Primary school principals are being overwhelmed by tasks and responsibilities that have nothing to do with their core purpose of leading teaching and learning, according to a new report which found this is having a detrimental impact on their effectiveness and the sustainability of their role.
The study - Primary School Leadership, the case for urgent action - was commissioned by the Irish Primary Principals Network and has been published at their annual conference in Killarney.
It finds that additional demands being made of school principals are taking a toll on their health and wellbeing, with increased incidence of burnout, depressive symptoms, sleep disorders and stress.
It says the scores for such symptoms - returned by school leaders in a survey carried out as part of the research - were double and sometimes more than double those of the healthy working population.
Writing in the report, Executive Dean of Education at DCU Professor Anne Looney, describes the situation as "a perfect storm", caused by a centrist model of primary schooling "coupled with the legacies of patronage and the chronic underfunding of the system over decades".
The IPPN has called for urgent action to address the issue of the role and workload of school leaders.
In its report, it outlines a number of measures it said need to be introduced in order to reduce the pressures they face, including increased and improved administrative and governance structures and the redistribution of non-core tasks and responsibilities.
The IPPN has also called for a radical overhaul of how school principals are recruited.
The report criticises the current system, which does not require members of interview broads to have training to help them identify the best candidate for the role.
"If the principal is critical to school success, then it is clear that those who select the principal play a vital role in the process. In addition, those who select the selectors carry immense responsibility," it said.
"The training in recruitment focuses on the procedures rather than on understanding the needs of the school, the skills and competencies and the personal qualities required of today's school leader", the report states.
It quotes from data gathered in a survey of more than 1,000 school leaders which showed a change of leadership in 39% of schools over the past five years. In 60% of cases the principal had not reached the age of retirement, the survey found.
The survey found that 27% of schools received three or fewer applications for the role of principal when the post was last advertised; 36% received no applications from teachers currently employed at the school, and in 68% of cases the deputy principal did not apply.
"It seems clear from this data that internal aspiring leaders and deputy principals look at the role of principal and consider it impossible to take on while also preserving a work-life balance", the report concludes.
It says that "to counter this narrative, all stakeholders have a role to play in terms of highlighting the positives of the school leadership role".
The IPPN has called for a review to be carried out into the role and structure of school boards of management and for mandatory training for all board members.
It says there should be mandatory induction programmes for new school leaders, as well as mentoring and coaching, and more opportunities for professional development.
It has also called for a clearer definition of the role of the school principal so that their core purpose of leading teaching and learning can be ensured.
It says that legal, financial, human resource, health and safety and building/maintenance expertise should be made available on a cluster or regional basis to all schools.
The report states that implementing its recommendations would have a "profound effect" on leadership effectiveness and sustainability, and it has called for immediate action.
The president of the IPPN said school principals do not have enough time for things that are most closely aligned with their core purpose such as "leading, teaching, learning, quality assurance and curriculum implementation".
Speaking to RTÉ's Drivetime, Brian O'Doherty said the report found that principals are spending "too much time on the areas that are least closely aligned to their core purpose such as buildings, maintenance, finance and administration".
"Ninety-seven-percent of respondents to our survey said the key issue that undermines the sustainability of their leadership role is the number of tasks and responsibilities that keep them from that core purpose," Mr O'Doherty said.
He said the IPPN has acknowledged that there has been investment in leadership but an issue still exists.
Some recommendations have been identified, he said.
"It's what school leaders can do for themselves, what IPPN as an organisation can do and what needs to happen at a system level," he said.
"If we could get that role clarity, if we could empower effective sharing of leadership without leadership and management team and if we could address the issue of governance."