Ulster Unionist MLA Roy Beggs has highlighted the impact of school absenteeism on levels of academic under-achievement by bringing a motion for debate on the floor of the Assembly.
The East Antrim representative said;
“Because of my own family history, I recognise the importance of education to enable everyone to increase the opportunities available to them.
For a number of years I have been posing Assembly questions to highlight the significant numbers with less than 85% attendance in school. Many children are missing one day in seven and fall significantly behind in the classroom. This in turn leads to low self-esteem and increases the likelihood that students will drop out of school and the likelihood of becoming Not in Education, Employment or Training, or NEETS.
Charlie Taylor, HMG’s Expert Adviser on Behaviour, in his report on improving attendance at school states:
“There is a clear link between poor attendance at school and lower academic achievement. Of pupils who miss more than 50 per cent of school only 3% manage to achieve five or more GCSE’s at grade A* to C including Maths and English. 73% of pupils who have over 95 per cent attendance achieve five or more GCSE’s at grade A* to C.
Clearly, addressing high levels of absenteeism should be a priority as we strive to improve educational attainment.
In Post Primary education, 26 of the 30 wards with highest rate of absenteeism are, according to NISRA, predominately Protestant, 2 are mixed, and the other 2 are mainly dominantly Roman Catholic.
In the wards with lowest level of school attendance, over one third of the young people are referred to the Education Welfare Officer. The answers given to my assembly questions show that there is a particular problem in disadvantaged protestant areas.
There is a very stark community imbalance. The poor educational attainment of Protestant working class boys has been highlighted for some time. However it is now evident that there is a major contributing factor, correspondingly high levels of absenteeism.
We must look closely at the potential causes and the solutions.
There must be an investigation into whether or not individual schools are managing absenteeism sufficiently well, particularly those issues of absenteeism that are actually under their control. Obviously parents have a huge role to play role in improving school attendance as does Social Services and the Health service.
We need multi-agency working from OFMDFM, Departments of Education, Health, Social Development, Employment and Learning and the Department of Justice to address the range of issues. Additional tools must be used to connect with these under achievers such as the greater use of Better Reading Partnerships and Book Buddies. The Church and community groups can also play a role and a serious effort made to build up community capacity and infrastructure.
Hope is also needed for these disadvantaged communities and a real attempt made to tackle the scourge of loan sharks and drug dealers corrupting our youth. The community needs to work with the Police to bring these parasites to Court.
We need all public bodies working closely with the voluntary and community sector to address poor attendance in school and the corresponding educational underachieving.
We need everyone to value education and recognise that whilst education cannot guarantee a job, it will improve the likelihood of finding employment.
Above all, these communities need a vision of hope.”