Wednesday, 6 May 2009
Dáil Eireann Debate
635. Deputy Seán Fleming asked the Minister for Education and Science the reporting arrangements that apply in second level schools to the National Education Welfare Board or otherwise in respect of the number of students suspended and the number of days to which the suspensions relate in the most recent year for which information is available; if the information is available on a school by school basis; if it is available for schools that are run by county VECs; if he will supply the statistics available; if no statistics are available his plans to obtain such information which is important information from an educational point of view; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18076/09]
Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science (Deputy Seán Haughey): The Education (Welfare) Act, 2000 established the National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB) as the statutory body with responsibility for school attendance. The Act provides a comprehensive framework promoting regular school attendance and tackling the problems of absenteeism and early school leaving. The general functions of the Board are to ensure that each child attends a recognised school or otherwise receives a certain minimum education. The Board also has responsibility to conduct research into underlying causes for poor attendance and disseminating results of such research to assist schools in developing codes of behaviour and attendance strategies.
Since the commencement of the Act, schools are required to record and monitor attendances and to report absences to the Educational Welfare Officer (EWO), in particular circumstances such as where a child is absent for 20 days or more, where a child is expelled or suspended for six days or more cumulatively and where the school has concerns about the educational welfare of a child. This obligation exists to protect children’s educational welfare. Research shows that poor school attendance is linked to early school leaving and poorer life chances for children. Each year all primary and post primary schools in Ireland receive guidance from the National Educational Welfare Board on the governing legislation (Education (Welfare) Act, 2000) as well as guidance on reporting of student absences and expulsions. Schools, including VECs, are required to submit four Student Absence Reports at intervals during the school year and one Annual Attendance Report at the end of the academic year.
In relation to the four Student Absence Reports, schools submit returns on students with serious attendance issues who have been identified during the current academic year, including those that have been suspended for six days or more cumulatively. Under the legislation schools are also required to submit an Annual Attendance Report to the NEWB. The Annual Attendance Report is submitted by each school when they close for the summer and gives overall absence information for the entire school population for that school year. This report is also available to parents. As part of this report, schools are asked to give the total number of students who were suspended during the school year. In terms of suspension data schools are asked to report the number of students suspended during the school year therefore the data refers to instances of suspension rather than the total number of days lost through suspension.
The most recent data available is contained in the National Educational Welfare Board’s (NEWB) report entitled, Analysis of School Attendance Data in Primary and Post-Primary Schools, 2003/4 to 2005/06, published in December 2008. The report shows a large increase in the number of schools responding to the NEWB’s Annual School Attendance Report and provides valuable national baseline data which will inform future planning and policy development. This report shows that the number of incidents of suspensions reported at national level in post-primary schools for 2005/06 is around 5% and when applied to the total population of 332,407 students this equates to over 16,000 students. Information relating to suspensions on a school by school basis is not published because of concerns for the formulation of league tables.
Analysis of attendance data in respect of the 2006/07 and 2007/08 school years will be carried out by the Educational Research Centre (ERC) on behalf of the NEWB. I am informed by the Board that this data has been submitted to the ERC for analysis. The Analysis of School Attendance Data in Primary and Post-Primary Schools, 2003/4 to 2005/06 is available on the NEWB website, www.newb.ie, and I will arrange to forward a copy to the Deputy.
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