- Early childhood care and education (Entry/Establishment ○ Financial operation ○ Quality of teaching and learning ○ Equitable access ○ Quality assurance, monitoring and accountability)
- Primary and secondary education (Entry/Establishment ○ Financial operation ○ Quality of teaching and learning ○ Equitable access ○ Quality assurance, monitoring and accountability)
- Tertiary education (Entry/Establishment ○ Financial operation ○ Quality of teaching and learning ○ Equitable access ○ Quality assurance, monitoring and accountability)
The Education Act 1998 (as amended in 2020), which governs education from early childhood to secondary level in Ireland, defines a “recognized school” as a “school which is recognized by the Minister in accordance with section 10”. A “relevant person”, in relation to a school, is defined as “the patron, the board of management or any other person or body in relation to whom the ownership of the school premises is vested”.. The Education (Welfare) Act (2000) provides for the entitlement of every child in the state to a certain minimum education, the registration of children receiving education in places other than recognised schools, and the compulsory attendance of certain children at recognised schools. The Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) Act 2012 (as amended in 2020) defines a “provider” as “a person who provides, organises or procures a programme of education and training, which may be a “relevant provider or a body authorised by law to make awards in the State”. A “linked provider” is defined as a “provider that has a place of business in the State and is not a designated awarding body but enters into an arrangement with a designated awarding body under which arrangement the provider provides a programme of education and training that satisfies all or part of the prerequisites for an award of the designated awarding body”. According to the Constitution of Ireland 1937 (as amended in 2019), “parents shall be free to provide this education in their homes or in private schools or in schools recognised or established by the State” (Article 42). Specifically, the State “shall provide for free primary education and shall endeavour to supplement and give reasonable aid to private and corporate educational initiative, and, when the public good requires it”.
In Ireland, all schools (100%) at primary level (8 years, ages 4 – 13) and the majority (74%) at post-primary level (4/6 years, ages 12 – 19) are owned and operated by non-state actors but funded by the state. The Irish education system is based on the principle of the state “providing for education” for the most part, rather than being the direct provider of state schools, reflected in the Constitution of Ireland 1937 (as amended in 2019), which stipulates that the state “shall provide for free primary education” and “supplement and give reasonable aid to private and corporate educational initiative”. The exception to this are 36% of post-primary schools known as vocational schools which are established and owned by the state and managed by state-administered Education and Training Boards (ETBs), catering to approximately one third of post-primary students. Vocational/ETB schools aim to be secular, but are mainly managed by people belonging to the Catholic faith, catering to a predominately Catholic student population. Post-primary education consists of lower secondary (3 years, ages 12 – 16) and upper secondary level (2/3 years, ages 15 – 19). According to the Education Welfare Act 2000, education is compulsory from the ages of 6 to 16 and available for free (at the large majority) at primary and post-primary level.
All students are obliged to study the two official languages of Ireland, Irish and English at primary and post-primary level, with the majority of schools having English as their medium of instruction, while Irish is taught. There are also a few Gaeltacht schools in the western and southern seaboard and Irish medium schools which use Irish as their medium of instruction (with English being taught).
Non-state managed, state schools
No information was found.
Non-state funded, state schools
No information was found.
The education system is Ireland mainly ‘non-state’, in the sense that all primary schools and the majority of post-primary schools are owned and operated by religious denominations and recognized organizations. The state funds the majority of these schools (99% at primary level and 93% at post-primary level), with only a small percentage classified as independent, fee-paying schools.
Independent, non-state schools
Under the Constitution of Ireland 1937, parents shall be free to provide education for their children in their homes or in private schools or in schools recognised or established by the State. There are very few fee-paying private independent schools in Ireland, accounting for 0.8% of primary schools (0.7% of total enrolment) and 7% of post-primary schools (7% of total enrolment) according to returns submitted in 2016. The state plays no role in the regulation and funding of these schools at primary level, besides ensuring that they meet a ‘certain minimum education’ stipulated in the Education (Welfare) Act 2000. At post-primary level, fee-paying private schools may receive a reduced level of funding by the government towards their running costs. These schools must then follow the approved curriculum, assessment, and certification requirements.
State-funded (government-aided), non-state schools
In Ireland, almost all schools are government aided. At primary level, the government-aided sector includes (a) religious schools, (b) non-denominational schools, (c) multi-denominational schools, (d) Gaelscoileanna (Irish-medium schools), and (e) special schools, most of which (88%) are co-educational. At post-primary level, government-aided schools include (a) secondary schools and (b) community/comprehensive schools. The state funds the majority of infrastructure and operating costs in these schools, with teacher salaries paid by the Department of Education. The state grant is supplemented by local contributions and fundraising from parents made towards their running costs. Government-aided schools follow the national curriculum framework and do not charge any tuition fees.
