Belfast Telegraph

Absenteeism levels among east Belfast schools ‘worrying’

Chris McCann

Shocking new figures show ‘worrying’ levels of absenteeism among school children in parts of east Belfast.

Figures obtained by UUP MLA Roy Beggs from the Department of Education state that 13 to 16 percent of pupils now miss one week of school in six.

The findings show that over 40 percent of 15 to 17-year-olds from the Island and Woodstock areas are attending school less than 85 percent of the time.

In Ballymacarrett the figure is 36 per cent, and in the Castlereagh wards of Grahams Bridge, Tullycarnet and Lower Braniel, it is anywhere from 28 to 31 percent.

These figures are in stark contrast to that for Gilnahirk where no children in this age bracket have missed school to such an extent.

At primary school level, children of Tullycarnet and The Mount (16 per cent), as well as Ballymacarrett (15 per cent) demonstrate significantly poorer attendance levels than pupils in other parts of east Belfast. Education Minister Caitriona Ruane has insisted her department is taking the matter “very seriously”, while East Belfast Ulster Unionist MLA Sir Reg Empey has said “something has gone badly wrong” in parts of the east of the city.

“I am astounded,” he said. “At this sort of level we’re not talking about sporadic days off here and there, but large numbers of children consistently missing school.

“It is clear that something is going badly wrong in particular sections of our community, and it is our responsibility to tackle the root causes as a matter of urgency.

“School absences – whether condoned by parents or not – have a long-term impact, not just on educational success, but on employment, aspiration and the potential for criminality,” he added.

Education Minister, Caitriona Ruane said: “School attendance is an issue that my Department has taken very seriously. Schools have to play a very important role .

“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. We need to look at what we can do to support the schools.

“The Education Welfare Service supports schools through proactive work and encourages them to refer pupils when there are concerns about attendance and when the threshold of less than 85% attendance has been reached.

“Of course we need to look at sanctions, but positive interventions are key.”

The minister has come under fire from Ulster Unionist MLA Leslie Cree, who accused her of “letting down local children by her failure to tackle school absenteeism head-on”.

“When in some parts of North Down over 25 per cent of students in year 12 and above are attending school less than 85 per cent of the time, we have a real problem.

“In areas where there is a clear cycle of under-achievement and deprivation, non-attendance at school serves only to perpetuate that trend.”

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