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The Education System in Northern Ireland

The Department of Education is responsible for the administration of pre-school, primary and post-primary education in Northern Ireland. Education and Library Boards have responsibility for ensuring adequate education provision in their areas. The Department for Communities has responsibility for further and higher education.

In Northern Ireland it is compulsory for children to attend school between the ages of 4 and 16.



Education at a local level is administered by Education and Library Boards covering several geographical areas. All schools follow the Northern Ireland Curriculum which is based on the National Curriculum used in England and Wales. On entering secondary education, all pupils study a broad base of subjects which include geography, english, mathematics, science, physical education, music and modern languages.


Primary Schools

Children attend primary school between the ages of 4 and 11. At age 11 pupils transfer to secondary education.


Secondary Schools

Publicly funded secondary education is provided in secondary schools or grammar schools. Entry to grammar schools is through academic selection and grammar schools set their own transfer tests and invite pupils to sit these tests in their own schools. Pupils enter secondary education at age 11 or 12 and follow the National Curriculum. At age 16 students sit their GCSE examination which also marks the end of compulsory education. Most students either transfer to sixth form at secondary school, or grammar school, or a Further Education College to study A-levels or vocational qualifications and training. The results of these examinations help determine entry into higher education.


Education Maintenance Allowance

An allowance is available to UK Nationals ages 16-19 that stay on at school after completing their GCSE’s. The grant is intended to help students cover their day-to-day costs. Further information is available at https://www.communities-ni.gov.uk.


Further Education

Further Education Colleges comprises education and training which takes place after second level schooling. There are six regional Further Education colleges. A wide range of courses are provided including essential skills, vocational and academic programmes as well as some Higher Education courses.  Further information is available at https://www.communities-ni.gov.uk.


Student Loans for Tuition Fees

Northern Ireland  universities and colleges can charge UK and EU students annual fees for undergraduates courses.  You can apply for a student loan for tuition fees which you have to repay only after you have graduated and are earning over £17,335 per annum. The fees will be paid directly to the university or college on behalf of a student. Further information is available at www.studentfinanceni.co.uk.


Republic of Ireland Students

Students from the Republic of Ireland can apply to their local Education and Training Board for a student grant towards maintarnce. Students are also potentially eligible for a student loan for course fees and should apply to the Student Finance Division in the Department of Education. Generally a Non-UK resident is only entitled to a student loan towards fees from the UK, not maintenance support, whether this is grant or a loan. A Republic of Ireland resident may, subject to a means test, qualify for a higher education grant towards his/her maintenance from Student Universal Support (SUSI). For more information visit www.education.ie, www.susi.ie and www.citizensinformation.ie


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