Due to historical reasons, the majority of schools are government-aided religious schools owned (primarily) by the Roman Catholic Church (Catholic schools). The owners of the Catholic and Church of Ireland schools are usually the diocesan trustees, while other religious schools typically have a board of trustees nominated by the church authorities. In 2019, over 90% of schools at primary level and just under 50% of schools at post-primary level were classified as Catholic, catering to 90% of primary students and 50.5% of post-primary students. Other religious schools are operated by the minority Protestant denominations (such as the Church of Ireland, the Methodist Church, and the Presbyterian Church), with a handful of schools managed by other religious groups, including the Irish Islamic and Jewish communities.
Since the 1970s, parents have become active in establishing multi-denominational schools (embracing a multi-belief school ethos) and non-denominational schools (secular schools which align with no religion), reflecting the desire for diversity in the education system and strengthening parental choice. The government has committed to a policy to provide for greater diversity within the educational system since 2011 based on family and community choice in different areas. Multi-denominational and non-denominational schools are typically under the patronage of a limited company or board of trustees known as Education Together. In 2017, 29 out of the 30 new primary schools established were classified as multi-denominational, with one classified inter-denominational. At the post-primary level, 26 (84%) out of the 31 new schools established were classified as multi-denominational, 3 as Catholic (10%), and one as Church of Ireland (3%). Under the Action Plan for Education 2016-19, the government plans to increase this number to 400 multi-denominational or non-denominational schools by 2030.
Irish medium schools (Gaelscoileanna), which teach in Irish, may either be a limited company or denominational and come under the same patronage as Catholic schools, with the school’s ethos decided by its owners. When these schools are established outside the Gaeltacht, they usually operate under the patronage of An Foras Patrúnachta na Scoileanna Lán-Gaeilge Teoranta, a national organisation which represents the interests of such schools. In 2019, 8% of students were enrolled in Irish medium schools at primary level. At post-primary level, 3.6% of students were enrolled in these schools.
Secondary schools are owned by trustees/patrons, which include bishops, religious orders Board of Governors, education trust companies, and private individuals. The trustee/patron is responsible for maintaining the school according to a specific character or ethos. These schools are commonly religious (approximately half of which are owned by the Catholic Church)
Community/comprehensive schools or colleges may be denominational or operating under the joint trusteeship of the ETB, Bishop, or religious order. These schools are managed by Boards of Management of different compositions. All types of secondary schools in Ireland offer a comprehensive mix of academic and vocational subjects, collectively referred to as post-primary schools.
There are also a number of special schools which cater to students with specific disabilities or special needs. These schools receive additional funding from the Department of Education and continue up to the completion of upper secondary education. Policy in Ireland dictates that children with special educational needs should be integrated into a mainstream education setting to the maximum extent possible.
Finally, Ireland also has a number of designated disadvantaged schools, known as Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS schools), which are established in disadvantaged areas and paid higher grants by the government towards their operating costs.
Contracted, non-state schools
No information was found.
The Constitution of Ireland 1937 (as amended in 2019) gives parents the right to educate their children at home (Article 42), provided they receive a certain minimum standard of education. According to the Education (Welfare) Act 2000, parents wishing for their child to be home-schooled must apply for their child to be registered, with the Child and Family Agency (TUSLA) responsible for monitoring the minimum standard of education provided. The government also funds a Home Tuition Grant Scheme 2020/2021 (with a Special Education Component) for students who may be out of school due to special educational needs, a significant medical condition, or school phobia associated with depression/anxiety. Parents or legal guardians hire tutors for the provision of home tuition usually in a private arrangement, with all tutors required to be qualified and registered with the Teaching Council.
During the school closures that resulted from the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020, the Department of Education published the Guidance on Continuity of Schooling For primary and post-primary schools and links to available resources and training to support the continuity of teaching and learning from home. Schools were encouraged to make use of a variety of teaching and learning methods depending on circumstances, including phone, email, television, radio, and virtual lessons through online platforms. Support packages were provided for students with special educational needs, in addition to an In-person Supplementary Programme to Support the Education or Care Needs of pupils with complex needs during this period of school closure which provided these students with 5 hours of in-person teaching or care per week.
Market contracted (Voucher schools)
No information was found.
At the primary education level, the state plays no role in the registration, funding, or regulation of independent private schools, other than ensuring (through the Child and Family Agency) that these schools meet a certain minimum educational standard. Recognition of schools is a prerequisite for receiving government funding, so independent private schools are considered unrecognized by the state (designated as non-recognized schools).
The Department of Education (DE) is responsible for the governance, regulation and funding of the primary and secondary level schools in Ireland, (the majority of which are non-state). At early childhood education level, this governance is split between the DE and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA), now called the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (DCEDIY), with most administration, monitoring and recognition under the DCEDIY, through the Child and Family Agency. At the primary level, the state plays no role in the regulation or funding of independent fee-paying private schools, other than ensuring through the Child and Family Agency that these schools meet a certain minimum education standard. . The Higher Education Authority (under the DFHERIS – Department of Further and Higher Education) is responsible for the development, recognition and monitoring of all higher education institutions (state and non-state). The New Schools Establishment Group (NSEG) was established in 2011 as an independent advisory group to advise the Minister for Education on the patronage of new primary and post-primary schools.
