Country Idealist Profiles

Second Level Education in Ireland

Posted in Ireland, Ireland - Education System by hynesbrid on July 21, 2008

The secondary-level education sector in Ireland comprises secondary, vocational, community and comprehensive schools.

  • Secondary schools are privately owned and managed. The majority are conducted by religious communities and the remainder by Boards of Governors or by individuals.  Over 95 per cent of the cost of teachers’ salaries are met by the State. In addition, allowances and capitation grants are paid to 91 per cent of secondary schools, which participate in the free education scheme.Traditionally, these schools provided an academic type of education but in recent years have tended towards the provision also of technical and practical subjects.  Over thirty Irish secondary schools provide boarding facilities and many of these have a strong tradition of enrolling students from abroad.
  • Vocational schools and community colleges  are administered by vocational education committees which are statutory bodies set up under the Vocational Education Act, 1930, as amended. Vocational schools are funded up to 93 per cent of the total cost of provision. The balance is provided by receipts generated by the committees. Initially, the main thrust of these schools was directed towards the development of manual skills and preparation of young people for trades. Nowadays, however, the full range of second-level courses is available. Vocational schools are also the main providers of adult education and community education courses.
  • Comprehensive schools combine academic and vocational subjects in a wide curriculum. They are managed by a board of management representative of the diocesan religious authority, the Vocational Education Committee of the area and the Minister for Education and Science. The schools are financed entirely by the Department of Education and Science.
  • Community schools are managed by Boards of Management representative of local interests. These schools offer a broad curriculum embracing both practical and academic subjects. They also provide facilities for adult education and community development projects. These schools are entirely funded by the State through the Department of Education and Science.
    All of these schools provide the Certificate courses prescribed by the Department of Education and Science, enter their students for the same national examinations and are subject to inspection by the Department.

Second level education in Ireland generally starts at the age of twelve and consists of a three year Junior cycle followed by a two or three year senior cycle. The Junior Certificate Examination is taken at the end of junior cycle. The senior cycle has been significantly restructured in recent years and now offers a “Transition Year” which provides an opportunity for students to experience a wide range of educational inputs, life skills and work experience at a remove from the examination focus.

Students must take a minimum of five subjects including the three core subjects of English, Irish and Mathematics. Students can then choose their other subjects from a broad range including arts, languages, science and other applied subjects (e.g. mechanical drawing, woodwork etc.). Students entering the Irish education system after 11 years of age are not obliged to take Irish language examinations.

At the end of the senior cycle the Leaving Certificate Examination is taken. Students normally sit for this examination at seventeen or eighteen years of age.

Students may choose one of three Leaving Certificate Programmes:

  1. The Leaving Certificate Programme – This is the most widely taken programme in which students must take at least five subjects, including Irish (with the exception of those entering the system after 11 years of age). Those intending to pursue higher education at a third-level institutenormally takes this examination and access to third-level courses depends on results obtained.
  2. The Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) first introduced in 1989 is similar to the established programme detailed above, however there is an added vocational content and a concentration on technical subjects. Pupils taking the LCVP take five Leaving Certificate subjects (including two vocational subjects); a modern European Language and three link modules on Enterprise Education, Preparation for Work and Work Experience.
  3. The Leaving Certificate Applied – The primary objective of this person-centred programme is to prepare participants for adult and working life.While certification in the LCA does not qualify for direct entry to third-level courses, students who successfully complete the programme are able to proceed to many Post Leaving Certificate courses. The framework of the LCA consists of a number of modules grouped under three general headings: General Education; Vocational Education and Vocational Preparation. 

The State Examinations Commission oversees the state examinations at secondary level in Ireland. The State Examinations Commission is responsible for issuing the results of all state examinations. It also decides the procedures which allow for the review and appeal of examinations at the request of candidates. You have the right to appeal results of a state examination to the State Examinations Commission. The Commission hold records of all State examination results and you can apply to it for a certified copy of your results.


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