It is already widely acknowledged that students with poor school attendance records tend to do worse academically and socially. They are at an increased risk of leaving school early and they can miss out on important social interaction with their peers.
According to researchers at the ESRI, patterns of non-attendance are often established early on, however there has been very little research into the reasons for school absenteeism among younger children in Ireland.
They used data from the ongoing Growing Up In Ireland study and focused on children who had missed more than 20 days in school during the last school year.
They found that the biggest influence on absenteeism rates overall was the parent/family situation. For example, the children of mothers whose native language was not English or Irish were more likely to have poor attendance.
“However, when language was held constant the children of immigrant mothers actually had better attendance record than those of non-immigrants. The findings seemed to indicate that language barriers may be associated with poor attendance patterns rather than immigrant status per se,” the researchers explained.
The study also found that ‘parental engagement with the child’s schooling’ played a role. The children of parents who were more involved, e.g. those who attended parent/teacher meetings, tended to have better attendance.
Meanwhile the children of employed parents had better attendance than the children of unemployed parents. In fact, children whose parents were unemployed ‘were at least three times more likely than children in the highest social group to have a poor school attendance record’.
However, a major new finding related to maternal depression.
“Children living with a mother who was depressed had an increased likelihood of having a poor attendance record. In addition, children who witnessed parental conflict were almost twice as likely to be persistent absentees,” the researchers noted.
They said that these findings ‘further highlight the importance of the family environment in terms of child outcomes, and are especially pertinent because factors such as depression and parental conflict can often be ‘hidden’ to those outside the family’.
When it came to the children themselves, those with special education needs and/or a chronic illness were more likely to have poorer school attendance.
Not surprisingly, children who were the victims of bullying also attended school less.
The researchers also found that children with emotional problems, such as those with lots of worries, tended to have poor attendance rates, but children with behavioural problems, such as those who often fought with others, did not.
Overall, children who said that they liked school ‘were less likely to be persistent absentees’.
“This highlights the importance of pupil engagement even at this early stage of the school career,” the researchers said.
In terms of the actual schools, persistent absenteeism tended to be more common in those with an inadequate number of teachers.
“This exploratory work shows that absenteeism is influenced by many and varied factors and while it is important to engage both families and schools to find a satisfactory solution to child’s absenteeism, it is also essential to take account of the child’s own characteristics,” the researchers said.
For more information on depression, see our Depression Clinic here