The legislation governing school attendance in Ireland is the Education (Welfare) Act 2000. Under the Act the minimum school leaving age is raised to 16 years (was 15), or the completion of three years of post-primary education, whichever is the later.
Parents are required to ensure that their children from the age of 6 to the age of 16 attend a recognised school or receive a certain minimum education. There is no absolute legal obligation on children to attend school nor on their parents to send them to school.
Article 42 of Bunreacht na hÉireann (the Constitution) acknowledges that the primary and natural educator of the child is the family and guarantees to respect the right and duty of parents to provide, according to their means, for the religious and moral, intellectual, physical and social education of their children. Parents are free to provide this education in their homes or in schools recognised or established by the State.
The National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB) is the national agency established to ensure that every child attends school regularly, or otherwise receives an appropriate minimum education. It also advises the Government on school attendance and education provision. The Board's emphasis is on helping schools, families and children, rather than imposing penalties for non-attendance at school. It employs educational welfare officers at local level throughout the country to provide support and advice to parents and schools and to follow up on absences from school. They also help to co-ordinate all policies concerning attendance and educational welfare. The Board's remit includes responsibility for the Home School Community Liaison Scheme, the School Completion Programme and the Educational Welfare Sevice (EWS).
The Board also:
The NEWB publishes reports on school attendance at primary and post primary schools.
On 1 January 2014, the National Educational Welfare Board was abolished and
its functions transferred to the Child
and Family Agency.
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 his/her view, a student has an attendance problem. This could arise if the student is not coming to school or if the student is suspended. You can fin more information about school discipline. Schools can make returns to the NEWB online.
School Attendance Strategy
The Board of Management in each school is obliged to prepare a school attendance strategy and submit it to the NEWB.
This strategy will encourage, in a positive way, regular school attendance and an appreciation of learning within the school and will provide for:
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.
Under the Education Welfare Act 2000 parents must inform the school if their children will be absent from school on a school day and the reason for the absence, for example, illness. It is best to do this in writing. The NEWB strongly advises against taking children out of school to go on holiday during term-time.
Parents and guardians have a legal obligation to ensure that their child attends a school or otherwise receives an education. If the NEWB considers that a parent is failing in his or her obligation, it must send the parent a School Attendance Notice warning that legal action would follow if the child did not attend school regularly. 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 €634.87 and/or imprisoned for a month and fined €253.95 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 Service Executive (HSE) must be informed.
The NEWB leaflet for parents Don't let your child miss out is available in 18 languages.
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 - it is not a register of school dropouts.
Parents whose children are not attending a recognised school must register their child with the NEWB. If the parent agrees, the NEWB will then investigate the educational arrangements that have been made for the child and judge whether or not the child is receiving the prescribed minimum education. If the NEWB is satisfied, it may enter the child's name on the register.
If the NEWB is not satisfied, it may either:
There are also provisions for removing a child's name from the register
Parents do not have to send their children to a recognised school if:
If the NEWB refuses to register a child, or requires an undertaking from a parent or removes a child from the register, the parent may appeal to the Minister. The Minister will appoint an appeal committee, which may decide to register the child, refuse to register the child or require an undertaking.
Where no appeal is brought, the NEWB must make every reasonable effort to have the child in question enrolled in another school. If this fails, the NEWB must ensure that the child receives a prescribed minimum education
Parents who are having difficulties ensuring their children’s attendance at school can contact an NEWB educational welfare officer for advice and help with this. View the contact list for educational welfare officers
You can also call the NEWB Educational Helpline for advice and information.
If you have a question relating to this topic you can contact the Citizens Information Phone Service on 0761 07 4000 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm) or you can visit your local Citizens Information Centre.