What the principals said

Mary Harbinson – principal of St Mary’s Primary in Belfast’s Divis Street:

“It is very unfortunate that the figures given include the attendance figures for extremely nomadic pupils who attend our school for short periods of perhaps only a few days in a term.

“These figures greatly detract from the true attendance figures of the children, both traveller and non-traveller, who attend our school for their entire primary school career.

“We have very many pupils who have attendance of over 90% and several who have maintained 100% attendance.

“Our attendance figures continue to improve year on year through the development of home-school partnerships, liaison with the EWO service and increased parental involvement.

“Our recent inspection reported stated that St Mary’s was a good school with many wonderful qualities.

“We would hope that the way in which attendance figures are gathered would be further developed to reflect more fully the culture and traditions of our pupils and address the barriers to attendance encountered by some marginalised sections of our community.”

Paul Bell – principal of Botanic Primary, Belfast:

“Along with my board of governors we have approached the Department of Education regarding what might be perceived as a very bland – out of context – reporting of figures.

“We have a number of pupils from the Roma community – 32 on our last census figures – and they have been given ‘traveller status’ when reporting figures for our annual census.

“These pupils severely impact on our attendance percentages to the extent that the governors now require me to report three sets of figures to them. These are a figure for the school as a whole, a figure for those from the Roma community and a figure excluding those from the Roma community

“Currently our overall percentage attendance figure for the school is 87.6%. Figure excluding Roma children is 92.1%.

“As a school we have been proactive in addressing our attendance percentage in all categories – thus the rise this year.

“We have introduced an Induction and Intensive Support Class (IISC) for those pupils in P4 to P7 who have barriers to learning, many because they have never attended school before.

“The governors and staff agreed that some form of nurture class needed to be created with its primary objective being to address the barriers to learning that would enable Roma pupils to more effectively access and engage with the educational process.

“I can confirm that as a result of the introduction of this class in January 2011, pupils involved have mostly demonstrated very markedly improved attendance.

“This involves Roma pupils spending most of their time in the IISC. The pupils return to their own year groups each day for ICT, PE, Art and any other subject or area that they can understand with limited language. They also return to their own chronological year groups each afternoon.

“The aims of this class are that the pupils will have an opportunity to develop confidence and self-esteem, understand and comply with basic classroom and school rules, develop social fluency, improve their basic literacy skills and extend their basic oral skills and learn about basic hygiene and gain essential life skills.

“We are an accredited international school and our classrooms are vibrant and productive. We are a school that pupils want to attend. I might also add that my staff are excellent and the children really appreciate them.

“We have also provided an incentive – notably an additional educational trip earlier this year for those with very good attendance. We would aim to repeat this or some other reward later this year.”

John Lewis – principal of Newtownabbey Community High in Co Antrim

“Our whole school attendance has risen from 83.7% in 2011 to 88.2% as of May 23rd, 2012 and the percentage of pupils with attendance below 85% has dropped from 46% to 27% during the same period. Half of our current pupils are entitled to free school meals.

“The school identified attendance and punctuality as two key targets for this year’s work and have carried out three attendance projects during the year.

“Prizes and support were given from our Business and Community Partner Chesapeake for the first of these. The school offered a draw with five big prizes (Kindles, mobile phone, £50 sports voucher) as an incentive for an unbroken block of attendance.

“This was followed from Christmas to Easter with another four week project with pupils having the opportunity to receive one of 10 £20 Abbeycentre vouchers.

“A final project in the summer term saw all 100% attenders over a six week period being taken out of school for the day. Fifty went to Ibrox and Hampden Park for a football coaching session and 30 attended Todd’s Leap Activity Centre in Co Tyrone.

“In addition the school has revamped its canteen and pupil relaxation areas with new seating and décor including table tennis tables and a pool table to entice pupils in early morning and to make the school a more attractive and welcoming environment.

“A non-suspension policy coupled with all staff being trained in restorative work has meant that pupils remain in school. Suspensions have dropped from 47 in 2011 to three this year (as of May 23rd).

“The school, as a result of the above improvements, is anticipating much improved GCSE grades this summer from its Year 12 cohort.

“It is interesting to note that this group in their Year 11 between September and December achieved 77% attendance. For the same period this year, this rose to 87% which would indicate that the young people are more engaged with and committed to their school.”