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Secondary Level - <p>This section has information on Secondary School Education in Ireland</p>

Secondary Level

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.

Second-level education aims to prepare students for adult life and to help them proceed to further education or directly to employment. It consists of a three-year Junior Cycle programme followed by a two or three-year Senior Cycle.

Junior Cycle

The principle 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 possible options. (Note: not all schools offer all options)

When choosing which subjects 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.

Subject Choice
There are currently 26 subjects available in the Junior Cycle. 

Junior Cert Subjects  Junior Cert Subjects

Physical Education and SPHE taken in Junior Cycle are not examined.

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 junior cycle of post-primary education in Ireland is changing. From 2014, the new junior cycle will be delivered. The main points of significance in relation to this new programme are:

  • A cap  on the total number of subjects taken at Junior Certificate Level to 8
  • Potential for Short courses in 16 new areas including: Chinese Language & Culture; Leadership; Web Design
  • Revised Assessment arrangements
  • 24 Statements of Learning
  • Focus is on 8 Key Skills to be embedded in the learning outcomes and appropriate to the age of the learner

The key skills of junior cycle are:


Students starting Junior Cert in 2013

Students who started first year in post-primary school in 2013 willl be following the existing Junior Certificate programme through to 2016.

Students starting Junior Cert in 2014

Students who went into first year in post-primary school in September 2014 will be taking part in the new junior cycle.

The new programme is designed to help students as they grow up in a different and changing world and to face the future with confidence and belief in themselves.  From 2014, students study a new course in English and might also take some new short courses if the particular school decides to include them in their programme. 

During the three years of junior cycle students will learn in a wide variety of ways and there will be a strong emphasis on key skills, literacy and numeracy.

Students will get more detailed reports on their progress in junior cycle. The reports will look at how well they are doing in literacy and numeracy, and they will also be asked to comment on their own progress before the report is sent to their parents or guardian.

The big change is in the examinations. There will still be an examination at the end of junior cycle, in English for example, but 40% of the marks for English will now be for work done before then, in second and third year. So, not everything will depend on how students do in the final exam.

In 2017, when the student comes to the end of third year, they will be examined in six to eight subjects, depending on the number of short courses that have been taken. These will include the new course in English, other new courses taken and any other Junior Certificate subjects the student is studying – all up to a limit of eight.

At the end of third year, students will receive a new qualification called the National Certificate of Junior Cycle Education.

You can explore more detailed information on the NCCA website here.


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:

  1. Education for maturity with emphasis on personal development, including social awareness and increased social competence.
  2. The promotion of general, technical and academic skills with an emphasis on interdisciplinary and self-directed learning.
  3. Education through experience of adult and working life as a basis for personal development and maturity.

Subject options
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 Leaving Certificate 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 (LCE) 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.

Subject Choice
Details of all subjects can be found here. 

Leaving Cert Subjects  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.

Subject Options
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.

Subject Choice
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:

  1. English and Communication
  2. Two vocational specialisms
  3. Mathematical Applications
  4. Language
  5. 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.

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