There is no regional level administration of education in Ireland, with the only regional/local structures established being 16 ETBs which are responsible for state-administered schools at secondary level. All non-state schools at primary and post-primary level are managed locally by boards of management according to a curriculum, funding, and policy set out by the DE.
Vision: The Irish education system is based on a historical public-private partnership (mainly with the Catholic Church), with the majority of schools being owned by faith-based providers and funded by the state based on a hybrid model of educational governance. With Ireland traditionally being a primarily Catholic country, although this is changing with society becoming more diverse, the Catholic Church has been the most predominant education provider since the foundation of the state. In the Constitution of Ireland 1937 (as amended in 2019), education is defined as ‘state-aided’ rather than state-provided, with parents free to choose between education provided “in their homes, in private schools or in schools recognised or established by the State”. The document specifically states that parents will not be obliged to send their children to schools designated or established by the state, with the state (as a “guardian of common good”) only required to ensure that “the children receive a certain minimum education, moral, intellectual and social”.
In the past years, due to changes in school ethos, moral education, and an increasingly secular population, the government is committed towards the development of an education system that reflects the diversity of 21st century Ireland, reflected in the Education Act 1998 (as amended in 2020) which stipulates the “need to reflect the diversity of educational services provided in the state”. This has been adopted through programs that strengthen parental choice, increase school autonomy, and expand educational diversity, with plans to increase the number of multi-denominational and non-denominational schools across the country in line with parental choice and community needs. According to the Statement of Strategy 2021-23 published by the DE, the government plans to continue to “increase the diversity of school type in order to offer parents more choice, including the transfer of schools to alternative patronage such as Community National Schools” and “strengthen...partnerships”.
In Ireland, early childhood care and education (ECCE) services (catering to children below the age of 6) are delivered by a range of private, community, and voluntary groups and described variously as crèches, nurseries, pre-schools, naíonraí (Irish language pre-schools), playgroups and daycare services. There are no state-owned ECCE services, while all forms of ECCE (including infant classes in primary schools) are optional and considered outside the formal education system. While the state does not directly provide these services, they have received increasingly significant funding by the state through various programs administered by the DCEDIY. In 2016, 4,178 ECCE providers were contracted to offer ECCE programs, 75% of which were private and 25% owned and administered by communities. In practice, the norm is for students to start school at the age of 4, with almost 40% of students aged 4 and almost all (99%) students at the age of 5 attending infant classes in primary schools.
Registration and approval: The establishment and regulation of ECCE services in Ireland is governed by the Child Care Act 1991 (as amended in 2021), the Child Care Act 1991 (Early Years Services) Regulations 2016, and the Child and Family Agency Act 2013. All prospective providers must make an application to be registered with the Child and Family Agency based on a prescribed form and accompanied by the required fee. Applicants can be private individuals or body corporates, while the director of the service must either be a body corporate registered under the Companies Act 2014 or a board of management established under the Education Act 1998. The Child and Family Agency may also contract a person to provide ECCE services based on an agreement and specific terms and conditions. During this agreement, the Agency determines the amount of funding to be granted to the provider. Service providers are required to give notice to the health board of the establishment of an ECCE service and ensure the health, safety and well-being of children attending at all times. Moreover, services must comply with the registration conditions, which include child-staffing ratios (according to the service), minimum space requirements, curriculum frameworks, and staff development standards.
Licence: The Child and Family Agency is responsible for registering the service providers based on specific terms and conditions attached.
Profit-making: : According to the Child and Family Agency Act 2013, ECCE service providers may only be people “involved in the provision of child and family services otherwise than for profit”. The services provided are considered similar to the activities carried out by the Agency and consistent with its function.
Taxes and subsidies: The state has been funding the provision of ECCE services since 2000, with all funded providers required to complete a contract that they fully comply with the childcare standards, garda vetting, statutory requirements, and Child Care Act 1991 (Early Years Services) Regulations 2016. Funding comes in the form of (a) universal childcare subsidies for children aged 6 – 36 months, (b) targeted childcare subsidies for low-income families that have children up to 15 years old, and (c) a free pre-schooling scheme for children aged 3 – 6 years old which provides free-of-charge pre-school services up to when the child begins primary school. According to the Child and Family Agency Act 2013, state assistance comes in the form of a grant or contributions in kind (such as learning materials, staffing, or other services). All funding is administered by the DCEDIY, apart from the Early Start program in 38 disadvantaged areas for children most at risk of not succeeding in education and infant classes in primary schools administered by the DE.
Curriculum and education standards: The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) is responsible for developing the curriculum from early childhood to secondary school settings in Ireland. For ECCE, the NCCA has developed Aistear: the Early Childhood Curriculum Framework which can be used in a wide range of ECCE settings (not prescribing to a specific pedagogical approach). ECCE providers are not required to use Aistear (with the framework being optional), apart from providers participating in the ECCE free childcare scheme in which case it is a contractual obligation and the basis of their evaluation.
