Education in the Republic of Ireland
|Department of Education and Skills|
Education and Skills
|National education budget (2017)|
|Primary languages||English, Irish|
|Life in Ireland|
The levels of Ireland's education 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), which students are required to pay on registration, to cover examinations, insurance and registration costs.
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.
Under the penal codes, the Irish Catholics were not allowed to have schools. Instead they set up highly informal secret operations that met in private homes, called "hedge schools." Historians generally agree that they provided a kind of schooling, occasionally at a high level, for up to 400,000 students by the mid-1820s. J. R. R. Adams says the hedge schools testified “to the strong desire of ordinary Irish people to see their children receive some sort of education.” Antonia McManus argues that there “can be little doubt that Irish parents set a high value on a hedge school education and made enormous sacrifices to secure it for their children....[the hedge schoolteacher was] one of their own”. The penal laws were dropped in the 1790s, making the hedge schools legal although still not receiving government help or funding. Formal schools for Catholics under trained teachers began to appear after 1800. Edmund Ignatius Rice (1762-1844) founded two religious institutes of religious brothers: the Congregation of Christian Brothers and the Presentation Brothers. They opened numerous schools, which were visible, legal, and standardized. Discipline was notably strict.
Under the 1831 law establishing the National School system, public money became available. British government appointed the commissioner of national education whose task was to upgrade the quality of teaching and increase literacy in English. Hedge schools declined after 1831 as the Catholic bishops preferred this, as the new schools would be largely under the control of the Catholic Church and allow better control of the teaching of Catholic doctrine.
Students must go to school from ages 6 to 16 or until they have completed three years of second-level of education. 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." 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. 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|
|3||4||Level 4 Certificate|
|4||5||Level 5 Certificate|
|Short cycle within 1st||Higher Certificate|
|6||1st||7||Ordinary Bachelor's degree|
|8||Honours bachelor's degree|
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 play 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".
Irish language Naíonraí are growing rapidly across Ireland. Nearly 4,000 preschoolers attend 278 preschool groups.
- Junior Infants (age 4-5/5-6)
- Senior Infants (age 5-6/6-7)
- First Class (age 6-7/7-8)
- Second Class (age 7-8/8-9)
- Third Class (age 8-9/9-10)
- Fourth Class (age 9-10/10-11)
- Fifth Class (age 10-11/11-12)
- Sixth Class (age 11-12/12-13)
Children usually start at 9 a.m. and finish at 1.30 or 2.30 p.m in Junior & Senior infants. While older children finish at 3pm.
- First Year (age 12–14)
- Second Year (age 13–15)
- Third Year (age 14–16) – The Junior Certificate examination is sat in all subjects (usually 10 or 11) in early June. Many schools hold Mock Examinations (also known as Pre-Certificate Examinations) to prepare students for the exam situation around February. The mocks are not state examinations: independent companies provide the exam papers and marking schemes – and are therefore not mandatory across all schools.
- Transition Year sometimes called Fourth Year (age 15–17) – may be compulsory; optional or unavailable, depending on school.
- Fifth Year (age 16–18 or if transition year is skipped age 15–17)
- Sixth Year (age 17–19 or if transition year is skipped age 16–18) – The Leaving Certificate examinations begin on the first Wednesday after the June bank holiday every year. Many schools hold Mock Examinations (also known as Pre-Certificate Examinations) to prepare students for the exam situation around February. The mocks are not state examinations: independent companies provide the exam papers and marking schemes – and are therefore not mandatory across all schools.
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:
- ...as 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.
Types of school
- National schools date back to the introduction of state primary education in 1831. They are usually controlled by a board of management under diocesan patronage and often include a local clergyman. The term "national school" has of late become partly synonymous with primary school in some parts. Recently, there have been calls from many sides for fresh thinking in the areas of funding and governance for such schools, with some wanting them to be fully secularised.
- Gaelscoileanna are a recent movement, started in the mid 20th century. The Irish language is the working language in these schools and they can now be found countrywide in English-speaking communities. They differ from Irish-language national schools in Irish-speaking regions in that most are under the patronage of a voluntary organisation, Foras Pátrúnachta na Scoileanna Lán-Ghaeilge, rather than a diocesan patronage. Approximately 6% of primary school children attend Gaelscoils and approximately 3% attend Gaelcholáistí with 187 primary and post-primary schools across the country making it the fastest growing education sector.
- Multidenominational schools are another innovation. They are generally under the patronage of a non-profit limited company without share capital. They are often opened due to parental demand and students from all religions and backgrounds are welcome. Many are under the patronage of voluntary organisations such as Educate Together or An Foras Pátrúnachta. At least one proposed school has been approved under the patronage of the regional ETB, who generally run vocational secondary schools.
