kids encyclopedia robot

Education in the Republic of Ireland facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
Quick facts for kids
Education in Ireland
Department of Education
Department of Further and Higher Education
Minister for Education Norma Foley
National education budget (2017)
Budget €9.527 billion
General details
Primary languages Irish, English
System type National
Compulsory education 1922
Literacy (2003)
Total 99%
Male 99%
Female 99%
Total 1,091,635
Primary 544,696
Secondary 372,296
Post secondary 174,640
Secondary diploma 89%
Post-secondary diploma 47%

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 with 51% of working age adults having completed higher education by 2020. 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, under the control of the Minister for Education, 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. The Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, a new department formed in August 2020, will create policy and control funding for third-level institutions. There are many other statutory and non-statutory bodies that have a function in the education system. As of 2020, Norma Foley is the current Minister for Education and Simon Harris is the current Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science.


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
Junior Certificate
3 4 Level 4 Certificate
Leaving Certificate
4 5 Level 5 Certificate
Leaving Certificate
5 6 Advanced Certificate
Short cycle within 1st Higher Certificate
6 1st 7 Ordinary Bachelor's degree
  8 Honours bachelor's degree
Higher diploma
7 2nd 9 Master's degree
Postgraduate diploma
8 3rd 10 Doctorate degree
Higher doctorate


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 pre-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.

Primary School

  • 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)

Secondary School

Junior Cycle
  • First Year (age 12–14)
  • Second Year (age 13–15)
  • Third Year (age 15–16) – 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
  • Transition Year (age 15–17) – may be compulsory; optional or unavailable, depending on school.
Senior Cycle
  • 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.

Secondary education

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. With respect to other running costs, the vast majority of schools have 95% covered by the state with the balance being made up largely through voluntary contributions from pupils' families, while a minority of schools charge fees for pupils to attend and do not receive state subvention other than teachers' salaries. These 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.
  • Grind schools are fee-charging 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.

Gaelcholáistí are second-level schools (voluntary, vocational or comprehensive) located within English-speaking communities but in which the Irish language is used as the main medium of education. Approximately 3% of secondary students attend these schools.

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.

As of 2021, mainstream post-primary schools numbered as follows:

Type of school Number (total: 727) Percentage of total
(to 1d.p.)
Catholic 344 47.2%
Multi-denominational 210 28.7%
Inter-denominational 151 20.6%
Church of Ireland (Anglican) 23 3.1%
Presbyterian 1 0.1%
Methodist 1 <0.1%
Jewish 1 <0.1%
Quaker 1 <0.1%

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, with required exams in English, Irish, and Maths (barring exemptions), and 3 or 4 optional subjects, 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).

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%.

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 "Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004" established the framework for the education of students with special needs.

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 where 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.


Holidays vary depending on the school. Generally primary and secondary get similar holidays. The year is broken up into two terms: from the first week of September to the week before Christmas and from the week after New Year's Day to the last week in 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. 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.

kids search engine
Education in the Republic of Ireland Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.