The Irish Times view on school absenteeism: the left-behind

Many vulnerable children are slipping through the cracks of the education system due to largely preventable system failures

The system of suspensions and expulsions is not tackling underlying issues such as trauma or undiagnosed learning difficulties which are often at the heart of poor behaviour.

The system of suspensions and expulsions is not tackling underlying issues such as trauma or undiagnosed learning difficulties which are often at the heart of poor behaviour.

 

Today, like most days, about 60,000 children – or 6 per cent – will not turn up for school. In many cases there will be legitimate reasons for not being in class. But when a child misses 20 days or more, schools are legally obliged to report these students to social services. Tusla, the child and family agency, this week said latest figures show rates of absenteeism are highest in disadvantaged areas of towns and cities where children and families are more likely to experience higher levels of stress, unemployment and homelessness.

The system of suspensions and expulsions is not tackling underlying issues such as trauma or undiagnosed learning difficulties

If evidence was needed of how poor school attendance is a red flag for early school leaving, poverty and stunted life chances, a separate report this week provided stark findings. The study by researchers at Dublin City University found that more than half of young men using homeless services had missed out on education because they had been suspended or expelled from school. The participants were interviewed while staying in Peter McVerry Trust facilities. There was also evidence that a majority experienced a significant deterioration in educational experience after the transition from primary to post-primary, along with inadequate emotional counselling or supports.

Many of these children are slipping through the cracks of the education system due to largely preventable system failures. The system of suspensions and expulsions is not tackling underlying issues such as trauma or undiagnosed learning difficulties which are often at the heart of poor behaviour. Instead, it increases the risk of exclusion from the system and participation in society.

Every child has a right to education set out in the Constitution. If we are serious about fulfilling this right, we need to ensure vulnerable pupils and their families are supported as early as possible. We need far greater access to emotional counselling and therapeutic input. And we urgently require more access to alternative school settings where students can flourish with the right supports. Anything less means yet more vulnerable children will continue to be left behind.