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27/02/2008 :: Northern Ireland :: The Irish Examiner
Bullying, or poor relations with teachers, are more likely to cause pupils to miss a lot of school than attitudes at home, which have previously been blamed, research has found.
The point was made in presentations to the first national conference on school attendance yesterday, where focus was placed on ways of engaging pupils more in class.
Professor John Dwyfor Davies of the University of the West of England outlined work in Bristol through interviews with students who have persistent poor attendance, education welfare officers, parents and teachers. He said that contrary to much of the previous literature the students tended not to come from families with a history of non-attendance.
"There was no evidence from the views expressed by parents of an anti-school or anti-education culture in the home. This is in sharp contrast to some of the evidence of earlier researchers," he said. "All the parents were eager for their children to attend school and felt they themselves had been deprived of education," said Prof Davies.
Students spoke about relationships with teachers in terms of mutual respect and being treated in an adult fashion. While male students had more problems with school staff than with their own peers, the opposite was the case for girls.
"Bullying and intimidation by other students was seen as a problem for many students interviewed, and often precedes the decision not to attend," said Prof Davies.
Research carried out by Ipsos MORI at 10 Irish primary and second level schools to explore factors which impact on school attendance was also discussed.
The company's associate director, Emmet Ó Briain, said that, in contrast to popular stereotypes, parents were engaged in and committed to the solution of their children's attendance problems.
"The schools involved were equally committed to tackling non-attendance and engaging with students. This belies the stereotype of all schools as exam factories were concerned only with academic success," he said.
The National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB), which organised the event, has begun developing guidelines on attendance strategies for Irish schools.
"The first step to ensuring that children actually come to school is to ensure they have a sense of belonging to school, that they like it and see its relevance to their future," said NEWB director of educational welfare services Nuala Doherty.