|Ireland's Education System|
Levels of Education
The Pre School and the
Primary Education System
Pre-School (up to age 4, approx)
School (ages 5 to 12)
Level (ages 13 to 18 approx)
Vocational Education (including apprenticeships, etc.)
Third Level Education (University, Institute of Technology, Regional Technical
College of Education for Teacher Training)
Post-Primary Education (Second Level)
Many children enrol in pre-school prior to the
age of five, with private Montessori schooling
gaining in popularity in recent years. There are
also a number of special schools for children of
travellers, inner city children and children with
special needs. Some grant aid is provided by
Health Boards towards the running of these pre
An Early Start programme was launched in 1995
with an aim of providing a formal structure for
pre-schoolers. This was intended to be closely
connected with primary schools and has been
implemented in some schools. One side effect of
this was to tighten up on regulations regarding
the running of many home-based pre-schools, with
the result that a number of these have now
Most children will then move on to Primary
school at about five years of age. The lower age
of enrolment is four and the upper is six. This
compares with an entry age between four and seven
throughout European Union countries.
There are over three thousand primary schools
serving five hundred thousand children throughout
the country. The schools are staffed by twenty
thousand teachers. Though this averages twenty
five students per teacher, the reality is that
many classes have as many as thirty five children each.
This is balanced by the many one and two-teacher
schools in rural areas. Indeed more than half of
all primary schools have four teachers or less.
In addition to these mainstream primary schools
there are over a hundred Special Schools and a
number of private primary schools. In recent
years there is an upsurge in interest in
Gaelscoileanna whose curriculum is conducted
entirely in Irish.
Funding for the mainstream schools, including
capital costs, salaries, etc., is predominantly
from the exchequer, but is topped up by local
contributions through parent committees. The
private schools receive no funding from the
state and the Gaelscoileanna must attain a
certain size before funding is forthcoming.
The primary school curriculum is established
on the advice of National Council for Curriculum
and Assessment and is overseen by the inspectors
of the Department of Education. The curriculum is
much changed from what many people will recall
and is based on the principles of "
and harmonious development of the child, with due
allowances made for individual differences; the
central importance of activity and
guided-discovery learning and teaching methods;
teaching and learning through an integrated
curriculum and through activities related to the
Over three hundred and fifty thousand students
receive post primary education in 450 secondary
schools, 250 vocational and about 100 other
schools. Nearly two thirds of students attend
secondary schools which are still, by and large,
owned and managed by religious communities.
However, with the drop off in intake into
these communities, the number of priests,
brothers and nuns actively involved in teaching
is a mere fraction of what is was in past years.
Indeed many of these schools have no religious at
all on teaching staff. Vocational schools are run
by the Vocational committees and cater for a
quarter of the post primary students.
Secondary schools receive ninety five percent
of their funding from the state with the
Vocational schools receiving ninety three
percent. The remaining schools, including
Community and Comprehensive schools are funded
individually by the state.
Secondary and Vocational schooling is free,
but the cost of books, local contributions and
much of extra curricular activities is met by
students and their families.
In some areas there is a waiting list for
entry to secondary schools, with preference being
allocated to students of the associated primary
school and the siblings of past pupils. A scheme
of entrance exams for assessment of incoming
students is employed by many schools and is
The curriculum comprises a three year
programme culminating with the
and a two
year cycle culminating with the Leaving
Certificate Examination. There is an optional
Transition Year between these two cycles which
can be taken by children of about fifteen years
of age. Not all schools offer Transition Year.
The Junior Certificate would equate somewhat
with Junior High in the USA or just under the
GCSE Levels in the UK. The curriculum introduces the
students to languages, including French, Spanish
and German; the Sciences, including Physics,
Chemistry, Biology; Business Studies, Domestic
Science, Art, Music, etc. Junior Cert students
must take Irish, English, Maths, History and
Geography along with a European language.
The requirement for Irish is waived for
children entering the country at more than eleven
years of age. Furthermore, unlike in the past,
failure in Irish does not fail the overall exam.
This also holds for the Leaving Cert.
