School and Education in Ireland


Ireland’s education system is different from many other countries by the voluntary transition (English transition year) that can be carried out between the last year of compulsory education and high school. In other respects, the education system in Ireland is in principle the equivalent of other European countries with compulsory education (or primary school), upper secondary level and higher education. The path to higher education can be different, although the most common is that those who have taken upper secondary education are applying for higher education. For example, a student who has completed any practical or vocational education may take other courses and qualify to be admitted to higher education.

The 8-year compulsory school is compulsory from the year the child turns six. Many children start school sooner. 40 percent of the country’s 4-year-olds and almost all 5-year-olds are in the primary school. The compulsory schooling also includes the 3-year lower secondary education, which corresponds to Swedish high school. Compulsory school and high school are free, but a few private schools that do not receive state support require fees from students.

The education does not have to take place in school but can also be conducted as home education. English is the language of instruction at all levels of the education system and in most schools. Excluded are schools with Irish as their language of education, despite the fact that Irish (a Celtic language) is the country’s official language and is spoken by 260,000 Irish people. Where English is the language of instruction, Irish is one of the main subjects.

Ireland Country Flag

In principle, all elementary schools and colleges are private, that is, owned and run by private actors (generally the Catholic Church). They are mostly financed by the state. More than 90 percent of primary school students attend schools run by the Catholic Church. About 6 percent attend Anglican Church schools.

At the age of 12, the majority of pupils have completed primary school. They can then choose between high school, vocational education conducted at state schools and community schools or comprehensive schools. The latter are for young people who for some reason are unable or unwilling to attend high school or to complete a vocational education. The student can also choose to take a transition year after the compulsory school.

There are different types of secondary schools (high school and high school): general, vocational, comprehensive (English comprehensive), schools in which the language of instruction is Irish and private schools where students have to pay school fees. A typical secondary school includes three years of junior school, one transition year and two years of upper secondary education (three years if the transition year is not completed).

After the compulsory education, most people choose to go through the usual upper secondary education, which is divided into three branches. Secondary education is two or three years: two years if the student after the lower secondary education has undergone a transition year. During the first year of high school, all students read the same courses and subjects, and during the last two years they choose one of the three programs that exist: general upper secondary education 2–3 years, vocational secondary education and “school completion program” for students who do not choose or are not considered ready. one of the other two programs. Only the first two grant the right to study further in higher education.

In 2017, there were approximately 800 colleges in the country, of which around 80 are boarding schools where a relatively large proportion of students are guest students from other countries. 20 percent of all students in higher education come from other countries, which is a comparatively high percentage.

Higher education is provided at 7 universities, 14 technical institutes plus colleges mainly for teacher education (7). A special authority processes applications for higher education, but the final decision on whether to apply or not is made by the institution concerned.

In higher education, there were about 200,000 full-time students in 2017, which is a doubling of the number of students in twenty years. 49 percent of the students are men and 51 percent are women. Since 2013, a series of reforms are being implemented in higher education. This applies mainly to the productivity of the education, quality assurance and financing. Ireland has switched between having tuition fees and not having it, but the system of tuition-free tuition is changing and differentiating. Special authorities for measuring and checking this were being established during 2016-17.

After high school, an Irish citizen can undergo further education. In 2015, 300,000 were in adult education. During the first half of the 1990s, Ireland experienced strong economic growth, which meant that most who underwent further education or retraining did so in the construction industry, but with the downturn in the economy that followed, the number of students in that industry dropped dramatically.