Principals now spend more time dealing with troubled students than troublesome ones as they carry the burden of collapsed pastoral supports at second level, the education minister was told yesterday.
The message was delivered by National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD) president Padraig Flanagan, as he outlined the impact of a five-year ban on teacher promotions to middle-management roles, particularly the loss of year heads and special needs co-ordinators as holders of those posts retire.
“Mental health issues, eating disorders, bullying, self-harm, self-image, and sexual identity issues are everyday concerns in our schools,” said the principal of Castletroy College in Limerick said.
“So many schools do not have the help of a year head to deal with these issues and all schools have had cuts in guidance and counselling hours. Who picks up the pieces, minister? We do as usual. If we are to be tasked with the challenge of dealing with parental and societal neglect, we urgently require more support.”
He urged Ms O’Sullivan to adopt NAPD recommendations on new middle- management structures, and to allow principals autonomy to deploy the best people for each post of responsibility.
Delegates agreed with department official Martin Hanevy who said there could not be a return to the old system, referring to the fact that almost half of all teachers previously held special duties posts, that were often allocated based mainly on seniority.
The minister said significant changes would require negotiation with unions and management bodies, but promised that principals’ suggestions would be considered in any such process.
Mr Flanagan earlier said that NAPD was speaking to professional unions outside the education sphere about seeking representation, with a feeling that principals are not always represented by their teacher unions or by management bodies.
Some, he said, have had to fund their own legal representation in cases where their school boards did not support them because they must be seen to remain impartial due to a board’s potential role in appeal cases.
Ms O’Sullivan was asked when schools would return to a ring-fenced allocation of guidance counselling hours, and about the restoration of cuts to day-to-day funding that was cut again in the budget this week., prompting Mr Flanagan to say many schools depend on fashion shows and vending machines to survive
She said the priority in Budget 2015 was funding for extra teachers to keep up with growing student numbers, but she will listen to all education partners’ proposals — “outside the pressure of the budget season” — to help her decide which areas she might prioritise for the use of any additional funding in future budgets.
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