Schools are to receive advice on how to tackle pupil absenteeism after it emerged that more than 20,000 pupils here have less than 85% attendance.
The Department of Education is to work with the Education Welfare Service to produce guidelines to try and reduce the number of children missing school days, Education Minister John O’Dowd told the Assembly.
“We know there is a clear link between deprivation and school attendance. The data shows that attendance rates tend to be lower in schools with high levels of free school meal entitlement (FSME).
“Post-primary schools where less than 10% of pupils were entitled to free school meals had an overall absence rate of 4.6%, compared with 11.7% for schools with more than 50% FSME,” he said.
“Schools obviously have a very important role to play. They must provide a support system for those who are most vulnerable, and they must encourage a culture of regular attendance by everyone. When that is not happening, we need to ask why and we need to look at what we can do to support the schools,” the minister added.
According to East Antrim MLA Roy Beggs, the problem of absenteeism from post primary schools is concentrated in Protestant areas. A total of 26 out of the 30 electoral wards with the poorest attendance records have a mainly Protestant population.
His motion calling on the Office of the First Ministers to co-ordinate a cross departmental approach to tackle the high levels of pupil absenteeism received unanimous support from all parties.