Absenteeism not a problem for city centre based school

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

A NEWRY school is leading the way when it comes to tackling student absenteeism.
Hugh Mallon, of St Joseph's High School in Newry explained that the system in his school has ensured that staff are well on top of the issue. He said: "Saint Joseph's has an automated system called 'truancy call'. The way that this works is that if a child does not present to school and we have not got a reason, the system sends out an automated message up until 10 o'clock at night.
“The purpose of the message is for a parent to ring back and give a reason for the absence. We have had that in place for a number of years now.
“It has embedded a concept that, attendance and absenteeism will be followed up. So, as a consequence, our attendance record is very much in line with, if not slightly better, than the Northern Ireland average," said the Principal.
The investigation also found that children in socially deprived areas and in traveller families are most likely to be affected. The good record of St Joseph's is therefore all the more noteworthy. As Mr Mallon commented:
“It should be remembered that Newry, for all of its' affluence, has the third highest social deprivation rate in Northern Ireland, outside of Belfast and Derry. There is a tendency to forget that.
“The reality is that if a child's attendance is allowed to slip then it is something that becomes the norm rather than something that you are trying to dissuade. In our case, the value of education is seen and therefore the reason to attend is seen," he said.
This comes at a time when Stormont's Public Accounts Committee has criticised the Department of Education for its record on pupil absenteeism. The investigation follows a report by the Northern Ireland Audit office earlier this year which highlighted that some 20,000 pupils in Northern Ireland were missing for the equivalent of six weeks in class.
The investigation did acknowledge, however, that some schools had made good progress, but said it was disappointing that this was driven by the individual school rather than the authorities.
The committee said a plan should be put in place "as a matter of urgency" within the next year as it was not convinced that the department had got to grips with the most deep-rooted reasons behind poor attendance.

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