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Rise in school attendance figures is welcomed

By Rebecca Black

An increase in school attendance in the province has been welcomed - but our absence rates are still higher than in England.

According to figures released by the Department of Education, the overall attendance rate for primary, post-primary and special schools in 2013/14 was 94.6%.

Of the 5.4% absences, some 3.5% were authorised and 1.9% were unauthorised.

Attendance is highest at primary schools (95.6%), then post-primary (93.5%) and then special schools (90.3%)

There is a slight overall improvement in attendance of 0.7% on 2012/13.

The main reason for absence was illness, however some children were absent for medical appointments, and in a very small number of cases were absent for a family holiday, bereavement, artistic endeavour or religious observance.

Across the UK the highest absence rates in primary schools were recorded in Wales (5.2%) compared to 4.4% in Northern Ireland and 3.9% in England. For post-primary schools Northern Ireland and Wales were similar at 6.5% and 6.4% respectively, while in England there was a 5.1% average absence rate.

Education Minister John O'Dowd said he was encouraged by the overall improvement, but emphasised that he wanted to see further improvement.

The Department of Education is developing a pupil attendance strategy that it is hoped will be in place in the 2015/16 school year.

"One of my overall goals is to raise educational standards and regular attendance at school is a contributing factor for achieving this," Mr O'Dowd said. "I am aware there are many reasons why a child might not attend school, however it is the responsibility of parents to ensure regular attendance.

"That is why we're engaging with parents, pupils and schools directly and will be meeting with parents in a school setting to discuss their responsibilities in relation to school attendance and how things could be improved."

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