Belfast Telegraph

School’s out, not just for summer

by Natalie Irvine

Alarm bells on truancy are ringing at a number of local schools, following the release of school attendance records this week.

During 2007/08 school year, 25% of school children (aged between 15 and 17) from the Loughview, Harbour, Dufferin and Bangor Castle areas of north Down, attended school only 85% of the time or less.

The figures were revealed after a written question to Education Minister Caitriona Ruane by UUP MLA Roy Beggs.

Overall, figures for the Ards district council area were better — statistics reveal that more than 31% of schoolchildren from Scrabo area missed 15% of term or more.

A spokesperson for the South Eastern Education and Library Board said the Education Welfare Service was responsible for identifying and supporting parents in ensuring their children received full time education.

“The Education Welfare Service actively engages with parents and families to help them meet this responsibility.”

However, Ulster Unionist MLA Leslie Cree said local children are being let down by the Minister of Education’s failure to tackle school absenteeism head-on.

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

“North Down wards such as Bangor Castle, Dufferin and Harbour demonstrate a worrying attendance problem of students in the 15 to 17 age bracket.

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

“Huge numbers of post-primary pupils are failing to attend school on a regular basis — for example in Whitehill the figure exceeds 30% of children attending less than 85% of the time.

“In blunt terms, almost a third of post-primary age children from this area are missing out on at least one week of school in six. That is a huge disadvantage, and one that will impact on the rest of their lives.

“These are deeply troubling statistics, and unfortunately foreshadow a lifetime of difficulty for those affected.”

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