Schools report ‘huge’ student absenteeism when reopening after Christmas

Many schools reopening today after the Christmas break are reporting record low attendance as students stay away for Covid reasons.

Primary and secondary schools say pupil numbers are down on average by about 30 percent due to fears of families self-isolating or returning to class given the level of COVID-19 in the community.

Schools are also reporting that enforced teacher absenteeism is also running on an average of around 20 per cent due to Covid reasons.

However, most principals who spoke to The Irish Times said they had managed to find temporary replacement covers and did not have to send classes home.

Brian Collins, principal of Scoil Naum Fechin in Termonfekin, Co Louth, said student absenteeism has reached record highs.

“We have 83 students out of 290 absent. I have been here for 37 years and this is unprecedented. We have never seen so many students absent in a day,” he said.

“The explanation we are being given is that families are ending the period of isolation, or many families are sick or parents are waiting for their children to be vaccinated. I hope we are back at a better level by next Monday’s appearance.”

Collins said an online survey of 36 elementary schools in the Louth-Meath area this morning found similar levels of student absenteeism ranging from 25 to 35 percent. Due to shortage of staff, a school in the area has asked students to stay at home.

“This is a good sign because it shows that schools are managing to deal with teacher absenteeism,” Mr Collins said.

Second Level

At the second level, school principals reported similar patterns of non-attendance and greater challenges in finding teaching staff.

Barbara Ennis, principal of Alexandra College in Dublin 6, said student absenteeism reached a record high today.

“We have 198 absentees out of 600 students. I’ve never seen so many outside. We have a very good attendance rate here but this is the worst case ever,” she said.

Staffing was also a challenge, he said, adding that 12 teachers could not attend due to Covid reasons.

“It’s all been hands on deck. Everyone is being asked to supervise or teach classes; we’ve brought in extra people and brought in people. Too bad a nightmare…

“If it becomes uncontrollable, then we have to focus on being online. As of now, we are determined to move forward as best we can.”

Louis Tobin, principal of St. Joseph’s Primary School in Tipperary city, said that the main reason for concern over Kovid is parents keeping their children out of school.

“Our attendance is 33 per cent less. The only day when we had a high number of absences was the day of the recent storm,” she said.

“Other principals in Tipperary area locally say that 30 to 40 per cent students are out.

“We know of very few students who are in close contact. We can’t say for sure why attendance is so low, but there may be a certain level of caution and families are taking their own decisions.”

He said that the absenteeism of staff was also running between 25 to 50 per cent on an average, teachers were not able to attend school due to covid reasons.

While schools struggled to find replacement covers, he said most managed to avoid sending classes home.

“A school in the area has had to send three classes home,” she said.

‘Horrible’

Linda Dennehy, principal of Skoil Lossagne Children’s School in Mallow, Co., Cork, said student attendance also dropped by about a third.

While six staff members at the school were unable to attend due to Covid reasons, he said the school managed to find cover by either re-hiring existing staff or finding short-term alternatives.

“We are expecting the beginning of the middle of next week to be awesome. There are a lot out there now and even more staff and students will end up in close contact next week.

“However, our employees have been fantastic at stepping up and making holes where they are. They are nervous, like we all are, but we are happy to be back in school,” she said.