The enforcement of school attendance under the existing legislation, the School Attendance Act, 1926, is not arranged on a county basis. Under this Act responsibility for the enforcement of school attendance rests with the school attendance committees in Dublin City, Cork City, Waterford City and the County Borough of Dun Laoghaire/Blackrock, and the Garda for the remainder of the country.
My Department gathers a range of data annually in its primary school census, including the destination of those who have left the school since the previous year. All census data is presented at a school, rather than an individual pupil, level. Based on 1999/2000 returns submitted by school authorities, some nine pupils in County Kilkenny left education. School principals were unable to give the destination of a further eight pupils.
I can assure the Deputy that I share his concern about non-school attendance and early school leaving. It is for this reason that my Department has initiated a programme comprising both legislative measures and special targeted initiatives to combat the problem of non-school attendance and early school leaving.
The recently enacted Education Welfare Act, 2000, will replace and reform current school attendance legislation. The Act provides for the introduction of a comprehensive school attendance service with responsibility for school attendance being given to a newly established body – the National Educational Welfare Board. Every school will maintain a school register and will enter details of every child enrolled in the school and their attendance at that school. An educational welfare officer will be assigned to every school for the purposes of the Act. The Act requires schools to draw up school attendance strategies in order to promote regular attendance and to foster an appreciation of learning amongst the students. The strategy will focus on arrangements for the identification of children who are at risk of dropping out of school at an early stage so that appropriate interventions may be put in place. The board will also assist schools in discharging their responsibilities under the Act.