Education system in Eire

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Main Page - Education systems by country - Eire


The formal education system is traditionally divided into three phases, namely primary, secondary and third level, that correspond to different stages in a person’s life. In each phase, there are both private and state funded facilities available.

Under the terms of the Education Welfare Act, education is compulsory between the ages of 5 and 16. Although under the Constitution of Ireland, an individual has the right for this education to be provided in the home. At primary and secondary level, education is provided free of charge in state funded schools. The curriculum for primary and secondary education is prepared by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment. Primary and secondary schools are inspected by the inspectorate, members of the department, who ensure that education provision is adequate.

Age in years Phase
0 to 4 Early Learning A White paper on Early Childhood Education, entitled Ready to Learn, has set out a detailed strategy for the development of this area. It is intended that a quality framework will be established in the future. At present, provision is solely private and includes child minders and nurseries.
5 to 12 Primary In state funded schools, children can attend gaelscoileanna or national schools. In the gaelscoil, everything is taught through the medium of the Irish language. Private schools, which currently number around 50, are not subject to inspection.
13 to 15 Junior Cycle Secondary education can be completed at a community school, a comprehensive school, a vocational school, a community college or a voluntary secondary school. The Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools set out the minimum standards of education required. Students are tested at the end of this three-year cycle and sit an examination called the Junior Certificate, overseen by the State Examinations Commission.
15 to 16 Transition Year Instead of proceeding directly to the senior cycle, students have the option of participating in a non-academic year. Here they gain work experience and explore subjects without the pressure of the examination system.
15 to 17 or

16 to 18

Senior Cycle During their last two years at school, students study for the Leaving Certificate. This consists of seven subjects, six of which are taken into account for access to courses in third level.
19 to 25 Adult Academic study is focused on universities. Vocational training is concentrated in the Institutes of Technology. A number of private colleges have developed offering mainly business qualifications.
26 plus ‘Mature students’ had a relatively low level of participation in the last century. A White Paper on Adult Education, named Learning for Life, has set about expanding learning options and providing a wider range of choice.

Educational Alternatives

The Constitution of Ireland does not dictate that education must be provided in a formal school setting. The constitution does not require for the State to define any minimum standards for those receiving alternative education. In Ireland, parents can make alternative arrangements regarding their child’s education, such as:

  • Home schooling
  • or paying for them to attend private schools, such as Montessori schools. At second level, the pressure to secure places leads to students attending private schools that are very examination focused and operate on the sole goal of attaining maximum grades at the Leaving Certificate.


Dept. of Education (1923) Rules and programme for secondary schools, Dublin: Stationary Office.

Dept. of Education and Science (1999) Ready to learn: White Paper on Early Childhood Education, Dublin: Stationary Office.

Dept. of Education and Science (2000) Learning for life: White Paper on adult education, Dublin: Stationary Office.

Ireland (1999) Bunreacht na hÉireann (Constitution of Ireland) , Dublin: Government Publications Sales Office.

Useful links

The Department of Education and Science
This official government site provides a large amount of information about the educational system in Ireland. (Visited 4-July-05)

The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment
This site provides information regarding the curriculum provided at primary and secondary level in Ireland. (Visited 4-July-05)

The State Examinations Commission
This site give further information on the examinations system in Ireland and provides an account of how the Junior and Leaving Certificates are conducted. (Visited 4-July-05)

UNESCO-Education Provision in Ireland
An account of the provision of education in Ireland is available as a pdf file in the International section. (Visited 4-July-05)

Wikipedia – Education in Ireland
This entry within the Wikipedia provides an overview of education in Ireland, including sections on: primary education, secondary education, higher education and external links. (Visited 4-July-05)