Absence & Attendance
The legislation governing school attendance in Ireland is the Education (Welfare) Act 2000. Under the Act the minimum school leaving age is raised to 16 years (was 15), or the completion of three years of post-primary education, whichever is the later.
Parents are required to ensure that their children from the age of 6 to the age of 16 attend a recognised school or receive a certain minimum education. There is no absolute legal obligation on children to attend school nor on their parents to send them to school.
Article 42 of Bunreacht na hÉireann (the Constitution) acknowledges that the primary and natural educator of the child is the family and guarantees to respect the right and duty of parents to provide, according to their means, for the religious and moral, intellectual, physical and social education of their children. Parents are free to provide this education in their homes or in schools recognised or established by the State.
The National Educational Welfare Board
The National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB) is the national agency established to ensure that every child attends school regularly, or otherwise receives an appropriate minimum education. It also advises the Government on school attendance and education provision. The Board’s emphasis is on helping schools, families and children, rather than imposing penalties for non-attendance at school. It employs educational welfare officers at local level throughout the country to provide support and advice to parents and schools and to follow up on absences from school. They also help to co-ordinate all policies concerning attendance and educational welfare. From September 2009 the NEWB is responsible for a single co-ordinated School Support Programme bringing together the Home School Community Liaison Scheme, the School Completion Programme and the Visiting Teachers Service for Travellers.
The Board also:
- Monitors school attendance, and takes a range of measures where children do not attend school
- Maintains a register of children who are not attending a recognised school
- Maintains a register of young persons of 16 and 17 years of age who leave school early to take up employment and makes arrangements for their continuing education and training in consultation with providers and employers
- Collects data on school attendance and non-attendance, suspensions and expulsions
- Intervenes in relation to proposed school expulsions
The NEWB published an analysis of school attendance at primary and post primary schools (pdf) which states that from 2003/2004 to 2005/2006 the national level of non-attendance in primary schools was over 6% or 12 days absence on average for each student. In post-primary schools the level of non-attendance was about 8% or 13 days absence on average for each student.
Responsibilities of schools
Schools are obliged to keep a register of the students attending the school. They must also maintain attendance records for all students and inform the NEWB if a child is absent for more than 20 days in a school year.
The principal must also inform the NEWB if, in his/her view, a student has an attendance problem. This could arise if the student is not coming to school or if the student is suspended. You can read more about school discipline here. Schools can make returns to the NEWB online.
School Attendance Strategy
The Board of Management in each school is obliged to prepare a school attendance strategy and submit it to the NEWB.
This strategy will encourage, in a positive way, regular school attendance and an appreciation of learning within the school and will provide for:
- The rewarding of students who have good attendance records
- The identification of students who are at risk of dropping out at an early stage
- The establishment of closer contacts between the school and the families concerned
- The co-ordination with other schools of programmes aimed at promoting good behaviour and encouraging attendance
- The identification of aspects of the operation and management of the school and of the curriculum that may contribute to truancy and the removal of those aspects in so far as they are not necessary for the proper running of the school.
With the consent of the parents, the NEWB may arrange for an examination of the intellectual, emotional or physical development of a child. If the parent refuses consent, the NEWB may apply to the Circuit Court for an order that the examination be carried out. The Circuit Court may grant the order if it is satisfied that the child’s behaviour, lack of educational progress or regular absence from school without a reasonable excuse warrants an examination.
Responsibilities and duties of parents
Under the Education Welfare Act 2000 parents must inform the school if their children will be absent from school on a school day and the reason for the absence, for example, illness. It is best to do this in writing. The NEWB strongly advises against taking children out of school to go on holiday during term-time.
Parents and guardians have a legal obligation to ensure that their child attends a school or otherwise receives an education. If the NEWB considers that a parent is failing in his or her obligation, it must send the parent a School Attendance Notice warning that legal action would follow if the child did not attend school regularly. Before doing this, it must make reasonable efforts to consult with the parents and the child. If the parent fails to comply, he or she may be prosecuted. If convicted, the parent may be fined €634.87 and/or imprisoned for a month and fined €253.95 for each subsequent day that he or she fails to send the child to school. If the parent claims that suitable alternative education is being provided, he or she must prove this. It will be a defence for the parents to show that they have made all reasonable efforts to send the child to school – in such cases, the Health Service Executive (HSE) must be informed.
The NEWB leaflet for parents Don’t let your child miss out is available in 18 languages.
Education outside the school system
The Minister may prescribe minimum standards of education for those educated outside the recognised school system.
The NEWB is obliged to maintain a register of children who are receiving education but not attending a recognised school. In effect, this register will show the names of children who are being educated at home or in a non-recognised school – it is not a register of school dropouts.
Parents whose children are not attending a recognised school must register their child with the NEWB. If the parent agrees, the NEWB will then investigate the educational arrangements that have been made for the child and judge whether or not the child is receiving the prescribed minimum education. If the NEWB is satisfied, it may enter the child’s name on the register.
If the NEWB is not satisfied, it may either:
- Require the parents to comply with its requirements in order to ensure that the child receives the prescribed minimum education and then register the child, or
- Refuse to register the child.
There are also provisions for removing a child’s name from the register
Obligation to attend school
Parents do not have to send their children to a recognised school if:
- The child is on the register described above
- Parents have made an application have their child included on the register but a decision has not been made or an appeal is pending
- The child is being educated outside the state
- There is a good reason for the child not attending school
If the NEWB refuses to register a child, or requires an undertaking from a parent or removes a child from the register, the parent may appeal to the Minister. The Minister will appoint an appeal committee, which may decide to register the child, refuse to register the child or require an undertaking.
Where no appeal is brought, the NEWB must make every reasonable effort to have the child in question enrolled in another school. If this fails, the NEWB must ensure that the child receives a prescribed minimum education