For those of you unfamiliar with primary schools, you might be surprised to know that the Department of Education is not responsible for what happens in any of their schools. You may be further surprised to note that patron bodies also have no responsibility either. Every single primary school in the country is its own private entity and all the responsibility lies with 8 individuals called the Board of Management.
You might think that this might only be in the case of big schools but even the smallest schools in Ireland have to have 8 Board members. This might mean in the most extreme cases that there are some schools where there is a larger number of people on a Board of Management than there are pupils in the school.
However, that’s not the strangest thing.
The Board of Management is made up completely of volunteers. Nobody gets paid to be on a Board of Management and, yet, they have absolutely responsibility should anything go wrong in the school, even if it has nothing whatsoever to do with them.
The 8 people are the principal (who has a dual role of being an employee and employer), another teacher, two parents, two community representatives and two people to act on behalf of the patron.
The Boards meet roughly 5 times a year and meetings generally surround the principal giving information about what is happening in the school. One member of the Board acts as the Treasurer (completely for free) and the rest of the Board lend their expertise (for free.)
The trouble is that as much as one would love to believe that every member of a Board of Management is willing to give up their free time to manage aspects of the school for nothing, it is a myth. When principals go for their training, they are asked to look out for people who would be accountants, solicitors, architects, building contractors, HR managers, etc. in order to give expert advice and even manage these aspects of school life, then convince them to do it all for free. As lovely as people are, it is next to impossible to achieve this.
What is achievable is that Boards of Management are paid to manage aspects of schools that are lacking. Every school doesn’t need their own HR manager, contractor, treasurer, etc. but a cluster of schools would definitely need this.
I would suggest that we move to a system where individual Boards of Management become a thing of the past and they are replaced by the almost equivalent of Local Education Authorities. These LEAs would manage aspects of the school but they would also be a support to the principal of the school.
Obviously there are risks with a system like this because it could make things worse. Sometimes, it’s nice for a principal to know who is on their Board and that they will generally have their back, rather than some sort of faceless local entity that may have particular agendas that might not suit a school. However, if the balance was right, it could work very well.