Principal concerned with rise in pupil absenteeism

AN Enniskillen native, who is the principal of one of the largest girls’ schools in Belfast, has highlighted the desperate situation schools are finding themselves in as the number of pupils marked absent every day continues to rise.

Jackie Bartley, who is the principal of St Genevieve’s High School in the Andersonstown area of west Belfast and president of the National Association of Head Teachers, was responding to new figures that showed one in eight Northern Ireland pupils are marked as absent five weeks of the year.

“This is a huge issue for all our schools coming out of the pandemic,” she said.


“The post-primary school sector is finding it very difficult managing school refusal and increased absence due to anxiety issues, mental health issues, and pupil management of workload at GCSE and A-Level.

“Funding is needed to resource additional pastoral staff to engage with parents and with young people.”

The Department of Education classes chronic absence as a pupil missing between 10 per cent and 20 per cent of days during a school year – from 19-38 days.

Severe chronic absence is when a pupil misses more than 20 per cent of days in a school year – more than 38 days.

New figures, covering the period from September 2023 to January this year, showed 42,967 pupils have an attendance rate of less than 85 per cent – that’s 13 per cent of all pupils across the country (or one in every eight) missing around five weeks during the school year.

Unauthorised absenteeism is now reaching epidemic proportions, particularly in the post-primary sector.

“The Educational Welfare Officer process is overwhelmed and failing our young people,” Ms Bartley said.


“In England, the government have given additional direct funding to secondary schools to resource an ‘attendance champion’ for each school to develop and implement strategies to improve attendance but ultimately to improve outcomes for all our pupils.”

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