The legislation governing school attendance in Ireland is the Education (Welfare) Act 2000. Under the Act the minimum school leaving age is 16 years, or until students have completed 3 years of second-level education, whichever is the later.
Parents must 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.
A recognised school is a school overseen by the Department of Education. An independent school (or non-recognised school) is one that is not overseen by the Department of Education.
The Irish Constitution recognises the family as the primary educator of the child. It 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 Child and Family Agency
The Child and Family Agency (Tusla) is responsible for ensuring that every child attends school regularly, or otherwise receives an appropriate minimum education. It also advises the Government on school attendance and education provision. Tusla's emphasis is on helping schools, families and children, rather than imposing penalties for non-attendance at school. Tusla 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.
- Monitors school attendance, and takes a range of measures where children do not attend school
- Maintains a register of children who are not attending a recognised school
- Maintains a register of young people aged 16 and 17 years who leave school early to take up employment and makes arrangements for their continuing education and training in consultation with providers and employers
- Collects data on school attendance and non-attendance, suspensions and expulsions
- Intervenes in relation to proposed school expulsions
Tusla publishes reports on school attendance at primary and secondary schools.
Rules on school attendance
Schools must keep a register of the students attending the school. They must also maintain attendance records for all students and inform the Child and Family Agency's educational welfare services if a child is absent for more than 20 days in a school year.
The principal must also inform the Child and Family Agency's educational welfare services if, they think a student has an attendance problem. This may be because the student is not coming to school or has been suspended. You can find more information about school discipline. Schools can make attendance returns to Tusla online.
School Attendance Strategy
The Board of Management in each school must prepare a school attendance strategy and send it to the Agency.
This strategy encourages regular school attendance and an appreciation of learning within the school. The strategy may:
- Reward students who have good attendance records
- Identify students who are at risk of dropping out early
- Establish closer contacts between the school and the families concerned
- Co-ordinate programmes with other schools aimed at promoting good behaviour and encouraging attendance
- Identify aspects of the operation and management of the school and the curriculum that may contribute to student absence and remove these if they are not necessary for the running of the school.
The Child and Family Agency can arrange for an examination of a child's intellectual, emotional or physical development, with a parent's consent. If the parent refuses consent, Tusla can apply to the Circuit Court for an order that the examination be carried out. The Circuit Court can 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.
If your child’s time at school is reduced by the school
Your child should attend the full school day and the full school week. Sometimes a school will use a reduced school day for a child, for example, to help a child back into a school routine. However, a reduced school day should only be put in place in limited circumstances and for a set period of time.
A reduced school day is when the school decides that:
- A student arrives to school after the usual starting time or leaves before the end of the school day
- A student may not attend the full 5 days each week
The Department of Education has introduced guidelines on the use of reduced school days. The guidelines recommend that a student should not be on a reduced school day for more than 6 weeks and there should be a plan to support the student’s return to a full-time school day.
From 1 January 2022, if the school is restricting your child’s full attendance at school, the school must notify the Tusla Education Support Service (TESS) that your child’s school day is reduced. Schools must also review the circumstances for any child currently on reduced school days before the start date of the guidelines.
If your child’s school day is reduced the school must ensure that:
- The reduced school day or week is necessary and lasts only as long as necessary
- You (or the student if they are over 18) consent to the reduced school day or week. If you don’t consent and the school implements the reduction anyway it is the same as being suspended from school.
If you have any concerns about the use of reduced school days for your child, you can contact the Tusla Education Support Service for advice.
Parents' responsibilities and duties
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, such as illness. It is best to do this in writing. The Child and Family Agency 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 else receives an education. If Tusla considers that a parent is failing in his or her obligation, it must send the parent a School Attendance Notice. The warning outlines that legal action will follow if the child does not attend school regularly. Tusla must make reasonable efforts to consult with the parents and the child, before sending the warning.
If the parent fails to comply with a warning, they may be prosecuted. If convicted, the parent may be fined and/or imprisoned for a month and also fined for each subsequent day that they fail to send the child to school. If the parent claims that suitable alternative education is being provided, they 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 Child and Family Agency must be informed.
Tusla has a leaflet for parents Don't let your child miss out.
Education outside the school system
The Minister can set minimum standards of education for children educated outside the recognised school system.
The Child and Family Agency must keep a register of children who are receiving education but not attending a recognised school. This register will show the names of children who are educated at home or in an independent school. It is not a register of school dropouts.
All parents or guardians who want to educate their children at home, must register their child with Tusla. If the parent agrees, Tusla's Alternative Education Assessment and Registration Service (AEARS) will assess the educational arrangements in place for the child and determine whether you are providing a minimum education. If Tusla is satisfied, it may enter the child's name on the register.
If Tusla is not satisfied, it can:
- Require the parents to comply with its requirements to ensure the child receives the prescribed minimum education and then register the child
- Refuse to register the child.
There are also provisions for removing a child's name from the register.
Obligation to attend school
Parents do not have to send their children to a recognised school if:
- The child is on the register (described above)
- Parents have applied to have their child included on the register but a decision has not been made or an appeal is pending
- The child is being educated outside the state
- There is a good reason for the child not attending school
If Tusla refuses to register a child, or requires an undertaking from a parent or removes a child from the register, you can appeal to the Minister. The Minister will appoint an appeal committee. The committee will decide whether to:
- Register the child
- Refuse to register the child, or
- Require the parent to comply with any requirements Tusla considers appropriate.
Where no appeal is brought, Tusla must make every reasonable effort to have the child enrolled in another school. If this fails, Tusla must ensure that the child receives a prescribed minimum education.
Difficulties attending school
If you have difficulty ensuring your child attends school, you can contact an educational welfare officer for advice and help. View the contact list for educational welfare officers.
If your child is unwell and you are concerned about sending your child to school, you can contact your school for advice. You can also get further information on hse.ie.