The Educational System in Ireland

By Paul Tobin of CBS James's Street, Dublin, IRELAND, 1997

Contribution to the EDUVINET "Living Conditions of EU Citizen" subject

Years 1- 8
Years 1-3 Junior Cycle
Year 4 Transition
Years 5-6 Senior Cycle
Primary Degrees
Postgraduate Degrees
Postgraduate Diplomas
Colleges of Technology
National Certificate
National Diploma
Primary Degree
Postgraduate Degree
Colleges of Education

Primary Degree
Postgraduate Degree
Independent Colleges
Primary Degree
Postgraduate Degree

Ireland has a long and prestigious tradition in education, dating back to the middle ages when it held the position of one of the principal education providers to the western world.

Overall responsibility for education in Ireland lies with the Minister for Education who is a member of the Irish Government and responsible to the National Parliament.

For second level schools the academic year runs from September to June with holidays at Christmas and Easter. For universities and colleges at third level the academic year runs from October to June typically divided into three terms.


Primary School Education

The statutory age for primary school entry is six years, although most children start at four. This first level education covers a period of eight years. Primary schools in Ireland are not State schools.

The present primary school curriculum, which came into operation in 1971 is child centred rather than subject centred and allows for flexibility in timetabling and teaching methods. The language of instruction, apart from a small number of special schools, is English. The main subjects taught are English, Irish Mathematics, Social & Environmental Studies, Arts & Crafts, Music, Physical Education and Religious Instruction. There are no formal examinations at the end of the primary school cycle.

Second Level Education

There are 800 second level schools in Ireland, 80 of them of with boarding facilities. While all schools follow the curricula and syllabi laid down by the Ministry of Education and examinations are set and marked centrally by the Ministry, some schools offer, in addition, preparation for the International Baccalaureate and the British A level examinations.

There are three types of second level school, mainly differentiated on the basis of administration and sources of funding.

1. Secondary Schools

These schools, which comprise the majority of second level schools in Ireland, are privately owned and managed. Typically run by boards of governors, by religious bodies, or by individuals, they are heavily state funded and with the exception of a relatively small number, do not charge tuition fees to Irish students.

All 80 of the Irish boarding schools come under the category of secondary schools and many of them have a strong tradition of enroling students from abroad. In addition to the boarding schools many day secondary schools now enrol overseas students and some can arrange accommodation for foreign students.

2. Community/Comprehensive Schools

These schools are comprehensive in nature, combining academic and technical education as well as having a community dimension in terms of adult education and facilities. They are administered by Boards of Management representative of local interests and totally funded by the State.

3. Vocational Schools

These schools are totally State owned and funded and they are administered by local education committees. Their tradition is based on technical and vocational education but they have expanded in recent years to incorporate a very wide subject mix. In addition to providing second level education the vocational education system has become increasingly involved in devising and implementing a range of continuing education and training services to post second level students.

Curriculum & Examinations

In addition to the core subjects of Irish, English and Mathematics, most schools have a wide range of subjects including Accountancy, Art, Biology, Business Organisation, Chemistry, Civics, Commerce, Computer Science, Economics, Geography, History, Home Economics, Languages, Mechanical Drawing, Music, Physical Education and Physics.


Second level education in Ireland generally starts at age twelve and lasts for six years. There is a common programme followed by all students for three years leading to the Junior Certificate examinations which can be taken at three different ability levels. This is followed by a transition year during which students follow a more flexible programme. The senior cycle is of two years duration and ends with the Leaving Certificate examinations. These also can be taken at three different ability levels. The higher level gives access to university and the ordinary and applied levels to more technical and vocational training.

Third Level Education

Traditionally the third level educational system has comprised the university sector, the technical and technological colleges and the colleges of education - all substantially funded by the State but autonomous and self-governing.

In addition a number of independent private colleges have developed, offering a range of mainly business-related courses conferring professional qualifications and, in some cases, recognised diplomas and degrees.

1. Universities

Universities in Ireland include the National University of Ireland, Trinity College, the University of Limerick and Dublin City University.

The National University of Ireland (NUI) is organised on a federal basis but the constituent colleges - University College Dublin, University College Cork and University College Galway - enjoy a large measure of autonomy. A further three colleges - St Patrick's College Maynooth, the Royal College of Surgeons, and St Angela's College of Education for Home Economics - are recognised colleges of the NUI.

In addition to undertaking research in a wide range of disciplines, the universities and university colleges offer degree programmes at Bachelor, Masters and Doctorate level - in the humanities, in the scientific, technological and social sciences, and in the medical area. A range of undergraduate and post graduate diplomas is also offered and all the universities have continuing and some distant education programmes.

The Irish university system is in the British tradition with set programmes leading to a bachelors degree at the end of three or four years. Master degrees are usually taken by coursework, research work or or some combination of both. Doctoral degrees are awarded on the basis of research.

2. Colleges of Technology

The Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) is the biggest third level institution in Ireland with 22,000 students. It has six constituent colleges - two Colleges of Technology, the College of Catering, the College of Marketing & Design, the College of Commerce and the College of Music. The DIT awards its own degrees.

3. Regional Technical Colleges

Regional Technical Colleges (RTCs), which were introduccd in the 1970s to provide for further technical educational needs have, over the years, become an integral part of the Irish third level system. There are eleven RTC's throughout Ireland offering education and training, both fulltime and partime, for trade and industry over a broad spectrum of occupations and levels, in the areas of Business Studies, Engineering &Technology and Science & Paramedicine.

4. Specialist Colleges

There are also a number of specialist colleges with programmes leading to Certificates, Diplomas and Degrees approved by the National Council for Education Awards (NCEA).

5. Colleges of Education/TeacherTraining

In Ireland the system of teacher training differs between primary and second level school teachers. Typically second level teachers complete a primary degree at university and then follow up with the Higher Diploma in Education at university. Primary school teachers complete a three year programme, leading to a Bachelor's degree in Education (B.Ed.), at one of the five teacher training colleges.

6. Medicine

In addition to the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, the Medical Schools in University Collcge Dublin, University College Cork, University College Galway and Trinity College have also developed a prestigious reputation in their field.

7. Law

The Irish legal system is part of the Common Law tradition and therefore relevant to the legal training needs of many countries. There are excellent law facultics in most of the universities. There are also two professional law schools - the Incorporated Law Society, training solicitors, and the Kings Inns, training barristers.

English Language Training

In addition to formal fulltime academic and professional studies, Ireland has, over the past twenty years, become an increasingly popular location for English language training, attracting students of all ages and nationalities. Currently over 100,000 people visit Ireland annually to undertake language programmes.


The above information is a summary from an excellent publication by the International Education Board Ireland.
This publication also provides information on student life in Ireland, application procedures and gives a directory of useful addresses and telephone numbers.

You can ask for a copy of Education Ireland.

The address is:

International Education Board - Ireland,
65 Fitzwilliam Square, Dublin 2, Ireland.

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