- Preparatory schools are independent, fee-paying primary schools that are not reliant on the state for funding. These typically serve to prepare children for entry to fee-paying independent or voluntary secondary schools. Most are under the patronage of a religious order.
|Type of school||Number (total: 3165)||Percentage of total (to 1d.p.)(citation needed)|
|Church of Ireland (Anglican)||180||5.7%|
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:
- Voluntary secondary schools, or just "secondary schools", are owned and managed by religious communities or private organisations. The state funds 90% of teachers' salaries and 95% of other costs. Such schools cater for 57% of secondary pupils.
- Vocational schools are owned and managed by Education and Training Boards, with 93% of their costs met by the state. These schools educate 28% of secondary pupils.
- Comprehensive schools or community schools were established in the 1960s, often by amalgamating voluntary secondary and vocational schools. They are fully funded by the state and run by local boards of management. Nearly 15% of secondary pupils attend such schools.
- Gaelcholáiste's or Gaelcholáistí are the second-level schools for the Irish-language medium education sector in English-speaking communities. Approximately 3% of secondary students attend these schools. (see Gaelscoileanna for the Irish language primary level sector).
- Grind Schools are fee paying privately run schools outside the state sector, who tend to run only the Senior Cycle curriculum for 5th and 6th Year students as well as a one-year repeat Leaving Certificate programme.
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.
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.
- The Junior Cycle builds on the education received at primary level and culminates with the Junior Certificate Examination. Students usually begin this at the age of 12 or 13. The Junior Certificate Examination is taken after three years of study and not before fourteen years of age. It consists of exams in English, Irish, maths and science (unless the student has an exemption in one of these) as well as a number of chosen subjects. This is typically a selection of subjects including Art, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Latin, Ancient Greek and Classical Studies, Music, Business Studies, Technology, Home Economics, Materials Technology (Woodwork, Metalwork), History, Geography, Civic Social and Political Education (CSPE), and Religious Education. The selection of optional and compulsory subjects varies from school to school. Most students take around ten examined subjects altogether. Other non-examined classes at Junior Cycle level include Physical Education and Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE).
- Transition Year is a one-year informal course taken by an increasing number of students usually ages 15 or 16. The content of this is left to the school to model on the local needs. It is compulsory in some schools but optional in others. Some schools do not offer it. Students may attend structured classes, but do not cover material relevant to the Senior Cycle or the Leaving Certificate exams, and therefore students who choose not to do this year are in no way academically disadvantaged when entering the Senior Cycle. The range of activities in Transition Year or Fourth Year differs greatly from school to school, but many include activities such as work experience placements, project work, international trips or exchanges and excursions. Students may participate in courses such as creative writing, sailing, film-making, public speaking and so on, or enter competitions in science, fashion, motor sport and others that would normally be too time-consuming for a full-time student. Proponents of TY believe that it allows students an extra year to mature, engage in self-directed learning, explore career options and to choose subjects for senior cycle (the results of the Junior Certificate examination do not become available until midway through September, by which time students not taking Transition Year will already have chosen their classes and begun attending). Opponents believe that a year away from traditional study and the classroom environment can distract students and cause problems when they return to the Senior Cycle. They also believe that the activities undertaken in TY prevent some students from enrolling in this year, as they can be costly and most schools charge a fee of a few hundred euro to cover these activities.
- The Senior Cycle builds on the junior cycle and culminates with the Leaving Certificate Examination. Students normally begin this aged 15–17 the year following the completion of the Junior Cycle or Transition Year. The Leaving Certificate Examination is taken after two years of study usually at the ages of 17-19.
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).
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.
Special needs education
The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) supports students with physical and intellectual disabilities. Some schools provide specific services to students with disabilities. 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.
Areas of Disadvantage
The Department of Education and Skills identifies disadvantaged schools and has schemes in place to provide additional assistance to them. Ireland's education system may seem free, but the truth is that it is not free at all. Most primary and secondary schools require uniforms and books, which come out of the pocket of the parents.
Holidays vary depending on the school. Generally primary and secondary get similar holidays. The year is broken up into three terms: from the first week of September or last week in August to the week before Christmas. From the week after New Year's Day to the week before Easter Sunday and from the week after Easter Sunday to the end of May/Start of 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. Some schools allow Transition students to finish even earlier than 1st 2nd and 5th Years as they don't have any Summer Examinations. 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.
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- List of fee-paying schools in Ireland
- List of universities in the Republic of Ireland
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