Overview of the Irish education system
Education is compulsory for children in Ireland from the ages of six to 16 or until students have completed three years of second-level education.
The Irish education system is made up of primary, second, third-level and further education. State-funded education is available at all levels, unless you choose to send your child to a private institution.
Pre-school education is usually provided by privately funded childcare facilities or providers. The Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Scheme provides a free year of early childhood care and education for children of pre-school age. Some pre-school initiatives focused on children at risk are funded by the Department of Education and Skills.
Primary (first-level) education
Children do not have to attend school until the age of six but it is usual for children to begin school the September following their fourth birthday. Four-year-olds and five-year-olds are enrolled in the junior or senior infant classes.
The curriculum for primary education covers the following key areas:
Language, mathematics, social, environment and scientific education, arts education including visual arts music and drama, physical integration, social personal and health education.
Primary schools are generally privately owned by religious communities (or boards of governors) but are State-funded.
Second-level education is provided by different types of post-primary schools. That is, secondary, vocational, community and comprehensive schools. Secondary schools are privately owned and managed. In most cases the trustees are religious communities or boards of governors. Vocational schools are established by the State and administered by vocational education committees. Community and comprehensive schools are managed by boards of management of differing compositions.
Second-level education consists of a three-year junior cycle followed by a two-year or three-year senior cycle depending on whether an optional Transition Year is taken following the Junior Certificate examination.
Students generally commence the junior cycle at the age of 12. The Junior Certificate is taken after three years.
Transition Year follows the Junior Certificate examination. This year is free from formal examinations and allows students to experience a wide range of educational inputs, including work experience.
During their final two years in the senior cycle, students take one of three programmes, each leading to a State examination - the established Leaving Certificate, the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme or the Leaving Certificate Applied.
The established Leaving Certificate is the main basis upon which places in universities, institutes of technology and colleges of education are allocated.
The Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme differs from the established Leaving Certificate in placing a concentration on technical subjects and including additional modules which have a vocational focus.
The Leaving Certificate Applied Programme has as its primary objective the preparation of participants for adult and working life through relevant learning experiences. These aim to develop the following areas of human endeavour: spiritual, intellectual, social, emotional, aesthetic and physical.
The Leaving Certificate Applied is not recognised for direct entry to third-level courses but it can enable students to take Post-Leaving Certificate courses.
Third-level education is made up of a number of sectors. The university sector, the technological sector and the colleges of education are substantially funded by the State. In addition there are a number of independent private colleges.
There are seven universities, which are autonomous and self-governing. They offer degree programmes at bachelor, masters and doctorate level.
The technological sector includes institutes of technology which provide programmes of education and training in areas such as business, science, engineering, linguistics and music to certificate, diploma and degree levels. The Department of Education and Skills has overall responsibility for the sector.
The colleges of education specialise in training for first-level teachers. They offer a three-year bachelor of education degree and a postgraduate diploma.
The training of second-level teachers usually involves completing a primary degree in university or other third-level institution followed by a one-year higher diploma in education. In addition, there are colleges of education that specialise in the training of second-level home economics teachers, teachers of religion and physical education.
Further and adult education
Further education comprises education and training which takes place after second-level schooling but which is not part of the third-level system. It includes programmes such as Post-Leaving Certificate courses; the Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme (second-chance education for the unemployed); programmes in Youthreach for early school-leavers; other literacy and basic education; and self-funded evening adult programmes in second-level schools.
Special needs education for students with disabilities
Educational provision for students with special educational needs ranges from additional support in mainstream schools to specialist support in special schools. A student with a disability may be enrolled in a:
- Mainstream class with additional support
- Special class in a mainstream school or
- Special school which caters for the students with his or her category of disability.