Tips on how to get an Assistant Principal Job in an Irish Primary School

Whether you have an Assistant Principal post interview coming up, or you are just thinking that you might take on an AP post at some point in your career, this article will point you in the right direction on the documents you should know about, and the things you should do so that you are as prepared as possible for what an AP post entails.

  1. First of all, you should look at Department of Education and Skills Circular 0044/2019. Chapter 3 of this circular covers the recruitment and appointment of Assistant Principals. It specifies everything from exactly what recruitment procedures need to be followed (even giving the actual marking scheme that must be used in the interview), right down to how the duties that the post will encompass are decided upon.
  2. The document “Looking at our School 2022, A Quality Framework for Primary Schools and Special Schools” (LAOS) from the Department of Education and Skills, is the next bit of essential reading you should do. Interviews for Assistant Principal posts will be based on the dimension of “leadership and management” outlined in this document. Reading it will also give you a good idea about what is expected in a school leadership role and it includes “statements of highly effective practice” for the leadership and management of schools, which tell you in detail what principals and school leaders should be doing.
  3. Excellent staff relations are part and parcel of any school leadership role. As a school leader you will be expected to promote positive staff relations, and you will need to be familiar with procedures for when conflicts do arise. You can expect to be asked about this in any interview for an AP post. To this end, you should look at the INTO’s “Working Together: Procedures and Policies for Positive Staff Relations” guidelines.
  4. The PDST offer Comhar “Leadership Development for Assistant Principals” training. It is usually a 5-week course with each session lasting 1.5 hours. In the past it was available to current, and aspiring AP holders, but now it has been limited to post holders only. However, if you are currently acting up in an AP post you can undertake the training and it will be of benefit to you if another AP post becomes available and you have to interview for it. If you are not acting up, you can mention in your interview your desire to undertake the training as soon as possible if you are appointed. It will help you understand key aspects of the role of AP, including having a “vision” for the school, school culture, leading teaching and learning, change, communication, conflict, wellbeing and distributed leadership.
  5. There has been a huge focus on wellbeing in the last few years and the LAOS document mentioned above, outlines how “The principal and other leaders in the school value and support partnership with parents as a means of supporting pupils’ learning and wellbeing”, and “The principal, deputy principal and other leaders in the school attend successfully to their own wellbeing, as well as that of others.” To this end, it is worth looking at the “Well-Being in Primary Schools” guidelines as you may be asked about wellbeing in an AP post interview, and promoting wellbeing will be part of your role as a school leader. Also be aware that it is now Department of Education policy to use wellbeing in schools as a means to enable children to achieve their full potential and contribute to Ireland’s social, cultural and economic development. To this end, the Department of Education launched the revised Wellbeing Policy Statement and Framework for Practice in October, 2019 which outlines the above policy. To implement this policy, every school and centre for education is required by 2025, to use the School Self-Evaluation (SSE) process to initiate a wellbeing promotion review and development cycle. 
  6. One of the most important things to bear in mind if you want to be successful in getting an AP post is that you need to volunteer to take on the organisation of things in the school over a considerable period of time to demonstrate that you have the necessary leadership skills and commitment to the school that an AP post entails. Reading the LAOS document will give you and idea of the 4 competencies that are required of a school leader. The “statements of highly effective practice” give specific examples of what school leaders should be doing, for instance “The principal and other leaders in the school build and maintain very productive relationships with other schools and education providers to extend learning opportunities for pupils”. To this end, you could organise an event with a nearby school such as a community litter pick during An Taisce’s Spring Clean initiative, or guest speakers from the Heritage in Schools Programme. Take a look a each of the statements in the document, and start planning for what you could do in the school now to demonstrate that skill. You don’t need to have been involved in all of them, but you will be asked in an interview about times in the past when you have demonstrated some of these and you should be able to give specific examples of things you have done in the school.
  7. Be aware of current issues in Irish education including upcoming curriculum reforms as these are areas that the management team will have to lead on. I have a separate blog post which outlines some of the most important things to know here. 
  8. If you have an AP interview post coming up, I have an extremely thorough interview preparation pack available here which includes sample questions and answers for both AP1 and AP2 posts, 2 sample cover letters to include with your application, and copies of the main documents that I have mentioned above. This pack will help to ensure you are as prepared as possible for an AP post interview.

