Bill to tackle school absenteeism among 4-5 year olds to be debated in Seanad

Labour says currently no jurisdiction to intervene where child under six ‘has chronic absenteeism problems’

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, said the Bill is a ‘very simple amendment” to include other young children enrolled in school under Tusla’s remit.’ Photograph: iStock

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, said the Bill is a ‘very simple amendment” to include other young children enrolled in school under Tusla’s remit.’ Photograph: iStock

 

A Seanad Bill to close an “anomaly” which permits school absenteeism among children aged four and five years old will be debated on Tuesday evening.

Labour Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, who is bringing the Bill forward, said the State currently has “no jurisdiction” to intervene where a child in school under the age of six “has chronic absenteeism problems.”

Under the existing legislation, Tusla, the child and family agency, can intervene in cases where children aged between six and 16 years-old have high levels of absenteeism from school.

Ó Ríordáin, a former school principal, said the Seanad Bill is a “very simple amendment” to include other young children enrolled in school under Tusla’s remit.

“It affects principals who are dealing with families who have chronic absenteeism. Often parents will know very well that their child doesn’t have a legal requirement to be in school until they’re six, so it’s very difficult” Ó Ríordáin said.

“So you have a five year old in your school missing a huge number of days, there’s nothing the principal can do” he said, speaking to media on Tuesday afternoon.

Ó Ríordáin said there had been “positive” engagement over the proposed amendment with Minister for Children Katherine Zappone, and appealed for Government support in the Seanad to close the loophole.

Ó Ríordáin said school absenteeism particularly affected students in “areas of disadvantage,” but added the issue is a problem in schools across the board, with some “middle class families going on holidays for weeks on end.”

Bolt cutters
Ó Ríordáin was also critical of Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly, after it emerged the the North Belfast politician had used a bolt cutters to remove a clamp from his car last Friday.

“If a member of the Labour Party or any other political party was to whip out a bolt cutters and dismantle a clamp that was stuck to their car, I think there would be a very different reaction, and they wouldn’t get away with it” he said.