Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Education Thomas Byrne TD has criticised Minister for Children Katherine Zappone for claiming that Tusla is ‘too busy’ to publish its data on school non-attendance and early school leaving in different areas of Dublin.

Deputy Byrne was responding to a refusal from Minister Zappone to a request for statistics on student’s non-attendance at school and early school leaving.

Deputy Byrne said, “Improving school attendance should be a key priority for the Government. I had hoped Minister Zappone would hold the reduction of early school leaving and non-attendance as a greater priority than her Fine Gael colleagues. Unfortunately it seems the issue isn’t even on her radar.

“While her Department collects data from every school in the country on non-attendance and early school leaving rates, they only publish this data on a county by county basis. Data published at this level is not much use for understanding how well policies, such as the School Completion Programme, are working to increase at-risk pupil’s attendance in school. Only publishing county-level averages hides the fact that schools in many disadvantaged areas have much higher non-attendance rates and early school leaving.

“The School Completion Programme, first introduced by Fianna Fáil in 2002, has been identified as a model of best practice by the EU and OECD as a targeted programme which increases retention rates in school and reduces educational disadvantage. However this programme was decimated by the previous Fine Gael led Government and is barely being kept on life-support by Tusla at present.

“The School Completion Programme experienced a drastic funding cut from €30m in 2010 to €24.7m in 2016. While there has been no cut in 2017, many interventions such as Summer Programmes, are no longer available for disadvantaged children due to the shortage in the Budget.

“Evidence from a ESRI report published last year paints a stark picture of the effects of the cuts to the programme on the most economically deprived areas of the country. The degree in which state supports are stretched is seriously compromising the programmes ability to reach children who are not attending school or who are at risk of dropping out,” concluded Deputy Byrne.