Almost 56,000 children are missing from school every day despite improvements in overall attendance levels.
The figures emerge from the latest school attendance report for the National Educational Welfare Board, which details absenteeism rates during the 2010/2011 school year, which also reveal that almost 110,000 children miss over a month of school every year.
More than 31,000 primary pupils and more than 24,600 second-level students miss school every day, the equivalent of one or two in the average primary class and one in every 13 at second level.
Measured as a proportion of all days lost in the school year, the 6.1% at primary and 7.8% at second level are the lowest of any year since 2006/2007, and the rates have been falling slightly for three or four years.
However, while the national averages show a positive picture, there are still strong differences in absenteeism rates between different types of schools. Children in towns and cities are almost twice as likely to miss at least 20 days of primary school every year, a consistent pattern in recent years.
The research for the NEWB by David Millar of the Educational Research Centre at St Patrick’s College in Dublin shows that schools with higher proportions of disadvantage have much higher absenteeism, although the gap is dropping.
The year-on-year drop from 11.6% to 11.2% of student days lost at second-level schools in the Department of Education’s’ Deis scheme was higher than the fall in other schools, where 7.2% of days were lost in 2010/2011.
But almost one-in-three students of second-level Deis schools missed at least 20 days, just over double the rate in other schools.
Children’s Minister Frances Fitzgerald, who launched the report, said the overall improvements are welcome but efforts to continue them are vital.
“This must be a truly collaborative effort between schools, statutory and support services, and the home,” she said.
As well as staff working directly on attendance issues, the NEWB oversees the school completion programme and the home school community liaison programme and a pilot programme to improve how they work together is already showing an impact on quality of intervention with vulnerable children and their families, in relation to school attendance, participation and retention.
More than 60 of the country’s 4,000 primary and second-level schools did not make annual attendance reports to the NEWB.
The Irish Examiner revealed earlier this year that 60 schools did not send reports to the NEWB in at least three of the five years to 2011, and five of these submitted no reports despite being required to do so under the 2000 Education (Welfare) Act.
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