Education in the Republic of Ireland

Education in the Republic of Ireland
Department of Education and Skills
Minister for Education and Skills Richard Bruton
National education budget (2016)
Budget €9.069 billion
General details
Primary languages English, Irish
System type National
Compulsory education 1922
Literacy (2003)
Total 99 %
Male 99 %
Female 99 %
Total 1,091,632
Primary 544,696
Secondary 372,296
Post secondary 174,640
Secondary diploma 89%
Post-secondary diploma 47%

Life in Ireland

The levels of education in Ireland are primary, secondary and higher (often known as "third-level" or tertiary) education. In recent years further education has grown immensely. Growth in the economy since the 1960s has driven much of the change in the education system. For universities there are student service fees (up to €3,000 in 2015),[1] which students are required to pay on registration, to cover examinations, insurance and registration costs.[2][3]

The Department of Education and Skills, under the control of the Minister for Education and Skills, is in overall control of policy, funding and direction, while other important organisations are the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland, the Higher Education Authority, and on a local level the Education and Training Boards are the only comprehensive system of government organisation. There are many other statutory and non-statutory bodies that have a function in the education system. The current Minister for Education is Richard Bruton.


It is compulsory that all children receive education between the ages of five and sixteen years, and complete three years of post-primary education up to the age of eighteen.[4] Under the Constitution of Ireland, parents are not obliged "in violation of their conscience and lawful preference to send their children to schools established by the State, or to any particular type of school designated by the State."[5] However the parental right to home-educate his/her child has met legal contests over minimum standards in the absence of constitutional provision for State-defined educational standards.

In 1973 the Irish language requirement for a second-level certificate was abandoned.[6] However the Irish language remains a core subject taught in all public schools with exemptions given to individual pupils on grounds of significant periods lived abroad, or with learning difficulties etc.

While English is the primary medium of instruction at all levels in most schools across the state, Gaelscoileanna i.e. Irish-language schools, have become increasingly popular outside Gaeltacht regions where they have traditionally been. In these schools, Irish is the primary medium of instruction at all levels and English is taught as a second language starting in the second or third year of secondary school.

At third level, most university programs are through English with only a few Irish options. Some universities offer courses partly through French, German or Spanish.


EFQ level EHEA cycle NFQ level Major award types
1   1 Level 1 Certificate
2 Level 2 Certificate
2 3 Level 3 Certificate
Junior Certificate
3 4 Level 4 Certificate
Leaving Certificate
4 5 Level 5 Certificate
Leaving Certificate
5 6 Advanced Certificate
Short cycle within 1st Higher Certificate
6 1st 7 Ordinary Bachelor's degree
  8 Honours bachelor's degree
Higher diploma
7 2nd 9 Master's degree
Postgraduate diploma
8 3rd 10 Doctorate degree
Higher doctorate


Education is compulsory for all children in Ireland from the ages of six to sixteen or until students have completed three years of second level education and including one sitting of the Junior Certificate examination. Primary education commonly starts at four to five years old. Children typically enroll in a Junior Infant class at age four or five depending on parental wishes. Some schools enrollment policies have age four by a specific date minimum age requirements.


Most pre-schools in Ireland are in the private sector. Increasingly children of working parents, who are below school age, attend a myriad of crèches, play-schools, Montessori schools, etc, which have sprung up in response to the needs of modern families. These operate as businesses and may charge often substantial childcare fees. Since 2009, in response public demand for affordable childcare, children may receive two years free preschool the years prior to starting primary schools under the "Early Childcare and Education Scheme".[7]

Irish language Naíonraí are growing rapidly across Ireland. Nearly 4,000 preschoolers attend 278 preschool groups.

Primary School

Secondary School

Junior Cycle
Transition Year
Senior Cycle

Primary education

The Primary School Curriculum (1999) is taught in all schools. The document is prepared by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment and leaves to the church authorities (usually the Catholic Church but not universally) the formulation and implementation of the religious curriculum in the schools they control. The curriculum seeks to celebrate the uniqueness of the child:[9] it is expressed in each child's personality, intelligence and potential for development. It is designed to nurture the child in all dimensions of his or her life—spiritual, moral, cognitive, emotional, imaginative, aesthetic, social and physical...

The Primary Certificate Examination (1929–1967) was the terminal examination at this level until the first primary-school curriculum, Curaclam na Bunscoile (1971), was introduced, though informal standardised tests are still performed. The primary school system consists of eight years: Junior and Senior Infants, and First to Sixth Classes. Most children attend primary school between the ages of four and twelve although it is not compulsory until the age of six. A minority of children start school at three.

Virtually all state-funded primary schools — almost 97 percent — are under church control. Irish law allows schools under church control to consider religion the main factor in admissions. Oversubscribed schools often choose to admit Catholics over non-Catholics, a situation that has created difficulty for non-Catholic families. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva asked James Reilly, the Minister for Children at that time, to explain the continuation of preferential access to state-funded schools on the basis of religion. He said that the laws probably needed to change, but noted it may take a referendum because the Irish constitution gives protections to religious institutions. The issue is most problematic in the Dublin area. A petition initiated by a Dublin attorney, Paddy Monahan, has received almost 20,000 signatures in favour of overturning the preference given to Catholic children. A recently formed advocacy group, Education Equality, is planning a legal challenge.[10]

Types of school

Primary education is generally completed at a national school, a multidenominational school, a gaelscoil or a preparatory school.

