Loan sharks are adding to absenteeism problem: MLA

East Antrim MLA Roy Beggs (left) highlighted the problem in a motion before the Assembly seeking more government support to tackle absenteeism.

He stated: “Recently, paramilitary loan sharks have been creating an ongoing issue in my community. It has been reported to me that mothers can be left with no money to put food on the table and children can be put out to school with, perhaps, no breakfast. That is a modern day form of slavery.

“How can parents and children concentrate on their education? We need a cohesive community with the removal of loan sharks and drug dealers, who are corrupting our youth. The community needs to work with the police to bring those parasites to court.”

The Ulster Unionist representative, who has been pursuing issues around educational under-attainment over the past decade, has identified Northland, Sunnylands, Love Lane and Killycrot as areas of concern in relation to absenteeism. A table provided to him by the Department of Education detailing per thousand of post-primary school pupils enrolled with less than 85% attendance by Ward in 2010/11, includes the following local figures: Northland 359.2, Love Lane 306.7 Sunnylands 260.3 and Killycrot 242.1

At Stormont last week, Mr Beggs proposed: “That this Assembly recognises that the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister is responsible for co-ordinating the work of the Executive and for children and young people’s issues; notes the high levels of pupil absenteeism in primary and post-primary schools in many communities, and in particular, (continued on page two)

(from page one) the high levels in areas identified by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency as being predominantly Protestant; and calls on the First Minister and deputy First Minister to ensure that an integrated approach to identifying the causes of absenteeism is adopted by all relevant Departments and appropriate action is taken, in conjunction with parents or guardians, to enable more young people to reach their full potential.”

HE continued: “For a number of years, I have been posing Assembly questions to highlight the significant number of children and young people with less than 85% attendance at school, the point at which they are referred to an education welfare officer. Many children are missing more than one day in seven and falling significantly behind in the classroom because of that. This, in turn, can lead to low self-esteem, and it increases the likelihood that students will drop out of school and end up not in education, employment or training (NEET).”

Mr Beggs drew the attention of fellow MLAs to observations by Charles Taylor, the Government’s Westminster expert adviser on behaviour, in a recent report on improving attendance at school: ‘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 three per cent manage to achieve five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C including Maths and English. 73 per cent of pupils who have over 95 per cent attendance achieve five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C.’

The local MLA also went on to stress that despite the best efforts being made by schools to address the issue, factors outside their control are at play.

“I recall visiting a primary school where the children behaved exemplarily. When I asked the principal whether there were problems with absenteeism, I was told that the children loved coming to school but that some of the parents had personal problems that could impact on their children. It is clear to me that social services and the health service can play a role in improving school attendance through addressing such issues.”

He added: “In summary, we need all public bodies to work closely with the voluntary and community sector to address the poor attendance at our schools.”

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