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.
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.
COVID-19 and school
On 12 March 2020, all schools, colleges and childcare facilities closed.
The Government plans to reopen schools at the start of the new school year - end August 2020. Under the plans, students will keep their physical distance from one another outside of the classroom and work within the classroom in designated groupings or ‘bubbles’. There will be lot of flexibility to allow schools to maximise school spaces including the use of PE halls as classrooms.
There will also be:
- Increased hand washing and sanitising
- Enhanced cleaning regimes
- Staggered breaks and lunch times
- New rules for children using school transport
Schools will have the discretion to manage and redistribute their teaching support resources in order to best meet the learning needs of students with complex medical needs who may not be able to return to school at the end of August because public health guidelines indicate they are at “very high risk”.
Schools will be resourced to implement the necessary changes so that children can return to school. Detailed guidance and supports for schools is contained in the Reopening our schools: The roadmap for the full return to school.
Read our document about school during the COVID-19 public health emergency.
The Child and Family Agency
The Child and Family Agency's (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. Tusla's remit includes responsibility for the Home School Community Liaison Scheme, the School Completion Programme and the Educational Welfare Sevice (EWS).
- 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 second-level schools.
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, in their 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 find more information about school discipline. Schools can make returns to the Tusla online.
School Attendance Strategy
The Board of Management in each school is obliged to prepare a school attendance strategy and submit it to the Agency.
This strategy will encourage, in a positive way, regular school attendance and an appreciation of learning within the school and will cover:
- Rewarding students who have good attendance records
- Identifying students who are at risk of dropping out at an early stage
- Establishing closer contacts between the school and the families concerned
- Co-ordinating programmes aimed at promoting good behaviour and encouraging attendance with other schools
- Identifying aspects of the operation and management of the school and of the curriculum that may contribute to truancy and removing those aspects where they are not necessary for the proper running of the school.
The Child and Family Agency can arrange for an examination of a child's intellectual, emotional or physical development, with consent of the parents. 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.
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, for example, 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 €634.87 and/or imprisoned for a month and fined €253.95 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 yourchild miss out.
Education outside the school system
The Minister can set down 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 being educated at home or in a non-recognised 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 investigates the educational arrangements in place for the child and assess 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 either:
- Require the parents to comply with its requirements in order to ensure that the child receives the prescribed minimum education and then register the child, or
- 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 made an application 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, who will decide to register the child, refuse to register the child or require an undertaking to comply with any requirements Tusla considers appropriate.
Where no appeal is brought, Tusla must make every reasonable effort to have the child in question enrolled in another school. If this fails, Tusla must ensure that the child receives a prescribed minimum education.
How to apply
Parents who are having difficulties ensuring their children’s attendance at school can contact educational welfare officer for advice and help with this. View the contact list for educational welfare officers
Where to apply