Transition year is aimed at getting children
involved in projects in the community along with sampling a wide
range of academic subject areas. This
serves to help students mature and to select subjects carefully
and with confidence
for the forthcoming Leaving Cert programme.
The Leaving Certificate
programme has become
synonymous with the Points Race. Depending on the
standard attained in various subjects, a points
total will be earned. This total is compared with
the entry threshold of the University, Technical
Colleges and other third level institutions, and
places allocated accordingly. Students sit the
Leaving Cert at age 17 or 18.
The curriculum of the Leaving Cert follows
directly from the Junior Cert, with a small
number of subjects being discarded as the student
begins to specialise. Students must take five
subjects and most will take seven. These must
include Maths, English, Irish, and a European
language. Papers can be taken at higher or lower
level. An Honour can only be earned by attaining
an A, B or C in the higher paper. Grades are
further subdivided, for example A1, A2, A3, B1, B2, B3 etc., for
the allocation of points.
The Leaving Cert standard is approximately
equivalent to the UK A-level or the first year of
University in the USA.
Students sitting the Leaving Cert within the
studied five Leaving Certificate subjects,
including two from a set of vocational subjects, a
modern European language and three mandatory Link
The Applied Leaving Certificate is a two year
programme of general and vocational education and
training and caters for those students who do not wish to
follow the academic path. While qualification for
third level education cannot be attained by this
means the student can proceed to many Certificate
Vocational Education and
Post-Leaving Certificate Courses
Apart from the Universities and other third
level institutions, a number of educational and
training courses are offered through a number of
Post-Leaving-Certificate courses and
off-the-job training for apprentices is provided
in the Regional Technical Colleges, Institutes of
Technology and in F�S Training Centres.
Apprenticeship schemes operate within a number
of trades. Traditionally a young person entered
apprenticeship with little formal second level
schooling but now most apprentices will have
attained Leaving Cert level. Development is
through on-the-job training and is assessed
between the trade, the Trade Union, F�S and the
Community Training Workshops
The Youthreach programme provides two years
work experience, job placement and associated
education for those who leave school without
completing their formal education. The scheme is
typically operated by the VEC's and F�S.
Higher Education (Third
Community Training Workshops are for those in
their mid teens to mid twenties with little
schooling. The programme seeks to train people
while improving their literacy or numeracy
skills. The programme is run jointly with F�S
and the Vocational Education Committees.
A number of other programmes aimed at specific
groups within society are also in operation
There are over 50,000 students enrolled at
University, 35,000 at Technical College and
almost 1,000 at Teacher Training and other
There are four universities.
The National University of Ireland,
including UCD, UCG, UCC and St Patrick's
University of Dublin (Trinity College)
The University of Limerick
Dublin City University.
The Technological Colleges
UCD et al are more correctly referred to as
NUI-Dublin, etc. UL and DCU are the former
Limerick and Dublin NIHE's. Some of the
Regional Technical Colleges are also likely to be
granted University status in the near future.
Though the universities receive state funding
they are self governing and largely autonomous
Teacher Training Colleges
There are twelve
of which the Dublin
Institute of Technology with almost 10,000
students is the largest. It was formed through
the amalgamation in 1992 of six colleges operated
by the Dublin Vocational Education Committee.
Students have their degrees awarded by Trinity
Further Technical colleges with 25,000
students, are located at Athlone, Galway, Sligo,
Letterkenny, Cork, Waterford, Tralee, Dundalk,
Limerick, Castlebar and Carlow. The Technical
Colleges offer courses in Engineering, Computing,
Science, Business, Catering and a wide range of
other areas. Most courses lead to National
Certificates and Diplomas. A number of Degree
courses area also available.
Training for primary school teachers is
provided by five specialist teacher training
colleges. These are: St. Patrick's College,
Drumcondra, Church of Ireland Training College,
Rathmines, St. Marys, Marino, Froebel College,
Sion Hill (all in Dublin) and Mary Immaculate
College of Education in Limerick. A training programme of three years
culminates in the award of a Bachelor of Education degree.
Further information on Education may
be obtained from the Irish Government Website,
Dept of Education