Some 4,500 children did not return to school classrooms when they reopened following Covid closures last year, official data shows.
Figures provided by social services and the Department of Education to The Irish Times show most of these children (57 per cent) did not return for Covid-19 reasons.
This may include children who have high-risk medical conditions or who are living with vulnerable family members.
The remainder (43 per cent or 1,980) did not return for a variety of other reasons such as dropping out of school or entering further education and training or employment.
Schools have indicated that these numbers – collected in October and November last year – have since reduced as more learners returned due to supports being offered or because parents who had concerns felt it safe to return their child to school.
Tusla, which monitors school attendance, also said the volume of referrals it received for students with poor or non-attendance is similar to previous years.
However, there is concern over the number of children who may not be in receipt of any formal education because they are cocooning with vulnerable parents or siblings.
Very high risk
Under Department of Education guidelines, schools are permitted to provide remote teaching to about 700 students who are medically certified as being at very high risk.
Pupils who live with highly vulnerable family members have no such entitlement.
Ombudsman for Children Dr Niall Muldoon expressed alarm over the plight of these “forgotten families” who are fearful of bringing Covid-19 into the home.
“Some of these children are doing their Leaving Certificate exams and they are missing out despite a solution being close to hand for the department. This issue needs to be addressed without delay,” he told The Irish Times.