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Republic of Ireland's education system is quite similar
to that of most other western countries. There are three
distinct levels of education in Ireland:
higher (often known as third-level or tertiary)
education. In recent years
further education has grown immensely. Growth in the
economy since the
has driven much of the change in the education system.
Department of Education and Science, under the control
Minister for Education and Science, is in overall control of
policy, funding and direction, whilst other important
organisations are the
National Qualifications Authority of Ireland and the
Higher Education Authority, on a local level
Vocational Education Committees are the only comprehensive
system of government organisation. There are many other
statutory and non-statutory bodies which have a function in the
education system. The current Minister for Education is Ms
All children must receive compulsory education between the
ages of six and fifteen years, inclusive.
Constitution of Ireland allows this education to be provided
in the home;
this has caused much legal wrangling for years as to the minimum
standards required for home education since the constitution
does not explicitly provide for the State to define these
In 1973 the requirement to pass the
Irish language in order to receive a
second-level certificate was dropped
although a student attending a school which receives public
money must be taught the language. Certain students may get an
exemption from learning Irish; these include students who have
spent a significant period of time abroad or students with a
English is the primary
medium of instruction at all levels, except in
Gaelscoileanna: schools in which Irish is the working
language and which are increasingly popular. Universities also
offer degree programmes in diverse disciplines, taught mostly
through English, with some in Irish.
The Primary School Curriculum (1999) is taught in all
schools. The document is prepared by the National Council for
Curriculum and Assessment and is perhaps unusual in leaving
to church authorities 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 standardized tests are still
performed. The primary school system consists of eight years:
Junior and Senior Infants (corresponding to
kindergarten), and First to Sixth Classes. Most children
attend primary school between the ages of 4 and 12.
Types of school
Primary education is generally completed at a
multidenominational school, or
national school. Some Multidenominational schools and
gaelscoileanna are actually national schools themselves.
However, despite the various types of primary school in
existence, the parent often has little or no choice in choosing
the type of school appropriate for the child, due to a lack of
choice of type of school available in the locality. This is
becoming an issue in areas with a lot of immigration, where
there are increasing numbers of non-Catholic families but only
Catholic-ethos schools available.
National schools date back to the introduction of
state primary education in the mid-19th
century. They are usually controlled by a board of
patronage and often include a local clergyman. The term
national school has of late become partly synonymous
primary school in some parts.
- While Gaelteacht areas have always had
Irish language National and Secondary schools,
Gaelscoileanna are a very recent innovation, started
only late in the 20th century. The Irish language is the
working language in these schools and they can now be found
countrywide. They differ from Irish-language National
Schools in that most are under the patronage of a voluntary
organisation, Foras Pátrúnachta na Scoileanna
Lán-Ghaeilge, rather than a diocesan patronage.
Multidenominational schools are another recent
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 a voluntary organisation, Educate Together.
Most students attend and complete secondary education, with
approximately ninety percent of school-leavers taking the
examination, the Leaving Certificate. Secondary education is
generally completed at a
community school, a
comprehensive school, a
vocational school or a
voluntary secondary school.
In urban areas, there is great freedom in choosing the type
of school the child will attend. The education system emphasis
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.
In Nov 2006,for the first time, all 720 secondary schools
were profiled in a book by Colm Murphy and Daniel McConnell.
The Sunday Times Guide to Secondary Schools in Ireland,
a Definitive Guide for Parents was launched despite stiff
opposition from the teachers unions and the Department of
Education. The book went on to be a best-seller.
Types of programme
The document Rules and Programme for Secondary Schools
published by the Department of Education and Science 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. The Junior
Certificate Examination is taken after three years of study
and not before fourteen years of age.
Transition Year is a one-year informal course which
is taken by an increasing number of students. The content of
this is left to the school to model on the local needs often
focusing on work placement and related projects.
- The Senior Cycle builds on the junior cycle and
culminates with the
Leaving Certificate Examination. The Leaving
Certificate Examination is taken after at least two years of
study after the Junior Certificate Examination.
Therefore, a typical secondary school will consist of First
to Third Year (with the Junior Cert. 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).
Higher (or third-level) education awards in Ireland are
Dublin City University,
Dublin Institute of Technology,
Higher Education and Training Awards Council,
National University of Ireland,
University of Dublin and
University of Limerick. These are the degree-awarding
authorities approved by the
Irish Government and can grant awards at all academic
Pontifical University of Maynooth is essentially a private
university established by the
Roman Catholic Church - there is no requirement in the
law of Ireland to recognise its degrees. The
King's Inns of
Dublin has a limited role in education specialising in the
preparation of candidates for the degree of
barrister-at-law to practice as barristers.
colleges are constituent or linked colleges of
universities, whilst others are designated institutions of
the Higher Education and Training Awards Council. The latter
Institutes of Technology, Colleges of Education,
and other independent colleges. Some colleges have delegated
authority from the Higher Education and Training Awards
Council, this allows them to confer and validate awards in their
Some institutions such as the
University of Limerick and
Dublin City University have completed a process of
modularizing their courses (others are still in a transition
phase), mostly using the
Bologna process and
applied research are the current concerns of national
educational policy, additional concerns include the structures
National University of Ireland and
Trinity College, Dublin.
