More than three-quarters of primary school principals felt "overwhelmed" during the initial onset of the Covid-19 pandemic but almost all said they believed their school had adapted well to the crisis, with almost 70% backing online learning.
The findings are contained in a comprehensive report to be launched later this week on Irish Primary School Leadership during Covid-19, in which principals also conveyed a sense of frustration at the Department of Education, including over a perceived lack of consultation.
Written by researchers at Trinity College Dublin, the study focuses on principals as managers and leaders of school communities and the provision of digital education at Irish primary level during the lockdown.
Referring to the "major disruption" caused by Covid, it said 3,240 primary schools with 37,839 staff and 559,365 students were impacted.
It found that 77% of principals said they felt overwhelmed and 71% said they were emotionally exhausted, while 59% said they felt "isolated and disconnected" at the time.
However, more than 90% of respondents believed their schools adapted well to the challenges and said there had been high levels of staff trust.
It was less clearcut when it came to questions about interaction with the department.
More than half disagreed that they had been kept up to date by the department on important issues, while two-thirds disagreed with the statement "if changes occur, I am given a reason why". More comprehensively, just 6% agreed with the statement "I am consulted by the DES before decisions are taken that affect my work", while 86% disagreed.
Just 52% of those surveyed said there had been effective consultation with their boards of management and just 41% said there had been an effective connection with parents' groups.
According to the report: "This crisis has forced educational systems across the globe to move online and is likely to transform what teaching and learning looks like in the coming years."
Between 66% and 70% of principals backed online learning and the ease with which it can be utilised, but 57% said online learning platforms have most of the functions that staff need to teach effectively, while 43% disagreed.
The survey findings are based on responses given by principals and a small number of deputy and assistant principals, the majority of whom were working in schools with between 100 and 500 children.
The report said that "Inadequate broadband, lack of digital knowledge, no access to devices/learning materials; lack of relevant/targeted professional development and unavailability of funding were expressed as challenges for engaging with digital learning."
In addition, "anxiety over the incredibly high workload, [an] impossible balancing act, demands in supporting school children, managing own children and family, uncertainty about returning to work, and uncertainty about their future role and availability were commented on by principals in relation to their wellbeing and concerns."
Despite these issues and a significant increase in work demands, most principals said they were confident in themselves and their staff and had learned new ways of working during the crisis.
The report recommends improved communications and greater involvement of principals in the future, that leadership crisis management training be provided, additional supports (such as SNAs and better IT systems) and that clarity be provided on how schools react to certain scenarios, such as isolating children, contact tracing procedures and online teaching.