As of 2010 mainstream primary schools numbered as follows:[15]

Type of school Number (total: 3165) Percentage of total (to 1d.p.)(citation needed)
Roman Catholic 2,884 91.1%
Church of Ireland (Anglican) 180 5.7%
Multi-denominational 73 2.3%
Presbyterian 14 0.4%
Inter-Denominational 8 0.3%
Muslim 2 0.1%
Methodist 1 <0.1%
Jewish 1 <0.1%
Quaker 4 <0.1%
Other/Unknown 1 <0.1%

Secondary education

Most students enter secondary school aged 12–13. Most students attend and complete secondary education, with approximately 90% of school-leavers taking the terminal examination, the Leaving Certificate, at age 16–19 (in 6th Year at secondary school). Secondary education is generally completed at one of four types of school:[16][17]

In urban areas, there is considerable freedom in choosing the type of school the child will attend. The emphasis of the education system at second level is as much on breadth as on depth; the system attempts to prepare the individual for society and further education or work. This is similar to the education system in Scotland. Although in 2012, the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) found Ireland to be 7th in reading and 20th in mathematics in a world survey at the age of 15.[18]

Some students opt for grinds to improve their grades.

Types of programme

The document Rules and Programme for Secondary Schools published by the Department of Education and Skills sets out the minimum standards of education required at this level. Examinations are overseen by the State Examinations Commission. Additional documents set out the standard in each element, module or subject.

Therefore, a typical secondary school will consist of First to Third Year (with the Junior Certificate at the end of Third), the usually optional Transition Year (though compulsory in some schools), and Fifth and Sixth Year (with the Leaving Cert. at the end of Sixth).

The vast majority of students continue from lower level to senior level, with only 12.3% leaving after the Junior Certificate. This is lower than the EU average of 15.2%.[20]

Ireland's secondary students rank above average in terms of academic performance in both the OECD and EU; having reading literacy, mathematical literacy and scientific literacy test scores better than average. Ireland has the second best reading literacy for teenagers in the EU, after Finland.[20]

Third-level education

Special needs education

The "Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004"[21] established the framework for the education of students with special needs.[22][23]

The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) supports students with physical and intellectual disabilities.[24][25] Some schools provide specific services to students with disabilities.[25] Students with dyslexia are offered additional supports were funding is available.

Special needs assistant

A Special Needs Assistant (SNA) is a teaching assistant who is specialised in working with young people in the classroom setting who require additional learning support due to disability.[26][27][28][29]

Areas of Disadvantage

The Department of Education and Skills identifies disadvantaged schools and has schemes in place to provide additional assistance to them.


Holidays vary depending on the school. Generally primary and secondary get similar holidays. The year is broken up into two terms: from the first week of September to the week before Christmas and from the week after New Year's Day to the last week in June. For 1st, 2nd and 5th Year secondary school students, their term finishes in the last week of May as they do not have state exams. There is a mid-term (one week off halfway during the school term) around the Halloween bank holiday, two weeks off for Christmas: generally the last week in December and the first week in January, another mid-term in February, two weeks off for Easter and summer holidays. Bank Holidays are also taken off. Primary schools usually have July and August off, while secondary schools have June, July and August off except for 3rd and 6th Years sitting State exams in the first three weeks of June.[30]

See also


  1. Citizenship Information
  2. "Undergraduate courses of not less than two years duration in colleges in List 1". Retrieved 2010-02-24. Student, information for Undergradute students
  3. "Fees FAQ". Retrieved 2010-02-24. University College Dublin, Administrative Services - Fees & Grants
  4. Education (Welfare) Act, 2000 (Section 17), archived
  5. Article 42.3.1, Constitution of Ireland, 1937
  6. Richard Burke, Minister for Education announced at press conference on 5 April 1973
  8. Transition Year Support Service
  9. Chapter 1, Primary School Curriculum, NCCA, 1999
  10. Catholic Church’s Hold on Schools at Issue in Changing Ireland The New York Times, January 21, 2016
  11. 1 2 Ownership of primary schools,
  12. 1 2 17 February 2007 - Minister Hanafin announces intention to pilot new additional model of Primary School Patronage, Department of Education and Science press release, 17 February 2007
  13. RTÉ News (31 January 2007) - Primary school principals gather in Dublin
  14. "Gaelscoileanna with a Multidenominational characteristic spirit". pp. Gaelscoileanna with a Multidenominational characteristic spirit.
  15. Mainstream National Primary Schools 2010-2011 School Year. Enrolment as on 30 September 2010, Statistic delivered by Department of Education and Skills website. Retrieved 29 March 2012. Archived 26 September 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
  16. "Types of post-primary school". Citizens Information Board. Retrieved 7 September 2009. External link in |publisher= (help)
  17. "Education Provision in Ireland" (PDF). UNESCO International Board of Education. 2001. Retrieved 7 September 2009.
  18. "Pisa tests: Top 40 for maths and reading". BBC News. 2015-10-14. Retrieved 2016-11-30.
  19. State Examinations Commission - Junior Certification
  20. 1 2 Measuring Ireland's Progress - 2007
  21. Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004, Act No. 30/2004 of 19 July 2004 (in English). Retrieved on 30 November 2016.
  22. "Dealing with special needs". The Irish Times. 25 October 2004. Retrieved 30 November 2016 via Highbeam Research. (subscription required (help)).
  23. Coulter, Carol (14 October 2004). "Solicitor says parents of the disabled have right to sue". The Irish Times. Archived from the original on 14 October 2004. Retrieved 30 November 2016 via Highbeam Research. (subscription required (help)).
  24. "NCSE - About".
  25. 1 2 "Rosmini Community School - Policy".
  26. "Special Needs Assistants". INTO.
  30. Krimpen, Jeroen van. "School holidays Ireland". Retrieved 2016-12-01.
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