Teaching profession: According to the Child Care Act 1991 (Early Years Services) Regulations 2016, all childcare providers must be registered with the Child and Family Agency and hold a minimum early childhood qualification. Grants are available to support staff in gaining the required qualifications and, as an incentive, enhanced funding is provided to services where staff have an additional Level 6 qualification on the National Qualifications Framework. Services employ their own staff, with salary and working conditions not negotiated at the central level.
Fee-setting: Childcare fees are determined by ECCE providers, with the exception of state-funded services for disadvantaged families and free childcare scheme services, which must be provided free-of-charge to children aged 3 – 6.
Admission selection and processes: ECCE services which receive funding from the DE (as part of the Early Start program) must enrol children based on age (with children required to be between the ages of 3 – 4 when first enrolled) and disadvantage, with the program prioritizing children most at risk of not reaching their full potential within the education system (including children with special educational needs). In services administered by the DCEDIY, parents choose the service to enrol their children based on the availability of places. Admission processes in these services are the responsibility of the prospective managers.
Policies for vulnerable groups: The Irish government supports disadvantaged children to access ECCE services through targeted childcare subsidies catering to low-income families, prioritizing children most at risk of not reaching their full education potential in the Early Start Program (including children with disabilities), the Access and Inclusion Mode (AIM). AIM (administered by the DCEDIY) is a child-centred model, specifically designed to ensure that children with disabilities are able to access the ECCE program in mainstream preschool settings, offering tailored, practical support based on need. Its aim is to empower service providers to deliver an inclusive preschool experience, with a dedicated Inclusion Charter and Guidelines offering information on how to supply the model and support.
Reporting requirements: All registered ECCE providers must carry out annual reviews of the quality and safety of care provided to children attending the service and maintain a record of such reviews for a period of 3 years, as stipulated in the Child Care Act 1991 (Early Years Services) Regulations 2016. The Síolta Quality Assurance Program was developed to assist ECCE providers in their self-assessment process. Providers are also financially accountable to the Child and Family Agency under the Child and Family Agency Act 2013, which monitors the grant-in-aid received and requires all providers to keep records of their income and expenditure and submit their accounts for audit. Any records kept must be open for inspection by the Agency at any time and in the case of child records, by the parents or guardians. Finally, the Síolta Quality Assurance Program was developed to assist ECCE providers in their self-assessment process.
Inspection: Under the Child and Family Agency Act 2013, the Child and Family Agency is responsible for the quality assurance of ECCE services. Inspections are undertaken (primarily) by the Child and Family Agency (through the Early Years Inspectorate) in collaboration with the DES through authorized officers. Inspection results are made available publicly, while ECCE providers may be required to address shortcomings and be subject to follow-up inspections to ensure they meet the minimum quality standards. Providers participating in the ECCE free childcare scheme are also subject to the Early-Years Education Inspection administered by the Inspectorate of the DES based on the Guide to Early Years Education Inspection 2018 and informed by the principles of the Aistear: the Early Childhood Curriculum Framework and Síolta: the National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education.
Child assessment: Child assessments are informed by the Aistear-in-Action toolkit, the Aistear Curriculum Framework, and the self-evaluation Aistear Síolta Practice Guide, which include guidelines on assessing children’s progress and planning for the next steps of their learning and development.
Sanctions: If ECCE services are found to be in breach of regulations or fail to meet the required quality standards, follow-up inspections can be organized and, in the most severe cases, providers can be fined, imprisoned, and/or settings can be ordered to close by the Child and Family Agency.
Registration and approval: The Education Act 1998 (as amended in 2020) establishes the legal governance entity for all schools known as ‘patrons’. Primary and secondary schools in Ireland are established and owned by patrons, which can be an individual or group which represents the owners of the school. The patron may manage the school personally or appoint a person or group (such as a Board of Management) to manage the school. The patronage process for new schools is overseen by the New Schools Establishment Group (NSEG), which was established in 2011 as an independent advisory group to advise the Minister of Education and Skills on the patronage of new schools. Since 2011, new schools are only established in areas of democratic growth (with proposed schools required to meet the demographic need in the school planning area). A separate process is then established to determine who will run the school, with applications open to all patron bodies and prospective patrons, taking into consideration the potential for Irish-medium provision. In order to be considered for patronage, prospective patrons must show evidence of parental demand from the area and based on the model of education proposed. Schools may be recognized by the DES following a request by the patron of a school or proposed school based on whether the school meets the minimum health, safety and building requirements, agrees to cooperate with regular inspections and evaluations, has enough students, and follows the curriculum prescribed by the DES. In order to be granted recognition, the school must additionally be providing a service that meets student needs which are not reasonably met by the existing schools. All recognised (aided) schools must additionally be registered as charities under the Charities Act 2009 (falling within the definition of an ‘education body’) and verify this information once a year. Their charitable purpose is the ‘advancement of education’ and charitable objectives are defined in the Education Act 1998 (Section 9). The Department of Education and the Charities Regulator work closely to make the registration process as simple and straightforward as possible.
Independent private schools do not register with the DE (considered non-recognized schools). They can register separately as limited companies under the Companies Act 2014. Parents of children who attend non-recognized private schools are required to register the child with TUSLA, the Child and Family Agency, in accordance with the Education (Welfare) Act 2000. This legal requirement exists in order to safeguard the child’s right to a minimum education.
