30% of disadvantaged students absent for 20-plus days

However, overall school non-attendance rates at lowest rate in five years


School attendances are up in both national and secondary schools, however 30 per cent of second-level students in disadvantaged areas were absent for 20 days or more in the 2010/11 school year.

Figures released today by the National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB) show that non-attendance rates were at their lowest rate in five years with the percentage of student days lost at primary level at 6.1 per cent and at 7.8 per cent among post-primary schools.

The average primary school pupils missed 11 days of school in the 2010/11 school year while post-primary students missed 13 days on average.

Although the figures for absences of 20-plus days were also at their lowest level in five years with 16.5 per cent of pupils absent for 20 days or more, the level of absenteeism in disadvantaged areas was much higher.

Some 30 per cent of students in second-level schools in disadvantaged areas were absent for 20 days or more, although this too marks an improvement on previous years – the comparative figure for the 2008/09 school stood at 33 per cent.

Around 11.1 per cent or 56,500 primary school children missed 20 days or more of school while 16.5 per cent of post-primary students recorded absences of 20-plus days, some 52,500 students.

Urban areas had a higher level of non-attendance than rural primary schools with the level of 20-day absences in towns and cities running at almost double the rural rate.

There were also huge county-by-county variations: 28.2 per cent of post-primary students in Longford missed 20 or more days of school while a quarter of students in Laois and Cavan missed 20-plus days. On the other end of the scale just 12.8 per cent of students in Waterford missed more than 20 days.

Non-attendance was also higher in primary-level special schools and in ordinary schools with special classes. Absenteeism in special schools stood at 11.5 per cent, more than double the 5.5 per cent rate in ordinary schools . In ordinary schools with special classes, the non-attendance rate was 7.3 per cent.

Expulsions at primary level were exceedingly rare with just 16 reported in the entire school year. At secondary level there were 136 expulsions, down 12 on the previous school year.

Suspensions are increasingly uncommon: less than 5 per cent of post-primary students were suspended in the 2010/11 school year, the lowest percentage in the preceding five-year period.

The Minister for Children, Frances Fitzgerald welcomed the positive trend in school attendance: “It’s definitely going in the right direction. It’s a very good news story in terms of, over the years, a constant improvement in the numbers of children attending and a constant lessening of absenteeism.

“Of course, attendance is so critical because if a child starts missing school the implications are so serious, first of all in terms of their educational attainments and then their work and training, it has life-long consequences.”

However, she expressed her concern about disadvantaged areas where up to 30 per cent of students were missing 20 or more days of school. “If there are particular groups of children missing out a significant amount of days that will have consequences so we have to focus on those areas where this is still a problem,” she said.

Ms Fitzgerald also referred to higher absenteeism in special schools and schools with special classes: “It’s not surprising that children who have special needs have greater difficulties in getting to school. There may be physical reasons, there may be emotional reasons. But we need to focus our attention on those areas so that the improvement in those areas matches the overall improvement.”

The NEWB school attendance data for the 2010/11 school year was based on data provided by 3,256 primary schools, a response rate of 98.5 per cent, and 692 post-primary schools a response rate of 97.9 per cent.