Building on the foundation of primary education, second-level education aims to provide a comprehensive, high-quality learning environment which enables all students to live full lives, appropriate to their stage of development, and to realise their potential as individuals and as citizens. It aims to prepare students for adult life and to help them proceed to further education or directly to employment.
Second-level education consists of a three-year Junior Cycle followed by a two or three-year Senior Cycle.
The principal objective of the Junior Cycle is for students to complete broad, balanced and coherent courses of study in a variety of subject areas. Students usually select seven core subjects and two (or more) additional subjects from 19 possibilities (Note: not all schools offer all options).
When choosing which courses to take and at what level (honors/pass), students should reflect on their interests and ability. These choices can have implications for what subjects can be chosen in the Leaving Cert, and hence can impact on a person’s career.
For example if Science is not taken for the Junior Cert it is difficult to continue with science subjects for the Leaving Cert. Without Science in the Leaving Cert, many science based courses cannot be applied for at Third Level. Check out course options using the Subject Requirements Module on Qualifax
The Junior Certificate examination is taken on completion of the Junior Cycle programme.
There are currently 26 subjects available in the Junior Cycle.
Junior Cert Subjects.
Some subjects are taken in Junior Cycle but are not examined. These include Physical Education, SPHE and Religion.
Schools differ in the way in which they offer choices to students. A few schools still insist that choices are made on entering first year, while the majority allow choices to be made in second year, having allowed students to sample the range of courses on offer during the first year.
The Transition Year (TY) is a one-year programme that typically forms the first year of a three-year senior cycle in many schools. It is designed to act as a bridge between the Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate programmes.
Transition Year has been open to all second-level schools, of which approximately 75% currently offer the programme. In many schools Transition Year is optional for students. Transition Year offers pupils a broad educational experience before proceeding to further study and/or vocational (employment) preparation. It provides a bridge to help pupils make the transition from the highly-structured environment of normal schooling to one where they will take greater responsibility for their own learning and decision-making.
Pupils get the opportunity to participate in learning strategies which are active and experiential and which help them to develop a range of transferable skills (e.g. critical thinking and creative problem-solving) that will be important in their future careers. Transition Year also provides an opportunity for pupils to reflect on develop an awareness of the value of education and training in preparing them for the ever-changing demands of the adult world of work and relationships.
The programme has three main aims:
- Education for maturity with emphasis on personal development, including social awareness and increased social competence.
- The promotion of general, technical and academic skills with an emphasis on interdisciplinary and self-directed learning.
- Education through experience of adult and working life as a basis for personal development and maturity.
Each school devises its own unique programme to meet the needs of it's students. The programme offers students a broad and balanced curriculum based on the following four ‘layers’:
- Core Subjects - are usually those subjects that all students take for the full year. Examples include Physical Education, I.C.T., Mathematics, Gaeilge, English etc.
- Subject Sampling may involve giving students a taster module of the Leaving Certificate subjects available in the school to help them make informed choices when making their subject choices later. Subject sampling may also expose students to new subjects that they have not experienced before. Examples include: Environmental Studies, Physics, Spanish, Drama, Home Economics, Business Studies, etc.
- Transition Year Specific Layer includes subjects and modules devised both within the school and by external agencies supporting the programme in schools. Examples include: Mini Company, Photography, Tourism Awareness Programme, Psychology, BlastBeat, Young Social Innovators etc…
- TY Calender Layer includes "once off" activities. Examples include: Work Experience, Outdoor pursuits, Social outreach, Field Trips, Visiting Speakers, Drama/Musical Production etc.
The less structured nature of most Transition Year programmes combined with the exploration of new subjects and work experience all provide excellent experiences from which students can develop their career interests. Several schools include a full program on career awareness and preparation, including the internationally recognised Real Game.
During their final two years in the senior cycle, students take one of three programmes, each leading to a State examination - the established Leaving Certificate, the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) or the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA).
The Leaving Certificate (Established) is a two-year programme that aims to provide students with a broad, balanced education while also offering some specialisation towards a particular career option. The programme is taken in almost all schools and by around 55,000 students each year.
Students are required to study at least five subjects, one of which must be Irish. In general, students take five or more subjects (usually seven) for examination. Syllabuses are available in 33 subjects. All subjects are offered at two levels, ordinary and higher. Irish and Mathematics are available at foundation level also.
Details of all subjects can be found here.
Leaving Cert Subjects
Note: In addition to these subjects, the State Examinations Commission will provide examinations in any of the recognised languages of the European Union, where the status of the applicant/candidate is seen as appropriate.
The Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) combines the academic strengths of the Leaving Certificate (established) with a new and dynamic focus on self–directed learning, innovation and enterprise. This two-year programme is part of an expanded provision that aims to cater for the diversity of participants’ needs at senior cycle.
The primary goal of the LCVP is to prepare young people for adult life by ensuring that they are educated in the broadest sense, with an ability to cope and thrive in an environment of rapid change. Participants in the programme are encouraged to develop skills and competencies fundamental to both academic and vocational success.
The strong vocational focus of the LCVP is achieved by arranging normal Leaving Certificate subjects into Vocational Subject Groupings (VSGs) and through the provision of additional courses of study in work preparation and enterprise known as the Link Modules.
Link Module I – Preparation for the World of Work
Students will research and investigate local employment opportunities, develop job seeking skills such as letter writing, CV presentation, interview techniques; gain valuable practical experience of the world of work; interview and work shadow a person in a career area that interests them
Link Module II – Enterprise Education
Students will be involved in organising visits to local business and community enterprises; meet and interview enterprising people on site and in the classroom; plan and undertake interesting activities that will build self–confidence, creativity, initiative and develop teamwork, communication and computer skills.
LCVP students follow the same subject syllabi and are assessed in the same way as their peers in the Leaving Certificate. For the Link Modules they are assessed by Written Examination (40%) and by Portfolio of Coursework (60%).
The Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) is a distinct, self-contained two-year Leaving Certificate programme aimed at preparing students for adult and working life. The programme sets out to recognise the talents of all students and to provide opportunities for developing personal responsibility, self-esteem and self-knowledge, and helps students apply what they learn to the real world.
View video presentation of LCA programme
The two-year programme consists of four half-year blocks called sessions. Achievement is credited in each session.
Courses are offered in three main areas:
- Vocational Preparation
- General Education
- Vocational Education
Each course is made up of a number of modules. Each module takes half a year to complete. There is also a wide range of practical courses, called vocational specialisms, from which the student can choose.
Assessment takes place on the completion of modules, and there is also a final examination in each of the following areas:
- English and Communication
- Two vocational specialisms
- Mathematical Applications
- Social Education
The Leaving Certificate Applied is not recognised for direct entry to Third Level courses but it can enable students to take Post-Leaving Certificate courses. These in turn can be used to enter Third Level if desired.