Licence: Primary and post-primary schools in Ireland that meet the minimum standards and conditions set by the DE (including teacher-student ratio) receive recognition by the DES under the Education Act 1998 (as amended in 2020).
Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH): The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) is responsible for ensuring the health and safety of schools in Ireland. All schools must have a Health and Safety Statement in accordance with the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 and comply with the Guidelines on Managing Safety and Health in Post-Primary Schools and Guidelines on Managing Safety Health and Welfare in Primary Schools. When it comes to sanitary facilities, all schools must abide with the School Design Guide: Sanitary Facilities 2021 issued by the DES (Toilet Facilities in Primary Schools and Post-Primary Schools) and the Guidelines and Standards for Sanitary Facilities in Primary Schools 2014 which require a unisex universal WC to be provided close to every toilet block grouping and a wall/partition to separate male and female WCs. Students are additionally subject to school health screenings carried out by public health nurses and medical officers.
Profit-making: : Independent private schools may be profit-making entities. All other schools in Ireland which are recognized by the DE (aided) are legally required to submit an application for inclusion in the Register of Charities under the Charities Act 2009 (falling within the definition of an ‘education body’). Their charitable purpose is the ‘advancement of education’ and charitable objectives are defined in the Education Act 1998 (Section 9).
Taxes and subsidies: All schools which are recognized by the DE receive annual funding from the state based on allocation criteria determined by the Minister of Education and Skills each year, with only a small proportion of primary and post-primary schools classified as non-aided. The funding received comes in the form of a block grant, with additional funding provided to schools which cater for significant proportions of students at risk of educational disadvantage. Under the Constitution of Ireland 1937 (as amended in 2019), funding levels may not be determined by religious denomination, with the state prohibited from discriminating between schools under different religious denominations. At primary level, the grant covers the payment of teacher salaries, heating, cleaning, building, and operating costs on a per-pupil basis, and additional grants for free textbooks and book rental schemes (Circular 0030/2015). The grants are significantly higher when schools cater to students with special educational needs. At post-primary level, the DES similarly funds the schools’ staffing, running costs, and capital costs for schools that are part of the Free Education Scheme. The few schools that are not part of the Free Education Scheme at post-primary level (and allowed to levy fees) are provided with a reduced level of funding towards their staffing costs. Most schools supplement the grants through local fundraising and voluntary contributions by parents. State grants are only made to schools which are recognized by the DE, with the state playing no role in the funding of independent private schools at primary level.
Curriculum and education standards: The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment is responsible for developing the curriculum from early childhood to post-primary level in Ireland. All state-funded schools are required to follow the national curriculum, but apart from a few required subjects, post-primary schools have discretion as to their subject offer. At post-primary level, schools which are not part of the Free Education Scheme must also follow the national curriculum set by the DE. Independent, non-aided private schools at primary level are not required to follow the national curriculum. Government-aided primary schools are required to provide 20 hours of secular instruction per week for pupils on a full day (i.e. 1st class – 6th class) and 15 hours of secular instruction per week for pupils on a short day (i.e. infant classes). Typically, 2.5 hours per week are allocated to religious education / the patron’s program. The Primary School Curriculum Introduction (NCCA, 1999) does not break down this weekly time allocation into daily allocations, and it is left to the discretion of the school and the teacher as to how the time for secular and religious education / patron’s program will be divided in practice.
The Constitution of Ireland 1937 (as amended in 2019) gives students the right to attend a state-funded school without attending religious instruction (Article 44). All schools must teach Irish and English, with English being the main language of instruction for all schools except Irish medium schools.
Textbooks and learning materials: Schools are free to locally determine what textbooks and learning materials to use, but are advised to avoid frequent textbook changes that may give rise to unnecessary additional costs for parents.
Teaching profession: All teachers employed in recognized, government-aided schools must be registered with the Teaching Council and meet the minimum qualifications and experience stipulated in the Education Act 1998 (as amended in 2020). Teachers are not considered civil servants, but are regarded as working within the public service. Salary and working conditions are prescribed by the DE, while teachers are recruited locally by school boards of management. Since schools are non-state owned and managed, the selection of teachers are a matter for the management of each school. However, while teachers in aided schools can teach in subjects other than those in their degree qualification, teachers in ETBs and community/comprehensive schools (the only state-owned schools) must hold university qualifications in the subjects they teach. Teachers in these schools are appointed by selection boards nominated by the ETBs as part of an ‘ETB scheme’, which is separate to all other schools in the state-funded sector in Ireland. All registered teachers must meet the standards of professional knowledge, skill, competence and conduct set in the Teaching Council’s Code of Professional Conduct. There are additional teaching posts in schools within disadvantaged areas and for schools catering to students with special educational needs. The working conditions and qualifications for teachers in private independent schools are not centrally regulated by the government.
Corporal punishment: Corporal punishment is prohibited in all schools in Ireland, with teachers facing criminal prosecution if they are found to be engaging in such actions.
