ALMOST one-in-three second-level pupils at schools in disadvantaged areas are absent for at least 20 days in the year.
It is more than twice the absenteeism rate among students in non-disadvantaged schools – highlighting a serious class divide in education.
While the rates for pupils in both groups have improved slightly, the gap between them remains wide.
Latest figures show that just under 30pc of pupils in disadvantaged schools missed 20 days or more in 2010-11, down 1pc in a year and 3pc from 2008-09. That compares with a figure of 14.6pc for schools in non-disadvantaged areas in 2010-11, down slightly on the previous year. Overall, there are over 100,000 children missing classes for 20 days or more a year – about 52,000 at second-level and over 56,000 at primary.
Missing so much school puts teenagers at short-term risk of drop-out and reduces their life chances generally.
According to figures from the National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB) for 2010-11, school attendance rates are improving a little and are at their lowest for five years. Figures are broadly similar to Britain and Northern Ireland.
In the year since 2009-10, better attendance translated into 500 more primary pupils and 300 more post-primary students turning up in Irish schools every day.
However, the analysis highlights differences in attendance patterns depending on whether the school is urban or rural or whether it is in a disadvantaged area. In primary schools in 2010/11, 6.1pc of student days – pupil numbers multiplied by the number of school days – were lost through absenteeism, down from 6.2pc the previous year. At post-primary level, 7.8pc of school days were lost, compared with 7.9pc in 2009-10.
The primary school year is 183 days, while at second-level it is 167, so in a 100-pupil primary school, the maximum possible number of student days is 18,300. The figures for 20-day absences have also fallen in both primary and post-primary, and in post-primary were at their lowest for five years.
About 11pc of primary students were missing for 20 days or more in 2010-11, amounting to over 56,000 pupils.
At post-primary level, the 20-day absence rate averaged 16.5pc, which translates into about 52,000 students, who are twice as likely to be living in disadvantaged communities.
Absenteeism among primary pupils is generally more of a problem in urban areas and in areas of disadvantage than in rural and non-disadvantaged schools. It is also higher in special schools.
However, in a twist on that, non-attendance and 20-day absences are higher in non-disadvantaged urban schools than in disadvantaged rural areas.