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The Education System in the Republic of Ireland

The Department of Education and Skills is responsible for education policy in the Republic of Ireland. For more detailed information please see www.education.ie.

Education is compulsory for children in Ireland from the ages of 6 to 16 or until students have completed three years of second-level education.

The Irish education system is made up of primary, second, third-level and further education. State-funded education is available at all levels, unless you choose to send your child to a private institution.


Early Childhood/Preschool

Pre-school education is usually provided by privately funded childcare facilities or providers. The Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Scheme provides a free year of early childhood care and education for children of pre-school age. Some pre-school initiatives focused on children at risk are funded by the Department of Education and Skills.


Primary (first-level) education

Children do not have to attend school until the age of 6 but it is usual for children to begin school the September following their 4th birthday. 4-year-olds and 5-year-olds are enrolled in the junior or senior infant classes. The curriculum for primary education covers the following key areas: Language, mathematics, social, environment and scientific education, arts education including visual arts music and drama, physical integration, social personal and health education.


Second-level education

Second-level education is provided by four different types of post-primary schools i.e., secondary, vocational, community and comprehensive schools. Secondary schools are privately owned and managed. In most cases the trustees are religious communities or boards of governors. Vocational schools are established by the State and administered Education and Training Boards. Community and comprehensive schools are managed by boards of management of differing compositions.

Second-level education consists of a three-year junior cycle followed by a two-year or three-year senior cycle depending on whether an optional Transition Year is taken following the Junior Certificate examination.

Students generally commence the junior cycle at the age of 12. The Junior Certificate is taken after three years. Transition Year follows the Junior Certificate examination. This year is free from formal examinations and allows students to experience a wide range of educational inputs, including work experience.

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 or the Leaving Certificate Applied.

The established Leaving Certificate is the main basis upon which places in universities, institutes of technology and colleges of education are allocated.

The Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme differs from the established Leaving Certificate in placing a concentration on technical subjects and including additional modules which have a vocational focus.

The Leaving Certificate Applied Programme has as its primary objective the preparation of participants for adult and working life through relevant learning experiences. These aim to develop the following areas of human endeavour: spiritual, intellectual, social, emotional, aesthetic and physical. 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.


Third-level education

Third-level education is made up of a number of sectors including the university sector, the technological sector and the colleges of education. In addition there are a number of independent private colleges.

There are seven universities, which are autonomous and self-governing. They offer degree programmes at bachelor, masters and doctorate level.

The technological sector includes institutes of technology which provide programmes of education and training in areas such as business, science, engineering, linguistics and music to certificate, diploma and degree levels.

The colleges of education specialise in training for first-level teachers. They offer a three-year bachelor of education degree and a postgraduate diploma.

The training of second-level teachers usually involves completing a primary degree in university or other third-level institution followed by a one-year higher diploma in education. In addition, there are colleges of education that specialise in the training of second-level home economics teachers, teachers of religion and physical education.


Further and adult education

Further education comprises education and training which takes place after second-level schooling but which is not part of the third-level system. It includes programmes such as Post-Leaving Certificate courses; the Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme (second-chance education for the unemployed); programmes in Youthreach for early school-leavers; other literacy and basic education; and self-funded evening adult programmes in second-level schools.


Special needs education for students with disabilities

Educational provision for students with special educational needs ranges from additional support in mainstream schools to specialist support in special schools. A student with a disability may be enrolled in a Mainstream class with additional support, a Special class in a mainstream school or a Special school which caters for the students with his or her category of disability.



Most undergraduate students attending publicly funded third-level courses do not have to pay tuition fees. Under the terms of the Free Fees Initiative, the Department of Education and Skills pays the fees to the colleges instead. A separate annual charge is payable to colleges for the costs of student services and examinations. Charges for Post-Leaving Certificate courses (PLCs) operate under different rules. For further information please refer to www.education.ie, www.citizensinformation.ie, and www.susi.ie.


How do I apply for full-time undergraduate courses at Universities/ higher education institutions in the Republic Of Ireland?

Students should apply for full-time undergraduate courses at Irish universities /Higher Education Institutions through the Central Applications Office (CAO). For further information please visit www.cao.ie.


Back to Education Allowance

If you are unemployed, parenting alone or have a disability and are getting certain payments from the Department of Employment Affairs & Social Protection, you may attend a second-or third-level education course and get the Back to Education Allowance (BTEA). For further information visit www.welfare.ie.  The Department of Employment Affairs & Social Protection has published Frequently Asked Questions about the scheme.

If you want to do other types of courses not covered under the BTEA, for example, personal development courses or general training courses you can return to education under the Education, Training and Development option, Part-time Education option or the Vocational Opportunities Schemes.

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