Primary school students in Limerick have the second-highest rate of absenteeism and suspensions in the country, the Limerick Voice can reveal.
According to reports by Tusla, Limerick-based primary school pupils are consistently ranked as having significantly above average rates of non-attendance and suspensions, second only to Dublin.
For the school year of 2014/2015, primary school students had almost double the mean percentage of suspensions against the national average and this figure itself was almost triple the rates of 2013-2014.
Seanad Spokesperson on Education & Skills Senator Maria Byrne described the high rates of absenteeism and suspensions as “very alarming.”
“Funding has been made available in Budget 2017 to employ additional Educational Welfare Officers. Funding has also been provided for further reform of the governance of the Schools Completion Programme which was identified by the ESRI last year as in need of urgent attention,” according to Senator Byrne.
Tusla’s publications on school attendance show that there is a well-establish impact of poor attendance on ‘a student’s educational outcomes’, their ability in exams and likelihood to enter further study, as well as ‘wider aspects of a student’s life, such as weak peer relationships, risks of engagement in anti-social activity and poor family relationships’.
Primary schools in Limerick also reported the country’s third highest rate of students missing more than 20 days of school in the last school year, behind Dublin and Louth.
Former Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan believes “we need more research as to the reasons children miss school and what supports make a difference in improving this.”
“I think part of the explanation is that rates are generally higher in urban than in rural areas and the percentage of the population of the counties of Dublin and Limerick that are in urban communities is high relative to other counties,” according to Ms O’Sullivan TD
“While this may explain the high rates in Limerick, it does not mean we should not be concerned. Every effort has to be made to bring down these rates, through the schools themselves working with families, with the support of the Department of Education, Home School Community Liaison services and Tusla Education Welfare Officers,” she added.
Tusla, also known as the Child and Family Agency, state that there is rarely a single factor that influences persistent non-attendance but identify school and classroom climate, student-teacher relationships, teacher expectations, and school organisation as potential areas that influence engagement.
“The best gift that anybody can give a child is to offer a child the opportunity to fulfil his or her potential. Every day should be a day of wonder and of learning for a child,” according to Director of Educational Welfare Services Eibhlin Byrne.
Negative attitudes to school, lower academic self-rating, peer influences, socio-economic and family factors all have an impact on the likelihood of students missing school, according to the Agency.
It was found that students in urban schools were much more likely to have been suspended or have lower attendance than those in rural schools.
Limerick students perform much more in-line with the national averages on attendance, suspensions, and expulsions at secondary level.
However, Tusla’s reports show that the 2014/2015 school year reversed a four-year trend of decreasing levels of non-attendance for Limerick post-primary students, with figures almost returning to 2011/2012 levels.
The figures also show that despite falling in-line with national averages, Limerick is second only to Waterford in terms of expulsions in Munster, and has the highest rate of students missing more than 20 days of school in the province.
Tusla have published guidelines for schools to help develop their strategies for school attendance which must be prepared and submitted to the Agency under the Education (Welfare) Act 2000.