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Action demanded over pupils who skip school

Action must be taken to combat poor attendance at school by thousands of young people across Northern Ireland.

Figures released by the Department of Education show that in some areas more than four in 10 had an attendance record of less than 85% during the 2007/08 school year.

Education welfare officers are informed if a child’s attendance falls below 85%.

Lynda Wilson, director of Barnardo’s Northern Ireland, said the charity is concerned about the absenteeism figures because of their concentration in already disadvantaged areas.

The figures were requested by Roy Beggs, Ulster Unionist Assembly member for East Antrim, and his party has now put forward a motion on the issue for debate in the Assembly.

It calls on the Assembly members to note with concern the high number of children whose attendance rate at school is less than 85% and also calls on the Minister of Education to detail the specific action she has taken, or plans to take, to address the issue.

Mr Beggs asked the Minister for the rate per thousand of both primary and post-primary children who have less than 85% attendance — broken down into local council and electoral ward areas.

He also asked for figures specifically for pupils enrolled in years 12, 13 and 14.

The figures are based on where the pupils live — rather than where schools are located.

There was no postcode recorded for more than 1,000 children with attendance less than 85% — so they are not included in the department’s analysis.

Mr Beggs said: “If the Education Minister is really serious about improving education outcomes in areas of need, she really should address the issue of lack of attendance at school.

“Common sense tells you that if a child is not at school, they are not going to progress as well as they should do and this could lead to the cycle of deprivation being repeated in the future.”

Ms Wilson said: “The absenteeism figures concern us because of their concentration in already disadvantaged areas.

“Persistent absenteeism will further disadvantage a child because it effects not only their education but also their prospects, their social skills and even their mental health.

“It’s crucial that absenteeism is tackled early and that families are supported to understand that going to school is important for the happiness and future achievement of their child.”

By law, all children of compulsory school age (5 to 16) must receive a suitable full-time education. If a child is registered at school, their parents are legally responsible for making sure they attend regularly.

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