Absenteeism in poor Derry wards among highest in North

Absenteeism levels for pupils of school-leaving age in Derry are among the highest in the North, the ‘Journal’ can reveal.

Saturday, 8th February 2020, 7:00 pm

The rate per thousand of 15 to 17 year old pupils with a less than 85 per cent attendance in 2018/19 in Foyle was 103.2. This was above an average of 97 pupils per thousand for the North as a whole.

Only West Belfast (130.7), Upper Bann (123.4), North Belfast (118.8), Newry and Armagh (115.7), East Belfast (104) and West Tyrone (103.3) posted higher rates over the year.

In some of the poorest wards in Derry, such as the Brandywell and Creggan, the rates were more than twice the northern average. A breakdown by electoral ward shows that Ebrington (206.9), Brandywell (202.9) and Creggan South (202.2) were among over 40 wards in the North where the number of pupils who attended less than 85 per cent of the school year breached the 200 mark.

Several other wards posted rates well above the average for the North.

These were: Rosemount (188.7), Creggan Central (171.1), Shantallow East (168.4), Carnhill (164.6), Caw (152.2), The Diamond (148.9), Shantallow West (146.5), Altnagelvin (123.1), Victoria (123.1) and Westland (112.9).

The second highest rate in the whole of the North, meanwhile, was located in East Derry: an incredible 321.4 pupils per thousand in the Coolessan ward in Limavady town. Only in Antiville in Larne, where the rate was 363.6 was there a higher level of absenteeism.

In the East ward (230.8) in Strabane, and in Castlederg (230.8), in West Tyrone rates were also very high.

Mr. Weir said: “I launched the pupil attendance strategy ‘Miss School=Miss Out’ in December 2016 which provides a strategic framework that goes into maximising pupil attendance at schools.

“The four key themes identified within that strategy continue to be relevant today; strategic leadership; early intervention; tailored support and collaboration and engagement.”

He said work was ongoing to address the problem.

“Actions are being progressed in numerous ways by the Department of Education, Education Authority, Education Welfare Service, schools, families and children. A case studies good practice guide ‘The Challenge of Improving Pupil Attendance at School’ was published by the Department in December 2018,” he said.

Queen’s University has been working with the Department on anti-absenteeism. It identified several factors influencing non-attendance.

“The most common and important factor was seen as ‘Parents and their relationship with child and school’. As part of its research, QUB showed evidence of the success of the University of Pittsburgh’s ‘Be There!’ campaign which amongst other things, included using ‘text’ to ask if the family needed help, along with breakfast and before school programmes and solving issues e.g. transport,” according to the DE good practice document.