The number of students absent from schools for 20 days or more has been increasing at primary school level but decreasing slightly in secondary schools, according to figures published by Tusla.
The latest annual school attendance report which covers the 2017/18 school year shows 12.1% of primary schoolchildren missed school on 20 or more days — a total of 65,906 pupils — up from 11.8% the previous year.
The proportion of secondary pupils who were absent for at least 20 days, however, was down slightly from 14.7% to 14.6%.
The figure represents 47,887 post-primary students — the first time the number has dipped below 50,000 in several years and an annual decrease of more than 3,500.
Under the Education (Welfare) Act 2000, schools are obliged to notify Tusla of all students who miss four weeks of school each year.
Overall 5.8% of pupil days were lost due to absence in primary schools in 2017/18. The figure was 7.4% at secondary school level — the lowest rate in the previous five years.
School non-attendance rates in the Republic are higher than for schools in Northern Ireland which were 5.1% and 6.7% respectively.
However, the Education Research Centre, which compiled the figures, said the five-year trend for some 3,200 primary schools and 700 secondary schools in the Republic indicated “relative stability in overall attendance rates” as well as in relation to suspensions and expulsions.
At the same time, the non-attendance rate at some schools reaches above 20% of all school days.
The figures show that just over 5.8m school days were lost in 2017/18 at primary level with just under another 4.4m in post-primary schools.
Meanwhile, statistics indicate a student is seven times more likely to be expelled at secondary school than when attending primary school.
The number of expulsions by primary schools remains rare with just 30 reported in 2017/18 — down from 35 the previous year.
A total of 132 expulsions were recorded at post-primary level — 34 fewer cases than in 2016/17.
Primary schools suspended 1,456 pupils which represented a suspension rate of 3 per 1,000 students.
In contrast, the suspension rate is over 10 ten times higher in secondary schools where 11,722 students were suspended in 2017/18 — 3.4% of all post-primary pupils.
The report noted that the non-attendance rates at primary schools showed a statistically significant difference between different school types with special schools recording absentee rates twice that of “mainstream” schools.
Primary schools based in urban centres are also more likely to have higher rates of non-attendance, 20-day absences and expulsions than rural schools.
Deis Band 1 schools, which have the highest levels of social and economic disadvantage, also tend to have above-average rates of absenteeism.
On a geographical basis, primary schools in Leinster had higher rates of non-attendance, 20-days absences, expulsions and suspensions than other parts of the country.
At post-primary level, the highest non-attendance rates were generally found in Education and Training Board schools followed by community/comprehensive schools with the lowest rates in voluntary secondary schools.
Similar to primary schools, higher rates were also found in Deis secondary schools compared to non-Deis schools.
While higher expulsion and suspension rates occurred in schools in Leinster, schools in Connacht had the highest rate of 20-day absences.
Under legislation parents are required to ensure that children aged 6-16 attend a recognised school or receive a certain minimum education, although there is no absolute legal obligation on parents to send children to a school.
It is the first year that additional information about absences were available including explanations for missed days by year and class level which Tusla said would be of interest in monitoring in future years.
An analysis of Student Absence Reports filed by schools show that 39% of absences at primary level in 2017/18 were unexplained with the figure rising to 49% at secondary level.
Holidays accounted for 9% of explained absences among primary schoolchildren but just 1% among second-level students.