I propose to take Questions Nos. 222, 223 and 225 to 228, inclusive, together.
The Education (Welfare) Act 2000 replaced the School Attendance Acts 1926 to 1967 and provides a new regulatory framework to protect the rights of all children to at least a minimum education. The Act provides a comprehensive new framework for promoting regular school attendance and tackling the problems of absenteeism and early school leaving. All sections of the Act are now commenced.
The Act provides for the establishment of the National Educational Welfare Board as the single national body with responsibility for encouraging and supporting regular school attendance. The board has responsibility for ensuring that every child aged six to 16 years attends a recognised school or otherwise receives an appropriate minimum education. The board is required to advise and assist parents who are experiencing difficulty in ensuring that their children attend school regularly and must also assist schools in meeting their obligations under the Act.
Where a child is not attending school or is not otherwise in receipt of an appropriate education, the board will investigate the case and establish reasons for non-attendance. It will then work collaboratively with the family, the school and others concerned with the child's welfare with a view to resolving the situation. The board also has the legal power to compel a parent to send his-her child to school. However, this power will only be used where all other measures have failed and where the board is of the view that the parent has not made all reasonable efforts in this regard.
The board also has responsibilities in relation to children who are educated outside of a recognised school and children aged 16 and 17 years who leave school to take up employment. The position in relation to out of school schemes such as youthreach, which are open to 15 year olds as mentioned by the Deputy, is being considered jointly by my Department and the NEWB at present. To discharge its responsibilities, the board will develop a nationwide service that is accessible to schools, parents-guardians and others who are concerned with the welfare of young people. For this purpose, educational welfare officers or EWOs will be appointed and deployed throughout the country to provide a welfare focused service to support regular school attendance and discharge the board's functions locally.