Fee-setting: Primary and post-primary schools which receive government funding are prohibited from charging tuition fees for student attendance. The Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018 additionally prohibits all schools from charging admission or enrolment fees, with the exception of post-primary schools not part of the Free Education Scheme and boarding schools that are not part of the free education scheme, as some post primary schools charge for the boarding element only. Independent (unaided) private schools at primary level charge fees which are determined by the provider. These schools receive no funding from the state.
Admission selection and processes: According to the Constitution of Ireland 1937 (as amended in 2019), parents are free to choose education for their children in government-aided schools, independent private schools, or homeschooling (with no child obliged to be sent to a state-recognized school). The Education (Admissions to Schools) Act 2000 gives parents the right of school choice once a place is available, with no government-aided school allowed to use academic attainment as an admission criterion. Due to the increasing ethnic and religious diversity in the country and certain schools found to be prioritizing students in their admissions process based on religion or ability, the government enacted the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018 (included in the Education Act 1998) with the aim to ensure greater fairness in the admissions process, explicitly prohibit discrimination, and make it easier for parents to more easily access local schools and enrol their children in a school that best fits their needs. A key feature of the act is that all schools must admit all applicants unless they are oversubscribed. Under this legislation, all schools must have an admission policy that includes a statement saying the school will not discriminate in its admission on the basis of gender, civil or family status, sexual orientation, religion, disability, race, or special educational needs. While recognizing the right of all primary schools to have their distinctive ethos, the removal of religion as a criterion for admission to school seeks to be fair to all parents including non-religious families that must be treated the same as all other families in school admissions. The legislation includes protection for students of a minority faith, which must still be able to access a school of their faith.
Parents have the right to choose which school to apply to and where the school has places available for the relevant year, the pupil should be admitted. However, in schools where there are more applicants than places available, a selection process will be necessary. This selection process and the enrolment policy on which it is based must be non-discriminatory and must be applied fairly in respect of all applicants. However, this may result in some pupils not obtaining a place in the school of their first choice.
The Act requires schools to clearly set out their selection criteria in their admission policies. Schools have discretion in relation to their admission criteria and how they are applied. The criteria to be applied by schools and the order of priority are a matter for the schools themselves. It is an important feature of the act that schools can only make a decision on an application for admission that is based on the schools admission policy.
Schools will have discretion in relation to the criteria used to make decisions on admission except in relation to the small number of criteria such as consideration prohibited by the Act. In the case of schools that are not oversubscribed, all applicants must be offered places.
The Educational Welfare Service of the Child and Family Agency (EWS) responsible for assisting parents who are experiencing difficulty in securing a school place for their child.
Section 64 of the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018, explicitly prohibits the charging of fees or seeking payment or contributions for admission to or for continued enrolment in a school. Section 64 applies to all recognised primary and post primary schools with exceptions only for fee charging secondary schools, boarding schools and schools that provide post leaving courses or courses in further education in respect of these courses.
Policies for vulnerable groups: According to the Education Act 1998 (as amended in 2020), recognized (aided) schools must ensure that they meet the educational needs of all students (including those with disability or other special education needs) and promote equality of opportunity for both male and female students. Under the DEIS (Delivering Equality of Inclusion in Schools), schools that cater for high concentration of socio-economically disadvantaged students receive additional supports. Schools in the DEIS programme also receive priority access to the School Meals Programme under the remit of the Department of Social Protection. while all schools which cater to students with special educational needs are provided with significantly higher government funding. The National Council for Special Education is specifically responsible for advising on policy and educational provision for children with special educational needs, while the Special Education Support Service provides support and professional development for teachers in addressing the needs of these students. Where the Council is convinced that there is insufficient capacity in an area regarding the provision of education for students with special educational needs, the Minister of Education and Skills must be informed based on a report for additional planned provision. The Department of Social Protection additionally pays a Back to School Clothing and Footwear allowance to certain students between the ages of 4 and 17/18 and 22 in welfare categories. Moreover, the DES funds a school transport scheme to increase schooling access to students who live in less-populated areas and a remote area grant for students who are eligible for school transport but cannot be catered for by the school transport scheme (with additional arrangements for students with special educational needs). With respect to students from the Traveller and Roma communities, the Department of Education leads on a number of education actions under the National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy (NTRIS), including actions aimed at improving access, participation and outcomes for Travellers and Roma in education; the overall strategy is led by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (DCEDIY). All immigrant children, including children of asylum seekers, refugees, migrant workers and unaccompanied minors can access pre-school, first and second level education in a manner similar to Irish nationals, until they have reached the age of 18 years.
School board: The Education Act, 1998 provides a statutory framework for the Irish education system at primary and post-primary level. It sets out the functions and responsibilities of all key partners in the education system and seeks the establishment of boards of management for all recognised schools. Section 14 of the Education Act 1998 places a duty on the patron of a recognized school, for the purposes of ensuring that such a school is managed in a spirit of partnership, to appoint, where practicable, a board of management (Board). The board of management consists of the patron, school staff, and parent and community representatives and is responsible for upholding the characteristic spirit (ethos) of the school and must at all times act in accordance with any Act of the Oireachtas relating to the establishment or operation of the school. Parents at recognized schools may additionally establish a parents’ association, while students at post-primary schools may establish a student council. Boards of management at primary level are guided by the Governance Manual for Primary Schools 2019-23. The governance of non-recognized (private) schools is not regulated by law.
