Education in the Republic of Ireland

Education in the Republic of Ireland

The 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: 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. Education in Ireland is free at all levels, including college (university).

The "Department of Education and Science", under the control of the 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 Batt O'Keeffe.


All children must receive compulsory education between the ages of six and fifteen years, inclusive. [Education (Welfare) Act, 2000 [ (Section 17)] ] The Constitution of Ireland allows this education to be provided in the home; [Article 42.2, , 1937] 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 minimum standards.

In 1973 the requirement to pass the Irish language in order to receive a second-level certificate was dropped [Richard Burke, Minister for Education [ announced at press conference on April 5, 1973] ] 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 learning difficulty.

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 a few in Irish.


Education is compulsory all for children in Ireland from the ages of six to 16 "or" until students have completed three years of second level education.

Four-year-olds and five-year-olds can enrolled in the Junior or Senior Infant classes if their parents wish.

Primary School ("Bunscoil")

*Junior Infants ("Naíonáin Sóisearach")
*Senior Infants ("Naíonáin Shinsearach")
*First Class ("Rang a h-Áon")
*Second Class ("Rang a Dó")
*Third Class ("Rang a Trí")
*Fourth Class ("Rang a Ceathar")
*Fifth Class ("Rang a Cúig")
*Sixth Class ("Rang a Sé")

econdary School ("Meánscoil")

Junior Cycle ("Timthriall Sóisearach")

*First Year ("An Chead Bliain")
*Second Year ("An Dara Bliain")
*Third Year ("An Tríú Bliain" - the "Junior Certificate" ("Teastas Sóisearach") examination is sat at the end of this year.)

Transition Year ("Idirbhliain")

*Transition Year ("Idirbhliain" - optional in some schools, compulsary in others)

enior Cycle ("Timthriall Shinsearach")

*Fifth Year ("An Cúigiú Bliain")
*Sixth Year ("An Séú Bliain" - the "Leaving Certificate" ("Ardteistiméireacht") examination is sat at the end of this year.)

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 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: [Chapter 1, [ Primary School Curriculum] , NCCA, 1999]

:" 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 although it is not compulsory until the age of 6. A minority of children start school at 3.

Types of school

Primary education is generally completed at a national school, a multidenominational school or a gaelscoil.
*National schools date back to the introduction of state primary education in the mid-19th century. 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 many wanting them to be fully secularised. [ [ RTÉ News (31 January 2007) - "Primary school principals gather in Dublin"] ]
*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". At least one proposed school has been approved under the patronage of the regional VEC, who generally run vocational secondary schools.

econdary education

Most students attend and complete secondary education, with approximately ninety percent of school-leavers taking the terminal 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.

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.
* The 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. It is compulsary in some schools, but optional in others.
* 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 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%. [ [ Measuring Ireland's Progress - 2007] ]

Ireland's secondary students rank above average in terms of academic performance in both the OECD and EU; having reading literacy, mathematic literacy and scientific literacy test scores better than average. Ireland has the second best reading literacy for teenagers in the EU, after Finland. [ [ Measuring Ireland's Progress - 2007] ]

Higher education

Higher (or third-level) education awards in Ireland are conferred by University of Dublin (Trinity College), Dublin City University, Dublin Institute of Technology, Higher Education and Training Awards Council, National University of Ireland, Waterford Institute of Technology and University of Limerick [Mary Immaculate College, Limerick] . These are the degree-awarding authorities approved by the Irish Government and can grant awards at all academic levels. 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.

Some colleges are "constituent" or "linked" colleges of universities, whilst others are designated institutions of the Higher Education and Training Awards Council. The latter include the "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 own name.

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 ECTS. The Bologna process and applied research are the current concerns of national educational policy, additional concerns include the structures of the 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 leavers transferring to third level exceeded 50% for the first time, as of 2005 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 services.

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" (omnibus entry) arts degrees, (Trinity College, Dublin and Dublin City University) do still offer Bachelor of Arts degrees in specific areas of study such as Drama Studies, Journalism, Latin, History, Japanese and 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. Dublin City University's de facto omnibus entry arts degree is offered by St. Patrick's College of Education (a college of DCU) and is titled "BA in Humanities".

Ireland also has 0.747 of the World's top 500 Universities per capitaclarifyme, which ranks the country in 8th place in the world [ [ World's top 500 Universities per capita] ] .There are six establishments of higher education in the Republic of Ireland which are ranked amongst the top 500 universities worldwide by the Times Higher Education Supplement [ [ Times Higher Education Supplement Top 500 Universities Worldwide 2006] ] (requires free registration) [ [ Ireland faces a university challenge] ] .

For medical education, please see under the article medical education.

Entry into Universities is normally done through the CAO or Central Applications Office. In this way, students wishing to enter university apply to the CAO rather than the individual university. Places in courses are usually awarded based on results in the Leaving Certificate Examination or any international equivalent. Each university has a minimum entry requirement, usually requiring a pass grade in either English or Irish, as well as maths. Some also require a pass grade in a modern continental European language (French, German, Spanish or Italian). Each individual course has further entry requirements, for example, science courses usually require a certain grade in one or two sciences. The student must also achieve the number of points required for the course under the points system. However, universities also have systems in place for accepting mature students, and students who have successfully completed a Post Leaving Certificate course.

Entry into third-level is generally very high in Ireland, and among young adults (those aged 25 to 34), 41.6% of them have attained third-level degrees - the second highest level in the EU after Cyprus, and substantially ahead of the average of 29.1%. [ [ Measuring Ireland's Progress - 2007] ]

Further education

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.

The "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.


ee also

*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

External links

* [ Union of Secondary Students of Ireland, representing Irish Second-level Students in all 32-counties]
* [ Higher Education Authority, Ireland]
* [ International Education Board Ireland]
* [ National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, Ireland]
* [ National Qualifications Authority of Ireland]
* [ Study in Ireland - - Information resource about education in Ireland]
* [,,8444-1266614,00.html The Sunday Times University Guide 2004 - Ireland]
* [ - Ireland's National Education Database]
* [ - Online Resource for Parents and Teachers in Ireland]
* [ UNESCO Education Provision in Ireland]

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