Finance forms 25% of principals’ work

PRIMARY school principals spend up to one-quarter of their school day trying to balance the books instead of teaching or leading pupils’ education needs, research has found.

The study of the costs of primary education and the funding sources is being carried out by an Australian expert for the Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN).

The preliminary findings to be presented by Jim Spinks to 900 principals at the organisation’s annual conference, which opens in Killarney today, show that Irish schools use their resources efficiently and often have voluntary financial expertise available.

However, it has also found that most schools are short on basic operational costs and between 10% and 25% of principals’ time is spent on financial issues.

Those who spend most of their time addressing school finances work at more than two-thirds of the country’s 3,300 primary schools, where the principal also teaches classes.

IPPN assistant director Virginia O’Mahoney said there was a clear need to examine low-cost or no-cost options, focusing perhaps on small neighbouring schools pooling together so teaching principals can maximise the efficiency of their leadership resources to their schools.

“There is also an urgent need to rethink the ring-fenced elements of funding, and freeing up more options for schools in how they use their resources. We need to give more autonomy to principals and boards to manage their own schools as they know best what their own priorities are and where the scarce resources need to be targeted,” she said.

While extra funding for running costs have been given to primary schools in the 2009 budget, many grants have been withdrawn. Education Minister Batt O’Keeffe will address the conference tomorrow, as principals push for a limit to any further cuts.

Mr Spinks’ research is also examining the real costs of educating children, which IPPN president Larry Fleming said cannot be stated by the Department of Education as it can only tell the cost of teacher salaries and buildings.

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