Reporting requirements: All recognized (aided) schools are required to undertake School Self Evaluations in accordance with the guidelines developed by the Inspectorate of the DES and report their results to the school board of management. Aided schools are additionally financially accountable to the DES for their use of government funds, which must be used for the purpose which they were allocated. All school accounts are subject to public auditing on a sample basis, with financial accounts required to be available for inspection at any time by the DES. Independent (non-aided) private primary schools are not required to send statistical returns to the DE or keep financial accounts available for inspection.
School inspection: The Inspectorate of the DES is responsible for the quality assurance of all recognized (government-aided) schools in Ireland, including carrying out school inspections as stipulated in the Education Act 1998 (as amended in 2020). All inspectors are experienced teachers and are responsible for conducting national education evaluations and publishing individual school inspection reports on the DES website. The DE has no role in the inspection of independent non-aided private schools other than ensuring, through the Child and Family Agency, that students are receiving a certain minimum standard of education, as stated in the Constitution of Ireland 1937 (as amended in 2019).
Student assessment: All students in post-primary schools (irrespective of whether they are part of the Free Education Scheme and receive additional government funding) are required to sit for the national examinations administered by the State Examinations Commission (SEC). The SEC is responsible for the development, assessment, accreditation, and certification of the second-level examinations of the Irish state: the Junior Cycle Examination Certificate and the Leaving Certificate. At the primary level, assessments are guided by the Assessment in the Primary School Curriculum: Guidelines for Schools.
Diplomas and degrees: The Quality and Qualifications Ireland is responsible for maintaining the national qualifications framework across the education sector in the country. All schools at upper secondary level offer a mix of vocational and academic subjects which lead to students sitting for national examinations and the Leaving Certificate.
Sanctions: The Minister of Education and Skills may withdraw the recognition of a school that fails to meet the recognition requirements or is not effectively performing its functions by giving the school 1 year’s notice and making alternative educational arrangements for the students involved. The recognition may then be restored if the school manages to fulfil the necessary criteria. The Minister may also order to closure of a school if it is deemed to be in the best interest of students attending the school for a period determined by the Minister.
In Ireland, tertiary education is provided by 8 publicly funded universities recognised under the Universities Act 1997, five Technological Universities established under the Technological Universities Act 2018, two Institutes of Technology, and several private providers offering higher education programs (including private colleges and linked providers which are closely linked to universities or other degree awarding bodies). Private providers of higher education include a diverse set of institutions which are mainly categorized between institutions that offer awards under the national framework of qualifications overseen by Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) and may be eligible for government funding and for-profit independent colleges represented by the Higher Education Colleges Association and recognized by foreign universities. Private providers with programs validated by QQI are regulated by the Authority and subject to oversight according to the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) Act 2012 (as amended). As there are no national reporting requirements for non-regulated providers, the exact number of these institutions’ students is unknown. However, estimates suggest that private providers enroll approximately 10% of all higher education students in Ireland.
Registration and approval: Private providers of higher education that wish to offer awards based on the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ) can submit their quality assurance procedures to QQI for approval, as stipulated in the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) Act 2012 (as amended) and the Statutory Quality Assurance Guidelines developed by QQI for Independent/Private Providers coming to QQI on a Voluntary Basis 2016. Applicants must be legal entities, with a clearly identified legal person that has rights and responsibilities under law. Once the institution’s quality assurance procedures have been approved, the provider applies to QQI for validation of their programs of education and training which is based on an evaluation by an independent panel of experts. This is not a requirement for all private providers and is made on a voluntary basis. Providers who are not included in the NFQ are not considered under current regulation. According to the Universities Act 1997 (amended by the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) (Amendment) Act 2019), private institutions are allowed to apply for university designation by making an application to the Minister of Education and Skills based on a set of criteria set in the Act. This is a separate process to the establishment of a publicly funded university under the Universities Act 1997, or to the establishment of a Technological University under the Technological Universities Act 2018. Private providers may also enter into an arrangement with a designated awarding body to provide degrees, known as ‘linked providers’. In this case, their academic and quality assurance procedures come within the linked university’s framework and follow its patterns.
Licence: QQI is responsible for approving private providers to offer awards based on the NFQ and validating their programs.
Profit-making: Profit-making is not regulated in legislation for private higher education institutions (HEIs), allowing for providers to be established on a profit-making basis. Private HEIs include both for-profit and non-profit institutions.
Taxes and subsidies: Private HEIs that offer awards under the NFQ only receive government funding if they are successful in bidding for funds under a range of competitive funding streams open to both state and (in some cases) private providers (such as the Springboard, Strategic Innovation Fund, Momentum initiatives targeted which target the unemployed). Funding may include core grant funding and free undergraduate fees funding. The National Strategy for Higher Education 2030 envisages a greater role for private HEIs in the future, specifically in terms of bidding for state-funded student places in areas of identified need.
