There is no absolute legal obligation on children to attend school nor on their parents to send them to school. However, the state is required to ensure that every child gets a certain minimum education. The legislation governing school attendance is the Education (Welfare) Act 2000.
The National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB)
The National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB) is responsible for ensuring that each child aged between six and 16 attends a recognised school or receives a certain minimum education.The Board's emphasis is on helping schools, families and children, rather than imposing penalties for non-attendance at school. The board will co-ordinate state services to children who have school attendance problems. Educational Welfare Officers work for the board and help co-ordinate all policies concerning both attendance and broader educational welfare.
Responsibilities of Schools
Tracking dropouts and suspended pupils.Schools are obliged to keep a register of the students attending the school. They must also maintain attendance records for all students and inform the NEWB if a child is absent for more than 20 days in a school year. The principal must also inform the NEWB if, in their view, a student has an attendance problem.This could arise if the student is not coming to school or if the student is suspended.
School Attendance Strategy
The Board of Management in each school is obliged to prepare a school attendance strategy and submit it to the NEWB.
The statement will provide for
- The rewarding of students who have good attendance records
- The identification of students who are at risk of dropping out at an early stage
- The establishment of closer contacts between the school and the families concerned
- The co-ordination with other schools of programmes aimed at promoting good behaviour and encouraging attendance
- The identification of aspects of the operation and management of the school and of the curriculum that may contribute to truancy and the removal of those aspects in so far as they are not necessary for the proper running of the school.
The Board of Management must draw up a code of behaviour for students at the school.
Code of Behaviour
This code must specify
- The types of behaviour by the student that may require disciplinary measures
- The nature of the disciplinary measures to be employed
- The procedures to be followed before a student may be suspended or expelled
- The grounds for lifting a suspension
The NEWB will issue guidelines on the code. When a child is becoming a student at the school, the principal must give a copy of the code to the parents and may require that the parents agree to make all reasonable efforts to ensure that the child complies with the code. If a student is suspended for more than six days for any reason the NEWB must be informed.
Before a student is expelled, the Educational Welfare Officer must be informed. The officer will then try to resolve the problem. If a student is permanently excluded from the school or the school refuses to enrol a student, the NEWB can to appeal to the Secretary General of the Department of Education and Science. Parents also have an entitlement to appeal. If a parent appeals, the NEWB may make submissions to the appeals committee.
With the consent of the parents, the NEWB may arrange for an examination of the intellectual, emotional or physical development of a child. If the parent refuses consent, the NEWB may apply to the Circuit Court for an order that the examination be carried out. The Circuit Court may grant the order if it is satisfied that the child's behaviour, lack of educational progress or regular absence from school without a reasonable excuse warrants an examination.
Responsibilities of parents
Under the Act parents must inform the school if their children will be absent from school on a school day and the reason for the absence. It is best to do this in writing. If the NEWB considers that a parent is failing in his or her obligation to send a child to school, it must notify the parent and require the parent to send the child to a school. Before doing this, it must
make reasonable efforts to consult with the parents and the child. If the parent fails to comply, he or she may be prosecuted. If convicted, the parent may be fined and/or imprisoned for a month and fined for each subsequent day that he or she fails to send the child to school.
If the parent claims that suitable alternative education is being provided, he or she must prove this. It will be a defence for the parents to show that they have made all reasonable efforts to send the child to school - in such cases, the Health Services Executive (HSE) must be informed.
Education outside the school system
The Minister may prescribe minimum standards of education for those educated outside the recognised school system. The NEWB is obliged to maintain a register of children who are receiving education but not attending a recognised school. In effect, this register will show the names of children who are being educated at home or in a non-recognised school. Parents whose children are not attending a recognised school must register their child.
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