Education affects all citizens and the Department faces many challenges in ensuring that it meets the needs of many stakeholders – students, parents, teachers, management, schools and further and higher education providers, employers, and society generally. Education plays a major role in shaping the values and skills of our young people, in equipping learners for participation in social and economic life, in promoting equality, social inclusion and citizenship, and in providing a skills base in the knowledge society which will support competitiveness and growth.
There are approximately 870,000 students following first and second level programmes in schools, with approximately 112,000 sitting the Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate examinations each year. Over 58,000 teachers are paid from funds administered by the Department across first and second level.
Key concerns within the system are to
- Ensure the supply of school places for the expanding population
- Promote social inclusion, address educational disadvantage, and provide supports for the successful integration to the optimum extent of students with special needs into mainstream settings at every level of the system
- Ensure a broad and balanced education which meets personal, social, and economic needs and provides a range of choices to meet the diverse needs and interests of students
- Promote intercultural education, the integration of newcomer pupils and addressing the needs of those for whom English is not the mother tongue
- Strengthen ICT, vocational and language skills and promote increased participation in mathematics, science, engineering and technology in second level education, and encourage more students to seek third level and career options in this area
- Promote the national strategy for Science Technology and Innovation, enhancing third level industry collaboration, promoting excellence and strategic innovation, significantly increasing the numbers of post graduate students and researchers in the system, and promoting world class transnational research and development capability in areas critical to economic and social development
- Promote and market Ireland as a centre of excellence for international students in further and higher education and in English language training centres.
Our education system must continue to evolve in order to maintain quality relevance and inclusion in a changing world.
The Irish education system is structured as follows:
Early childhood education
This applies to children aged 0-6. In general, early childhood education is provided in the private sector in crèches, naíonraí (through the medium of Irish) and childcare settings, and in childcare programmes funded by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. These programmes include a free pre-school year for children aged from 3 years and 2 months to 4 years and 7 months, which was introduced in January 2010. The Department of Education and Skills funds intervention programmes for children at risk of educational disadvantage and for children with special needs. Provision in primary schools for children aged 4-6 is classified as pre-primary education.
The Department has funded the development of Aistear a curriculum framework for early learning which was developed by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment and Síolta, a quality framework for early childhood development, which was developed by the Centre for Early Childhood Development and Education.
Nearly 40% of four-year-olds and almost all five-year olds are enrolled in infant classes in primary schools. They complete 8 years in primary school. There are some 3,300 primary national schools, catering for of the order of 536,317 pupils. Approximately 32,800 teachers are employed at primary level.
Post Primary level
The post-primary education sector comprises secondary, vocational, community and comprehensive schools. Secondary schools are privately owed and managed. Vocational schools are state-established and administered by Education and Training Boards (ETBs), while community and comprehensive schools are managed by Boards of Management of differing compositions.
Post-primary education consists of a three-year Junior Cycle (lower secondary), followed by a two or three year Senior Cycle (upper secondary), depending on whether the optional Transition Year (TY) is taken.
Students usually begin the Junior Cycle at age 12. The Junior Certificate examination is taken after three years. The main objective of the Junior Cycle is for students to complete a broad and balanced curriculum, and to develop the knowledge and skills that will enable them to proceed to Senior Cycle education.
A new Framework for Junior Cycle is being implemented on a phased basis beginning in September 2014 with the introduction of a new specification in English.
The Senior Cycle caters for students in the 15 to 18 year age group. It includes an optional Transition Year, which follows immediately after the Junior Cycle. TY provides an opportunity for students to experience a wide range of educational inputs, including work experience, over the course of a year that is free from formal examinations.
During the final two years of Senior Cycle students take one of the three programmes, each leading to a State Examination: the traditional Leaving Certificate, the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) or the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA).
The Leaving Certificate
The traditional Leaving Certificate examination is the terminal examination of post-primary education and is taken when students are typically 17 or 18 years of age. Syllabuses are available in more than 30 subjects and students are required to take at least five subjects, one of which must be Irish.
The Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme
The Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) is similar to the traditional Leaving Certificate Programme, with a concentration of technical subjects and some additional modules which have a vocational focus.
The Leaving Certificate Applied Programme
The Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) Programme is a self-contained two-year course, intended to meet the needs of those students who are not adequately catered for by other Leaving Certificate programmes. It is a person-centred course involving a cross-curricular approach rather than a subject based structure.
Syllabuses and Prescribed material
Curriculum and Syllabus
Further Education and training is available in a wide range of disciplines covering such areas as business administration, ICT, electronics, multi-media, art craft and design, journalism, tourism and catering, childcare, construction, film, radio and sound, animation and equestrian studies. Certification is provided through the National Framework Qualifications.
SOLAS operates under the aegis of the Department of Education and Skills and will, in conjunction with the sixteen Education and Training Boards, be responsible for the integration, coordination and funding of a wide range of further education and training programmes. In 2014 the Further Education and Training Strategy 2014-2019 was published.
SOLAS is now tasked with ensuring the provision of 21st century high-quality FET programmes which are responsive to the needs of learners and the requirements of a changed and changing economy. For example, some 34,000 learners participated in Post Leaving Certificate Programmes in 2013/2014.
Third Level or Higher Education
31 Third Level colleges are funded by the Department providing services to over 164,800 full time students.
Higher Education in Ireland is provided mainly by 7 Universities, 14 Institutes of Technology, including the Dublin Institute of Technology and 7 Colleges of Education*. In addition, a number of other third level institutions provide specialist education in such fields as art and design, medicine, business studies, rural development, theology, music and law. Click here for a full list of these institutions.
*In May 2013, the Minister for Education and Skills approved a re-configuration of the higher education system. Under the new configuration Teacher Education is part of the university sector as follows:
DCU—St. Patricks College, Drumcondra—Mater Dei Institute of Education—Church of Ireland College of Education (full merger)
NUIM—Froebel College (full merger)
TCD—UCD—Marino Institute of Education—NCAD (collaborative centre)
UL—MIC—LIT (collaborative centre)
UCC—CIT (collaborative arrangements)
NUIG—St. Angela’s College—GMIT teacher education programme (full merger)