By Niall Murray, Education Correspondent
PRIMARY schools are facing a leadership crisis as the number of teachers applying for principals’ posts has fallen to an all-time low, it was claimed last night.
The number of teachers applying for the role has fallen by more than half in the past 10 years.
The Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN) revealed at its annual conference that there were no responses to advertisements for posts at 12 schools last year. Some schools had to place three ads before any teachers applied.
IPPN director Sean Cottrell wondered whether principal teachers were a dying breed.
He asked the conference: "Can you imagine the Irish Rugby team without a captain? Or AIB without a chief executive? Or U2 without Bono? An organisation is defined by its leadership."
A recent survey found the average number of applications for such positions fell from more than five to just two per job over the past decade.
The IPPN blames factors including an unattractive salary, unclear job specification and the absence of a contract setting out a timeframe for the position.
Mr Cottrell said: "In the 70% or more of primary schools with less than seven teachers, there is a teaching principal who gets an allowance of only around €9,000 on top of their basic teachers’ salary. But a deputy principal in a school with at least 14 teachers would earn more than that.
"Other teachers are discouraged from applying because they know the level of unpredictability associated with the job."
Mr Cottrell cited a Midlands school which advertised two vacancies last year, one for a teaching job and the other for the principal’s post.
"There were 372 applications for the teaching vacancy, but the post of principal only attracted one application and nobody from the school staff applied. Government policy on education can not be implemented successfully unless this crisis is addressed," he said.
The situation could worsen in coming years as the large number of older principals retire and vacancies, currently running at up to 200 annually, rise significantly.
Highlighting Education Minister Mary Hanafin’s campaign to attract more men to teaching, the IPPN said there has never been such a high level of applications from people wanting to be teachers. But, they said, the appetite for leadership has never been so low.
IPPN president Tomás Ó Slatara referred to a report being presented to the conference this weekend by international education consultant Professor Michael Fullan, who has advised the British and other governments in recent years.
He recommends that principals should have an appropriately attractive pay scale and be offered contracts of five to seven years to allow them go back to teaching if the workload becomes too much.
"If there was this shortage of applicants for top management jobs in industry or the financial sector, a Government task force would be examining it," Mr Ó Slatara said.
He told delegates there is a compelling case to free deputy principals from teaching duties to support school leadership, particularly in areas of growing responsibility such as special needs education.