THOUSANDS of primary pupils are missing at least 20 days of school each year, the Herald can reveal.
The latest figures from the Department of Education show that almost 12pc of primary students are registering more than 20 absences -- a significant increase on previous years.
While 49,482 students missed more than 20 days in the 2006/2007 academic year, this figure has jumped to 55,259 students in 2008/2009.
And one of Ireland's largest teachers' unions has today warned that the figures show the education system is "taking its eye off the real issues".
All primary schools are obliged to report absences to the Department of Education in "specific circumstances" -- such as when pupils miss at least 20 days or where they are suspended for at least six school days.
But President of the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) Bernie Ruane told the Herald that the issue of absences was "one of the most serious".
"We've found that one the big reasons for high absenteeism is the lack of year heads now in schools. Each school year at both primary and second level should have a year head.
"They play a vital role in ensuring children are motivated to go to school and also are integral in communicating regularly with parents.
"Of course, social problems have increased with the recession and for many children it is difficult to find a responsible adult or guardian. The bottom line is schools have a responsibility to motivate children and its that sense of motivation that keeps their attendance high."
Fine Gael TD Pat Deering, who obtained the figures through a parliamentary question, told the Herald that thousands of children are losing out on "vital days of education".
"I want to see the minister treating this issue seriously," he added.