Attendance disparity in Northern Ireland’s schools

With the aim of tackling socioeconomic educational attainment imbalance, the Education Authority has completed a consultation on the Education Welfare Service Transformation Project Report, which was published in November 2022.

The report states that the project aims to root out the factors behind the discrepancy in the relative increase in health outcomes and economic prosperity over the last decade with the relatively static levels of unattendance at schools compared to other regions of the United Kingdom.

Currently in Northern Ireland, attendance at school is supported through the service provided by the Education Authority’s Education Welfare Service (EWS).

Central to the Education Welfare Service Transformation Project is a ‘re-engineered’ EWS. The Transformation Project, therefore, will establish a Business Plan alongside an Implementation Plan, with an identified Implementation Team to take forward delivery of the new model. The EA says that this Implementation Plan “must also consider how best to reduce the current waiting list”.

The EA states that geographical differences in school attendance have previously been connected to levels of social deprivation, although the EA reports that this assertion “is not a complete picture,” with some schools in deprived areas showing better attendance rates than others.

The report was developed in response to prior reports from the Northern Ireland Audit Office (2004 and 2014) and the Public Accounts Committee (2014), which concluded that there was a need for efficiency and effectiveness across the Education Welfare Service (EWS) as well as the implementation of a consistent model of delivery.

Recommendations based on the findings of these reports were initially worked upon in a phased approach. The EA states that The Transformation Project “represents the completion of the fundamental review of the service called for in the PAC Report and initiated by the Education Authority in 2017, following the move from the five Education and Library Boards to the single authority”.

In developing the new service, the EA says that it has an effective evidence base for the need and requirements in the delivery of the new service model. “Although there was variance in some feedback with areas of need dependent on the service user, and the experience of the service, there was consistency across feedback for the key themes identified above,” the EA says.

The EA adds that it will use information it has gathered to make recommendations on the new service delivery model “to provide an efficient and effective service that meets the needs of children and young people, families, and educational settings in areas of attendance in 2022 and into the future”.

With submissions to the consultation having closed in April 2023, the EA is currently developing the policy, although the EA concedes that establishment of the project will “not be operational overnight” and that it will take “several years”.

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