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77% of primary school headteachers in Ireland feel overwhelmed by the challenges of COVID-19, new study reveals

The vast majority of headteachers at primary schools in Ireland feel overwhelmed by the extra tasks presented by COVID-19, and experience a low level of wellbeing, according to the results of a new study by Trinity College Dublin, published today.

Authored by PhD students and academics at Trinity College Dublin, including Ms Amy Fahy, PhD student, Dr Colette Murphy, Associate Professor at School of Education, Dr Na Fu, an Associate Professor and Ms Tam Nguyen, research assistant at Trinity Business School, the survey of over 600 primary school headteachers also found that 92% of the respondents felt worried about their situation after the crisis.

With COVID-19 having caused major disruption to Irish Primary Schools, with over 3,200 schools and 550,000 students facing immense challenges, the study, ‘Irish Primary School Leadership During COVID-19, Principals’ Study Report 2020’, was undertaken to help schools navigate the crisis and to explore the impact that the COVID-19 crisis has had on principals as leaders of their school communities.

Additional key findings from the survey include:

• The majority of headteachers feel emotionally drained by their work: 73% felt emotionally drained from their work, meanwhile 78% of the participants felt drained at the end of the workday.

• Headteachers feel their staff have adapted well to the crisis: 92% agreed that their staff members changed quickly to adapt new conditions, solved problems as they arise and quickly responded to change.

• The overriding majority of respondents feel their schools have performed well during the crisis: 96% of the respondents agreed that their schools carried out and completed core tasks well.

• Headteachers are divided in their attitude towards online learning: Almost one-third of the participants had positive attitudes towards online learning and another one-third had negative attitudes towards online teaching.

• School leaders showed high levels of transformational leadership: 90% of respondents indicated that they often or always respect for staff’s personal feelings.

Overall, the findings highlight that principals are confident in their abilities and their staff to perform a wide range of skills in their work roles, and that they have the propensity to deal with changes occurring in their work roles and in general.

From the findings gathered, the researchers have suggested three core recommendations:

• Improved communications and greater involvement of principals: Principals have expressed a need for clear instructions on how to execute directives, specifically with regards to selection of online learning platforms and communicating with parents.

• Provision of professional development opportunities: It is recommended that leadership crisis management training is to be provided for principals and their management teams in order to enhance their ability to cope during this pandemic and future potential crises.

• Building additional support: It is recommended that adequate IT infrastructure and support needs to be put in place for principals to enable them to meet directives. This includes: ensuring that adequate WIFI is available; equipping principals with devices and providing IT professional development in the areas of digital learning and communication.

Dr Na Fu, co-author of the study, Associate Professor and Co-Director of Trinity Centre for Digital Business at Trinity Business School, says:

“During the crisis, primary school principals and staff have played a monumental role in educating children. Their contributions have also enabled working parents to continue with their work and keep our economy and society functioning. We appreciate the principals and their staff’s work and acknowledge the urgent support needed for them. This report was based on a collaboration between education and management disciplines. We hope it serves as a tool to make the missing voice of principals to be heard so that we can come together and collectively build a stronger nation beyond the crisis.”


For more information, a copy of the study report, or to speak to Dr Na Fu, please contact Jonny Stone at or call 01582 790704.

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