two parents, with two community representatives chosen by other members.

But the chairperson is still nominated by the patron of each primary school, who is the local Catholic or Church of Ireland bishop in 95% of cases, under structures which have barely changed since being established in 1975.

A survey about school governance by the Irish Primary Principals Network (IPPN) of members of 500 boards found that 84% of chairpersons are male and 47% are a priest, rector or nun. A key recommendation of the organisation is that the chairperson should be selected by the board.

IPPN director Seán Cottrell said primary school governance must be redesigned to reflect a changing society, new laws affecting schools, a diverse school-going population and a school system more community-based than parish-focused.

“A chairperson with the necessary skills, experience and time should be selected by the board, not appointed externally,” he said.

He said smaller schools should be incentivised to share governance structures, with legal, financial, human resource, building and maintenance expertise made available to schools.

“Governance supports and enables effective school management, establishing the school’s vision, mission, direction and values, and it must not be confused with management which is about running the day-to-day affairs of the school,” he said.

Education Minister Ruairi Quinn has said that the 16 Education and Training Boards that will replace Vocational Education Committees will be able to offer supports to all schools.

The Department of Education spokesperson said it will consider the report and raise any relevant issues with the IPPN and representatives of patrons and school management, teachers and parents.

The IPPN survey found there were a high proportion of professionals on boards, but schools in disadvantaged areas were twice as likely not to have someone with expertise relevant to the role.

The report highlights varying accordance with procedures on meeting agendas and minutes, while issues around funding, buildings and policy dominated meetings, leaving little time to discuss education and ethos.

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