In terms of my own experience, I have had an Assistant Principal role for 8 years in an Irish primary school. Over the course of my career, I have done two AP2 post interviews and two AP1 post interviews. AP posts require flexibility to meet the changing needs of the school, and my post has entailed all of the following duties at one point or another over the years: Green Schools coordinator, parental involvement, SPHE coordinator, RSE coordinator, Wellbeing Coordinator, Gaeilge coordinator, and SENCo. I have also acted up in the role of Deputy Principal and Principal and completed the PDST Comhar training mentioned above, as well as the Forbairt training for senior management teams.

I hope this has been helpful if you are considering applying for an AP post, or if you have an AP post interview coming up!

6 thoughts on “Tips on how to get an Assistant Principal Job in an Irish Primary School

  1. R says:

    HI there, Thank you for the advice and tips on getting an AP post. I wonder can you recommend any courses or webinars that would assist in getting such a post.

    Le meas, R

    • Teaching Plans says:

      Hi! Do you mean professional development courses that are geared towards leadership? Previously aspiring school AP post holders were allowed to do the Comhar training, but now it is only for current and acting post holders unfortunately. If you mean courses in terms of prep for the interview itself, I am not aware of any but the pack I have put together would make sure you are really well prepared. I wouldn’t stress too much if you can’t do a leadership course in advance of having a post, as in general, it’s more important to have a history of volunteering to take on leadership roles in the school. Being generally up to date with current best practice in all areas through CPD always helps too and if you know that the post will involve a particular curricular area, you could certainly do some CPD in that area too. The ESCI website will let you search through online CPD opportunities in all education centres across Ireland!

      Kind regards,


  2. Cara says:

    Hi you mention 7 areas of responsibility that your post has entailed over 8 years. Can I ask can the school completely change your role/duties and if so how often can they do – is there a set timeframe to rotate/change roles? Also should you be consulted with before this is done? Even if someone is acting in your post while you are on career break/ secondment?
    Thank you

    • Teaching Plans says:

      Hi Cara, I was appointed to my AP role when my school was a developing school so the needs of the school were rapidly changing. In addition to this, many of the In School Management Team (ISMT) members went on leave at various times over the years so the duties needed to be reallocated. My post did completely change from when I was first appointed, but this was the case for all post holders (more than once)!
      There isn’t a requirement that duties be rotated, and the reallocation of duties would normally only be done if it is necessary. Circular 0044/2019 (pg. 46) specifies that “At regular intervals, but at a minimum of every two years, a post holder is required to undertake a review with the Principal/ Deputy Principal”, and that this will include a “review of the role in the context of the changing needs of the school”. It states that “As the needs of the school continuously evolve, this review may result in the re-assignment of the post holder’s roles and responsibilities within the leadership and management team”. Given the rapidly changing education landscape in Ireland at present, it is normal that duties would need to change. However, it isn’t a case of the school “doing this” to post holders, rather when you are appointed to an AP role, you become a member of the school’s leadership team, and you work together to make decisions that best meet the needs of the school.
      Page 40 of LAOS speaks about how the school should manage, lead and mediate change to respond to the evolving needs of the school. In its statements of highly effective practice, it speaks about the need for flexibility in all ISM team members, but it also says that change should be made in a collaborative and sensitive manner. Therefore, if duties need to be reallocated or reviewed, this should be done in consultation with staff.
      In my school, we meet at the end of the year to identify whether the priorities for the school have changed and if we know an ISM team member will be on leave the following year (e.g. maternity) and whether their duties need to be reallocated. We agree as a team who will lead on each of the identified priorities. Sometimes you might have to take on a duty that isn’t something you love for a year or so, but as a school leader you put the needs of the school first.
      Circular 0044/2019 also speaks about the “changing needs and the priorities of the school” and it states that these should ideally be decided in collaboration with staff, however it does state that if consensus cannot be reached, then the BoM has the final say.
      I hope that helps! Claire

  3. Madeline says:


    I have interest in acquiring an AP post. But an unsure is it necessary to complete leadership courses to gain an AP post? I know they of course would be beneficial, but if you don’t aspire to be a VP for example, are they a necessity?

    • Teaching Plans says:

      Hi Madeline, doing a leadership course in advance of an AP interview isn’t a requirement, but it certainly would help your chances in an interview! Courses for aspiring leadership post holders are currently being offered as summer courses and there are others available too if you search online.
      Once appointed to a leadership post, the PDST offer training which is tailored to each post e.g. Comhar is for AP posts, and TĂĄiniste is for DP posts. It’s not mandatory to attend these courses, but they are very helpful for the role.
      I hope that helps!

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