Leadership in Irish Primary Schools During COVID-19: Principals’ Study Report 2020

This report is based on a major national study - ‘School Leadership in Response to the COVID-19 Crisis’.


Report Summary

The study is being led and conducted by a team of researchers at Trinity College Dublin and was formed in response to concerns from teaching management professionals.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, school closures were implemented by the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET). Accordingly, given the changing demands and shift in the new way of working (including teaching remotely, communicating with staff via online platforms & planning for a safe return to school), many school principals have experienced a significant level of stress. This report identifies ways that principals navigated the initial stage of the pandemic and how leading during the pandemic has affected their personal wellbeing.

The purpose of this study was to explore leadership experiences in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It seeks to provide information which will inform supports that school management teams may benefit from. This report outlines a set of key themes that principals have expressed as being of importance regarding their role and demands, in addition to resources which principals feel might be of benefit to management teams going forward.

Based on an extensive literature review, a series of theoretically important factors were identified for building individual wellbeing and organisational performance during crisis. A questionnaire was designed including questions from published articles to ensure the reliability and validity of the results.

The survey examined several influential factors that potentially affect a range of principal and school outcomes including:

  • Principal wellbeing
  • Staff adaptivity
  • School performance
  • Online teaching adoption

The main drivers of these outcomes that were explored included:

  • Communication and consultation from the Department of Education and Skills (DES)
  • Support from staff members
  • Principals’ Leadership
  • Effective connection with multiple stakeholders

The researchers carried out a detailed analysis of the data which involved statistical modelling to identify the drivers that have the greatest impact on these outcomes.
This executive summary provides a broad overview of the main findings from the survey. The main report provides a more in-depth overview of the findings based on the quantitative responses and comments shared by survey participants.


The research team would like to acknowledge the contribution of the primary school principal participants who took part in this study in addition to the team of principals and representing bodies that piloted and promoted the survey. Their gratitude is extended also to colleagues from the School of Education, Trinity Business School and educational stakeholders who supported the work.