Ulster Unionist Assembly Member for South Belfast, Michael McGimpsey, has called on the Education Minister John O’Dowd to take urgent action to address high levels of absenteeism among pupils from inner city communities in South Belfast.
The issue came to light as a result of a question posed by party colleague, Roy Beggs to the Education Minister asking for a breakdown of the rate per thousand of pupils with less than 85% attendance at primary and secondary level, by electoral ward.
In a statement Mr McGimpsey said, “Studying the figures I am astounded by the huge disparity in the numbers of children with less than 85% attendance rate at school. There is a very clear demarcation between the rates of those in wealthier areas and those in economically disadvantaged areas of South Belfast. For example in Malone only 30.9 per thousand post primary pupils have less than 85% attendance rate at school while this soars to 359.6 in the Shaftesbury ward.”
“Most concerning of all are the high levels of absenteeism at primary level within these disadvantaged communities. For example the Botanic ward has a rate of 245.9 per thousand pupils not attaining 85% attendance levels while Stranmillis, a short walk away, has a rate of 20.5. Primary School provides the very foundation for our young people’s education, these high levels of absenteeism will undoubtedly negatively impact upon their attainment levels and employment prospects in later life.”
“The Minister indicated that his department have commissioned research to identify strategies to improve school attendance. I believe this falls far short of what is required to tackle this issue. The disparity between rich and poor is so stark that there needs to be immediate intervention from the Minister and his department. Our young people deserve the very best education we can provide which they are not receiving if they are not even making it through the school gates.”
In conclusion Mr McGimpsey said, “The Minister must live up to his statutory responsibility of providing a quality education for all our children and ensure immediate action is taken to increase school attendance in these vulnerable communities.”