Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland schools absence levels 'disturbing'

schoolboys Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption 20,000 pupils are missing at least six weeks of lessons each year.

The Northern Ireland Audit office has said it is disturbed at the high level of pupils who miss weeks of schooling.

The situation has improved a little in the 10 years since the auditor last investigated, but he said there were still challenges to be faced.

Out of 300,000 school children in NI, 20,000 are missing at least six weeks of lessons each year.

The level of unauthorised absences is now proportionately twice as high as in England.

Alarm bells should ring where a pupil misses around six weeks of schooling, but the auditor is concerned that schools are not being encouraged to report all cases.

Of the 20,000 pupils who are persistently absent, less than a fifth were referred to the authorities.

Non-attendance is said to not only waste money, it also affects a child's long-term prospects.

Persistent offenders are seven times more likely to be out of a job and not in education or training when they leave school.

Children in socially deprived areas and in traveller families are most likely to be affected.

Auditor General Kieran Donnelly said the cost to society, in terms of lost career opportunities, amounted to £22m a year.

The audit office published its last report on school absenteeism in 2004.

Ten years later it said there had been a marginal improvement.

The Department of Education has been praised for improving the way information is collected and commissioning research, but the report said there was not enough joined-up thinking among the education and library boards.