President Michael D Higgins has joined primary school principals in calls to reduce the red tape that holds them back from teaching the arts.
He said many children would be unable to take part in extra-curricular activities such as sports and drama if it were not for school heads giving up their own time.
“It is my wish, as patron of the association for the promotion of creativity and the arts in education, that teachers be allowed to deliver their generous talents to these activities and that no bureaucratic requirement ever impedes their capacity to do so,” Mr Higgins said.
Members of the Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN) gave the President a standing ovation after he spoke at the group’s annual conference.
Mr Higgins, a supporter of the network, was applauded as he praised head teachers for their work with pupils,
He said Ireland was lucky to have so many dedicated head teachers who not only complete their work to a high standard, but become involved in a broad range of extra-curricular activities for their pupils’ benefit.
The President paid particular tribute to school choir activities, but warned there was a danger during times of economic austerity that these essentials may not be protected.
“May these teachers always be free to do these activities that are much more important than any exercise in quantification,” he said.
Mr Higgins added: “Without the dedication, commitment and generosity of our teachers many children would not be able to partake in sporting activities, choirs and drama productions, after school clubs, local community work and so many other activities which can awaken undiscovered interests, build a spirit of teamwork and co-operation, and prepare children to become active participants in their communities and societies in later life.”
The President echoed calls from IPPN director Sean Cottrell, who said hours of form-filling was jeopardising principals’ ability to lead their schools effectively.
Mr Cottrell urged the Government to reduce the red tape burden imposed on principals by prioritising funding for school administrator posts to free up their time.
“In other countries, resources to employ administrators are ring-fenced, making sure that principals can do what they are best at – focusing on the quality of teaching and learning,” Mr Cottrell said.
The head of the IPPN, which represents primary school principals across the country, also criticised the Government for not providing substitute cover to allow head teachers to attend the conference.
“We must give principals the required administrative back-up so they can fulfil their primary function of leading the quality of learning,” he added.
“The Government must give them the resources to run their schools and harness their capacity to lead.”
Meanwhile, former university lecturer Mr Higgins warned that primary school principals face numerous challenges in what has become a complex environment.
He said their role and responsibilities have broadened over the years, meaning they are often required to respond to concerns outside education, such as family break-ups, child abuse and other social issues.
This means they occasionally have to deal with social services, An Garda Síochána and health officials.
“There can be no doubt that, in a modern and multi-faceted society, the school principal must often walk a very fine line indeed – a line which, while recognising and respecting parental rights and responsibilities, must always put the child first by guarding the welfare of the pupils in their care,” the President said.
“This, and the many other challenges presented to us in a contemporary and rapidly changing society, present school principals with an increasingly complex environment in which to ensure that the school experience remains a relevant and positive one for the vast majority of their pupils.”
The IPPN presented Mr Higgins with a copy of Irish author Edna O’Brien’s Country Girls, and there were cheers as he greeted teachers on his way out of the conference.