Monday 15 July 2019

Mother appears in court after son misses almost 300 days of school

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Tom Tuite

A DUBLIN mother whose grieving son missed almost 300 days of school has been spared jail for neglecting his education.

The woman has pleaded guilty at Dublin District Court to breaking the Education (Welfare) Act by not complying with official warnings about school attendance.

Her son was described has having “no education” as a result of truancy.

The court also heard he had struggled after the death of a close family.

Judge Anthony Halpin heard the teenager had fallen so far behind in school that he would not be able to catch up with continual assessment work which is now part of the new Junior Certificate curriculum.

The minimum school leaving age is 16 years, or the completion of three years of post-primary education.

The penalty on first conviction is a fine of up to €1,000 and a possible one-month sentence per charge. She was prosecuted by the Child and Family Agency (CFA).

An education and welfare officer told the court the third year pupil had missed 292 days since he began sixth class in primary school.

The boy missed 59 out of 181, 33 per cent of days, in sixth class and 78 out of 167 days in his first year of secondary school a absentee rate of 37.5 per cent.

In his second year of secondary school he was not present on 95 out of 162 days, a rate of 59 per cent.

So far, in third year, he had missed 60 days and has absentee rate of just over 70 per cent, Judge Halpin heard.

His mother had been invited to attend several meetings at the school but only attended one. Counselling supports and life skills courses were offered as well as learning support, the court heard.

A school completion co-ordinator called to her home on eight occasions but only met here twice. An alternative to mainstream education placement was offered but the teen failed to attend.

The mother did not go to numerous meetings with an education and welfare officer.

The school principal confirmed that the boy did not have special education needs. He said the boy’s difficulty stemmed from failing to attend school and was not as result of an inherent disability.

With the changes to the junior cycle involving more on-going assessments it would be very difficult for him, the principal said.

Judge Halpin remarked that the teen was “miles behind his friends in school, there is now way of catching up”.

The principal said the boy would benefit from an alternative to the junior cycle and perhaps do a small number of subjects one year and more the following year. It was the principal’s belief the boy would benefit from a practical, vocational education rather than a desk-bound book-based education.

The boy will turn 16 later this year and “time was running out”, the headmaster warned.

Judge Halpin said when it comes to looking for employment the boy will “lose out”, adding, “anyone else with a mediocre Junior Certificate and would be miles ahead of him at interview and selection stages”.

He said the boy has no education and missed out on life skills learned at school such as an ability to deal with conflict situations.

The defence asked the court to note the mother was apologetic and did not have a previous conviction for this type of offence. Her other children had finished school with Leaving Certificates.

Solicitor Orla Crowe, for the CFA, said the woman was never prosecuted over her other kids' schooling but welfare agencies had been involved.

Asked what her son did with his time, the judge enquired, “Does he read at all?”. “No,” answered the mother. “Television?,” the judge asked, to which she shook her head and quietly replied, “games”.

Judge Halpin said a vocational education for her son should now be considered.

The mother explained her son had not understood when he was previously offered a place in an alternative to mainstream education training course.

However, he now would like to try it, she said.

Judge Halpin fined her  €100 which must be paid within six months.

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