Mason Hayes & Curran: Most school principals lack formal training on disciplinary issues

Mason Hayes & Curran: Most school principals lack formal training on disciplinary issues

Catherine Kelly

Almost nine out of 10 school principals lack formal training in managing disciplinary issues, a survey by Mason Hayes & Curran has found.

The business law firm polled more than 300 school leaders at its recent webinar titled ‘Procedures and Policies Protect Principals’.

Disciplinary challenges encompass staff under-performance issues linked to professional competence or conduct, as well as managing behaviours of concern in students. Such issues can significantly impact the educational environment and overall school operations.

Despite the gap in training, more than eight out of ten (83 per cent) principals have had to manage staff under-performance issues in their school.

Nearly seven in 10 (69 per cent) respondents said they manage these matters “occasionally”, 12 per cent said “often” and two per cent said “very often”.

Almost six out of 10 educators (57 per cent) said that training workshops were the most crucial support needed to enhance policy enforcement at their schools.

Catherine Kelly, education partner at Mason Hayes & Curran, said: “Today’s school leaders are navigating often-complex disciplinary challenges without the requisite tools, against a backdrop of increasing legal scrutiny.

“This can be a source of great stress and can impact on effective school management. Comprehensive training is required to equip educators with the necessary skills and knowledge to enforce school polices in a fair and efficient way.”

The survey also revealed that nearly half (46 per cent) of the respondents see managing parent reactions as their biggest challenge in implementing effective discipline — more so than ensuring fair enforcement (33 per cent) or establishing clear guidelines (20 per cent).

David Ruddy, barrister and training consultant for Mason Hayes & Curran, said: “Our education law team increasingly advises clients on parental complaints, which can present significant challenges.

“Closely following the Parental Complaints Procedure and keeping meticulous notes is essential. If a parent is unhappy with the outcome and escalates the complaint to the Ombudsman for Children or the Teaching Council, your notes will be critical in proving you have followed due process.”

Additionally, the findings showed that more than a quarter of schools (27 per cent) have faced legal challenges or threats of legal action related to disciplinary actions, which can include suspension or expulsion.

Ms Kelly added: “The heightened risk of legal challenges in schools, with over a quarter facing legal actions or threats, further reinforces the need for robust policies and procedures alongside effective training to handle these scenarios effectively.”

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