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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Secondary and Post-Secondary Non-Tertiary Education


6.Secondary and Post-Secondary Non-Tertiary Education

Last update: 27 November 2023

Secondary and Post-Secondary Non-Tertiary Education

Secondary Education

The Education Act, 1998 provides a statutory basis for the whole education system. The Department of Education and Skills has the statutory responsibility to implement the Education Act, including the funding of recognised schools and accountability for such funding. The Act recognises the autonomy of each school, under its patron, and sets out the main responsibilities and rights of the patron, the board of management and the principal, subject to regulations made by the Minister. 

The post-primary education sector comprises secondary, vocational, community and comprehensive schools. Secondary schools are state-established, owned by a Trustee/Patron and managed by a Board of Management (BOM). Trustees/Patrons of voluntary secondary schools include:

  • Bishops;

  • Religious Orders;

  • Boards of Governors;

  • Education Trust Companies; and

  • Private individuals.

The Trustee/Patron is responsible for ensuring the running of the school and have a moral as well as legal responsibility to maintain schools in accordance with a specific ethos or characteristic spirit.

Vocational schools are also state-established but are administered by Education and Training Boards (ETBs), whilst Community and Comprehensive schools are managed by Boards of Management of differing compositions.

There are a number of fee-paying State secondary schools. Fee-paying schools do not receive any state grants towards their running costs, as they charge student fees. The State pays the salaries of all teachers working in recognised State schools. Fees are set each year by the board of management of the school, subject to approval by the governing body. There are 52 such schools recognised by the Department of Education and Skills for the 2018/2019 academic year.

Post-primary education consists of a three-year Junior Cycle (lower secondary), followed by a two or three year Senior Cycle (upper secondary), depending on whether the optional Transition Year (TY) is taken.

Students usually begin the Junior Cycle at age 12. The Junior Certificate examination is taken after three years. The main objective of the Junior Cycle is for students to complete a broad and balanced curriculum, and to develop the knowledge and skills that will enable them to proceed to Senior Cycle education. A new Framework for Junior Cycle, published in 2015, continues to make significant changes to the Junior Cycle curriculum.

The Senior Cycle caters for students in the 15 to 18 year age group. It includes an optional Transition Year (TY), which follows immediately after the Junior Cycle. TY provides an opportunity for students to experience a wide range of educational inputs, including work experience, over the course of a year that is free from formal examinations.

During the final two years of Senior Cycle students take one of three programmes, each leading to a State Examination: the traditional Leaving Certificate, the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) or the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA).

The Leaving Certificate

The traditional Leaving Certificate examination is the terminal examination of post-primary education and is taken when students are typically 17 or 18 years of age. Syllabuses are available in more than 30 subjects and students are required to take at least five subjects, one of which must be Irish.

The Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme

The Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) is similar to the traditional Leaving Certificate Programme, with a concentration on technical subjects and some additional modules which have a vocational focus.

The Leaving Certificate Applied Programme

The Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) Programme is a self-contained two-year course. It is a person-centred course involving a cross-curricular approach rather than a subject based structure.

Post-Secondary Non-Tertiary Education

In Ireland, Further Education covers education and training which occurs after second level schooling, but which is not part of the third level system. There are number of providers of Further and Adult Education and Training, and a variety of schools, organisations and institutions are involved in the delivery of continuing education and training for young school leavers and adults.

The provision of post-secondary school vocational education and training (VET) expanded rapidly in the 1980s with the availability of European Social Funds. In 2010, responsibility for VET activity was transferred from the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to the Minister for Education and Skills. All education and vocational training is now delivered under a single Ministry.

In 2013, the system was further streamlined with the abolition of Vocational Education Committees (VECs) under the Education and Training Boards Act. Education and Training Boards (ETBs) were established in their place. 33 VECs have been replaced by 16 ETBs. Each ETB is responsible for co-ordinating vocational training in its area.

A new Further Education Authority, Solas, was established under the same Act. Solas has responsibility for policy, co-ordination and funding of further education and training provision, working in collaboration with the ETBs.