The Marks & Standards document, offered by most
institutions, can be consulted for information on the range and
criteria set down for awards, while programme specifications
offer additional information. In contrast to practice in the
rest of the education system, entry tends to be highly
competitive for school leavers; the so called "Points
Race". In 2001 the percentage of school levers transferring
to third level exceeded 50% for the first time, as of
it is in excess of 55% and expected to grow at approximately 1%
per annum for the next decade.
Under the "Free Fees Initiative" the
Exchequer will pay the
tuition fees of students who meet relevant course,
nationality and residence requirements as set down under the
initiative. A "registration fee" of approximately €800, at the
start of the academic year, is payable on most courses; this fee
is intended to cover student examinations, registration and
All but two of the seven universities in the Republic of
Ireland offer "open" (omnibus entry)
Bachelor of Arts degrees through the
CAO where the student can choose their specialisation after
their first year of study. The two universities that do not
offer "open" arts degrees, (Trinity
College, Dublin and
Dublin City University) do still offer Bachelor of Arts
degrees in specific areas of study such as
International Relations. In one, (Trinity
College, Dublin, the student wishing to do an arts degree
must apply to the college naming a viable combination of two
"arts" subjects, such as French and Philosophy, and in the final
year the student must choose one of the two to focus solely on.
The subdegree awards still maintain an important and
respected position in Ireland. The pattern of
academic degrees is similar to that found in most other
Bachelor's degree at first level,
Master's degree, and
Designatory titles and the abbreviations used for degrees
generally follow international style, particularly American and
British. Since most Bachelor's and Master's degrees are awarded
with honours the abbreviations do not include this distinction -
thus Hons is never used.
Ortelius level 1
Certificate (HETAC) is a one-year course and is generally an
introductory, foundation or skills-based qualification. It is
awarded exclusively by the Higher Education and Training Awards
Council (HETAC). The certificate will not be awarded after June
National Certificate (NCert) and
National Diploma (NDip) have been by far the most common
awards at this level and cover a wide variety of disciplines. It
was announced in July 2004 that these awards would be replaced
Higher Certificate and Ordinary Bachelor Degree
respectively in 2005.
Ortelius level 2
The Ordinary Bachelor Degree, a three year
ab initio course, is generally only offered by the
University of Dublin or a College of Education; usually a
Bachelor in Arts or
Bachelor of Education respectively.
The Honours Bachelor Degree, generally a three or four
year ab initio course, is offered in a wide variety of
science, and is offered by default in many colleges and all
Ortelius level 3
Graduate Diploma or
Higher diploma is a taught course often requiring a
research dissertation. The course is often offered as a
reorientation or professional qualification required
for entry into professions such as teaching or other professions
requiring the acquisition of new skills after graduation.
Master's degree is awarded as either a
research or a taught degree, or a combination of both. It is
often awarded after the completion of a Bachelor's Degree or a
Graduate Diploma and takes between one and three years.
Unusually the degree is generally awarded at honours level.
Doctorate degree is generally offered after original
research. The most common is the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy. Some degrees are particularly
indigenous such as the Degree of Doctor of Celtic Studies
which is offered by the
National University of Ireland.
Further education was for many years the "poor relation" of
education. There were many different, often poorly defined,
awards offered by a multitude of bodies, both ad-hoc and
statutory. Typical areas included
apprenticeships, childcare, farming, retail, and tourism.
These are typically areas of the economy that do not depend on
multinational investment and recognition.
Further Education and Training Awards Council confers
awards in the extra-university system. Further education has
expanded immensely in recent years helped by the institutions,
and because of this the type and range of these awards have been
formalized to restore confidence.
Education (Welfare) Act, 2000
Constitution of Ireland, 1937
Richard Burke, Minister for Education
announced at press conference on April 5, 1973
Primary School Curriculum, NCCA, 1999
Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition
List of universities in the Republic of Ireland
National Institute for Higher Education
Regional Technical College
List of Ireland-related topics
Higher Education Authority, Ireland
International Education Board Ireland
National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, Ireland
National Qualifications Authority of Ireland
Learning.ie - Information resource about education in
The Sunday Times University Guide 2004 - Ireland
Learningireland.ie - Ireland's National Education Database
UNESCO Education Provision in Ireland
Education in the Republic of Ireland