Work of truant officer not for timid

 

For 76 years the school attendance officer has been a regular visitor to some of Dublin's most deprived areas and flat complexes.

At times they have dodged stones and rocks in their attempts to make sure young pupils turn up for school in the morning. Mr Michael Doyle has been doing the job for 21 years. In that time he has witnessed tragic scenes which more sheltered people would find hard to confront.

Families who have had to sell every stick of furniture to keep warm; flats where several adults were shooting up drugs while a young child played with the discarded syringes on the floor. He has seen it all.

The officers, who also operate in Cork and Waterford, work for their local authorities and are charged under the School Attendance Act of 1926 to make sure children attend school on a regular basis.

Mr Doyle says their work begins at school level where they check roll books to see if there are children who are persistently not attending school.

If there is a name with plenty of zeros after it, they call out to the home or flat to discuss the issues with the parents. Predictably, not every parent is delighted to see them and many of the officers are used to being politely shown the door.

Mr Doyle says nowadays it is rarely a question of a parent refusing to force the child to attend, it is more that the parent is unable due to a drink or drugs addiction to take any action. "The problem of non-attendance has become more complex," he says. Bullying among pupils is also becoming a major cause of non-attendance, particularly at second level, he says.

Going into hostile environments means the job is not for the faint-hearted. Mr Doyle one night had his car badly damaged after a youngster threw a rock from a balcony on top of it.

However, he says most parents are receptive.