Curriculum and education standards: : Private HEIs that offer awards as part of the NFQ have their programs validated and monitored by QQI according to the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) Act 2012 (as amended) and QQI’s Core Validation Policy and Criteria for education and training programs.
Teaching profession: Private colleges that are associated with universities must have their staffing approved by the university concerned. Private HEIs seeking university status are required to meet the staff qualifications stipulated in the Universities Act 1997 (amended by the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) (Amendment) Act 2019).
Fee-setting: Private providers determine the fees charged for attendance in their programs, with some institutions receiving government funding that partially or totally covers costs in tuition fees. Private providers are often seeking government funding for eligible students based on the provision that they could fund top-up tuition fees themselves.
Admission selection and processes: The Higher Education Authority makes recommendations to the Minister of Education and Skills on the provision of student places to be made in the higher education system, with the aim to maintain a reasonable balance in the distribution of the total number of students. All higher education providers (including private HEIs offering nationally validated awards) must promote access to economically and socially disadvantaged groups, students with disabilities, and students who are part of significantly under-represented groups.
Board: Private HEIs which offer awards included in the NFQ are required to ensure that their governance structure is independent of commercial considerations or the influence of its business owners, with fit-for-purpose management and decision-making structures. The institution must consult, where appropriate, with staff and student representatives. The management structure of private colleges which are associated with universities must be approved by the respective university.
Reporting requirements: All higher education providers have the primary responsibility for the quality assurance of their education and training, which includes developing quality assurance procedures (approved by QQI) as well as maintaining and improving their quality of education, training and research. According to the Statutory Quality Assurance Guidelines developed by QQI for Independent/Private Providers coming to QQI on a Voluntary Basis 2016, private providers are specifically required to monitor and review their programs every 5 years.
Inspection: Private HEIs that offer awards within the NFQ are regulated and monitored by QQI according to the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) Act 2012 (as amended). This includes monitoring validated programs and conducting reviews and evaluations. Private colleges that are associated with recognized universities are monitored directly be these universities and subject to an institutional review at least once every 7 years.
Assessment: All private HEIs approved by QQI to offer nationally recognized awards must have fair and consistent assessment systems that comply with QQI policy protocols and assessment guidelines.
Diplomas and degrees: Private HEIs may only offer nationally recognized higher education awards included in the NFQ if they have been approved and validated by QQI and comply with the relevant quality assurance criteria. Private colleges which are established based on an agreement with a recognized university offer awards which are issued by the respective university. Any awards issued by providers that are not approved or validated by QQI are not included in the NFQ.
Sanctions: If a quality assurance review finds serious deficiencies in an institution, QQI may impose sanctions on approved private HEIs which include withdrawing their approval, withdrawing their program validation, and/or withdrawing their authority to offer awards. Private colleges which operate unregulated from the state have also been subject closures in the past.
In Ireland, private tutoring centres are referred to as ‘grind schools’, which are commonly attended by students either part-time after normal school hours (during evenings, weekends, or school holidays) or on a ‘block’ basis (intensive revision courses during school holidays). In addition to grind schools, several students attend one-to-one private tutoring courses given by teachers or university students. Moreover, according to the Home Tuition Grant Scheme, parents or legal guardians may hire tutors for the provision of home tuition in a private arrangement (which receive funding from the government). This is a limited scheme. The Department of Education operates 3 categories of home tuition: special educational needs, medical grounds reasons other than special educational needs, and medical ground maternity-related absences.
According to a survey of 1,496 upper secondary students in 2003, 45% had received paid private tutoring during their last year of school in preparation for the national standardized examination (Leaving Certificate), which showed a 32% increase compared to the previous decade (1994). Private tutoring services were also found to be more common for students already in fee-paying secondary schools.
There was no legal requirement found for grind schools to be established under the DES. Grind classes may be offered by private secondary schools, such as the Institute of Education, which offers both full-time day education and part-time grinds and courses. This institution is registered as an independent, non-government-funded institution. The Education Act 1998 also allows for the establishment of ‘education support centres’ which provide services for schools, teachers, parents and boards that may be recognized by the Minister of Education. However, there is no specific mention of private tutoring or part-time classes in the Act, allowing these institutions to be registered separately as companies.
Grind schools are for-profit entities. They receive no funding from the government and are not subject to inspections or obliged to follow a certain curriculum. Private tuition classes given by teachers or instructors are exempt from VAT where it covers school or university education. In home tuition arrangements (which apply in exceptional circumstances), home tuition payments are made by the DE to approved tutors acting on behalf of parents or guardians.
Private tutors that are hired as part of the Home Tuition Grant Scheme are required to be qualified and registered with the Teaching Council. There are no statutory or formal qualifications needed for other professional tutors, but most tend to have a degree and other further qualifications.
This profile has been reviewed by the Department of Education (Ireland).