Schools fail to report absences

Dozens of schools did not meet a legal requirement to report pupil attendance figures in at least three years between 2007 and 2011 and five made no returns at all.

Schools have to send a report to the National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB) every summer listing the numbers of days lost through student absence, how many students were absent for 20 days or more, and the number of students expelled, or suspended.

The data is used to compile national statistics showing yearly rates of absenteeism, and more than 95% of schools now do so annually. However, a list of schools provided by the NEWB under freedom of information (FoI) law shows almost 200 of the country’s 4,000 primary and second-level schools did not submit an annual attendance report (AAR) in 2009.

Between the school years ending in 2007 and 2011, 320 schools failed to provide an AAR at least once, but 60 of them did not do so at least three times. Among these, 16 submitted no AAR in four of those five years and five made no return.

The AAR must be sent to the NEWB, which monitors attendance and works with families to address regular absences, within six weeks of the end of each school year. Each school is also obliged under the 2000 Education Welfare Act to provide the same report to its parents’ association.

While failure to make an AAR return to the NEWB is not an offence, the board said it regarded such failure as being extremely serious.

“The NEWB is proactive in monitoring AAR returns and in encouraging schools to make the return on time each year,” said NEWB chief executive Pat McSitric.

The non-compliance issue was raised by the Comptroller and Auditor General in a 2010 report, and return levels have improved since 2009, with most recent figures showing that just 30 school did not supply an AAR for 2010/2011.

The board has put a number of measures in place to encourage compliance with their legal obligation, including notification of those which do not provide an AAR to the Department of Education and asking that policies on reporting attendance data be considered during school inspections. However, Mr McSitric said there may be valid reasons in many cases where an AAR is not submitted in an individual year.

“For example, where a school has closed down or been amalgamated with another school or schools, where there may have been confusion between the AAR and the last quarter period return of student absence reports, or where enrolment factors may pose a reporting challenge,” he said.

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