The parents of the majority of pupils in infant classes could finally become liable for prosecution over non-attendance if a Labour Party bill becomes law.
Since the Education (Welfare) Act 2000 took effect, the powers of the educational welfare service — now part of the child and family agency Tusla — only apply to children aged six to 16.
This means that educational welfare officers (EWOs) can not issue school attendance notices in cases where more than 20 days are missed in a school year, or take parents to court if truancy persists after initial interventions.
The limts are largely because of the fact that there is no legal requirement for children to receive an education until the age of six and only up to the age of 16.
This means that, despite the consistent increase in the age at which children are starting school, a significant proportion are still outside the authority of Tusla’s educational welfare service until some stage in senior infants.
Labour senator Aodhán Ó Riordáin introduced a bill last month which would extend the powers to all children attending primary school, regardless of their age.
The bill is expected to be debated at second stage in the autumn during private members’ time in the Seanad.
“It’s much easier to deal with a child’s school attendance record before they reach six and these patterns set in,” said Mr Ó Riordáin. “If you can address these issues at an earlier stage, you are less likely to have to deal with more complex cases later on.”
The former inner-city Dublin primary school principal introduced an identical bill as a Government-party TD in 2012, but it never progressed to second stage in the Dáil. The funding and responsibility for educational welfare services has moved since then from the Department of Education to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.
It is not clear how Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone proposes to respond to the proposed legal amendments in Mr Ó Riordáin’s bill.
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