- 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)
In Northern Ireland (like the other constituent parts of the United Kingdom), the legal framework refers to “independent schools” (more commonly known as ‘private schools’) at primary and secondary level. The Education and Libraries (Northern Ireland) Order 1986 (which mainly distinguishes between “grant-aided” and “independent” schools) defines an independent school as as “a school at which full-time education is provided for pupils of compulsory school age (whether or not such education is also provided for pupils under or over that age), not being a grant-aided school”. A “proprietor” in relation to an independent school, is defined as “the person responsible for the management of the school and, for the purposes of the provisions of this Order relating to applications for the registration of independent schools, includes any person proposing to be so responsible”. A grant-aided school is defined as “a school, institution or establishment, as the case may be, to or in respect of which grants are made under the Education Orders, not being a college of education”. A “maintained school” means a “voluntary school other than a grammar school”, with “trustees” of these schools defined as “the person or persons in whom the premises of the school or college of education are, or are to be, vested”. A “voluntary school” is defined as a “grant-aided school other than a controlled school or a grant maintained integrated school”. The Education Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 defines a “Catholic maintained school” as “a maintained school which is for the time being designated in a scheme under paragraph (4)…(where) the Department, after consultation with the Council, shall make a scheme designating those maintained schools which are to be Catholic maintained schools for the purposes of this Order”. The Circular 2015/15 on Jointly Managed Schools provides a further definition of a “jointly managed church school” as a “grant-aided school, providing shared education with a Christian ethos, with Trustee representation agreed by the Transferor churches and the Catholic Church and managed by a Board of Governors with balanced representation from both the main communities”.
At the early childhood care and education level, the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 refers to “persons who act as child minders on domestic premises within the authority’s area” and “persons (other than the authority) who provide day care for children under the age of twelve on premises (other than domestic premises) within that area”.
Finally, at the higher education level, the Education and Libraries (Northern Ireland) Order 1986 defines a “governing body” in relation to a university as “the executive governing body which has responsibility for the management and administration of its revenue and property and the conduct of its affairs” and in relation to any other institution, “the body which has the responsibility for the conduct of its affairs”.
In 2020/21, most education (98.7% of schools, 99.3% of enrolments) at primary (ages 4 – 11) and secondary (ages 12 – 16+) level in Northern Ireland was provided by state-funded schools (referred to as grant-aided schools). Education is free and compulsory for all children between the ages of 4 – 16 under the Education and Libraries (Northern Ireland) Order 1986 (Section 45) and free for full-time students aged 17 – 18 in full-time post-compulsory school.
There are different legal categories of grant-aided schools (based on ownership and management arrangements), of which only controlled schools and controlled integrated schools (accounting for approximately half of all schools) are owned by the Education Authority (a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department of Education). These schools are managed by a board of governors (with representatives of churches, parents, teachers, and the Education Authority) and receive full funding (for capital and revenue expenditure) from the Education Authority. These schools may be mixed or single-sex schools.
The education system in Northern Ireland has some important differences to the system in England and Wales, with schooling mainly organized along denominational lines, reflecting the traditional religious divides in the society (with Roman Catholic and Protestant children being often enrolled in different types of schools). Controlled schools usually enrol Protestant students, while controlled integrated schools cater to both Protestant and Catholic students (as well as students of other faiths and none). The Department of Education has a statutory duty to encourage and facilitate the development of integrated and ‘shared education’, which involves students from different religious and socioeconomic backgrounds being educated together. Within the controlled school sector, there are also controlled grammar schools and several Irish medium schools. Grammar schools are secondary schools that (mostly) select their students using academic criteria and have historically been allowed to charge fees.
Non-state managed, state schools
No information was found.
Non-state funded, state schools
No information was found.
Independent, non-state schools
Although the term ‘private schools’ is in common use in Northern Ireland, the legal framework refers to independent schools. Independent schools are independently owned, managed, and funded schools which charge fees for attendance and follow their own curriculum. These schools receive no funding from the state, but may benefit from tax concessions if they are registered as charities. Many independent schools have charitable status, with 74% of member schools of the Independent Schools Council in the United Kingdom (UK) reported to be registered as charities. In Northern Ireland, independent schools accounted for only 1.3% of all schools and 0.7% of total enrolments in 2020/21. These schools include religious schools (Christian schools), grammar schools, and schools with alternative pedagogies (Steiner schools). Northern Ireland also has several independent fee-paying boarding schools.
State-funded (government-aided), non-state schools
In 2020/21, most students (99%) in Northern Ireland attended grant-aided schools, which have different legal categories depending on their ownership and management structures. All grant-aided schools are free of charge to attend, follow the national (Northern Ireland) curriculum, and are required to provide religious education according to the common syllabus (which includes studies from both Protestant and Roman Catholic perspectives). Besides controlled schools (which are owned and managed by the Education Authority), all other grant-aided schools in Northern Ireland are owned by and managed by non-state actors and fully funded by the state (receiving their revenue expenditure from the Education Authority and their capital funding directly from the Department of Education). The schooling system reflects traditional religious divides in Northern Ireland, with different historic ownership arrangements in the state-funded sector.
Catholic maintained schools are owned by the Catholic Church and managed by a board of governors (nominated by mainly Roman Catholic trustees and consisting of parent, teacher, and Education Authority representatives). These schools mainly educate Catholic children, with the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) being responsible for their management and teachers. Catholic maintained schools educate about one third of Northern Ireland students.
Grant-maintained integrated schools are owned by trustees or the school board of governors and educate both Protestant and Catholic students (as well as those of other faiths or none). Integrated schools aim to to bring different traditions together to improve their understanding of one another, their own cultures, religions, and values. Although the education system has historically reflected religious divides in Northern Ireland, approximately 23,000 students were enrolled in formally integrated schools in 2018.
Voluntary grammar schools are owned by the school’s founding body or trustees and may be either Roman Catholic or non-denominational. Similar to other grant-aided schools, they are managed by a board of governors with representatives of foundation governors, parents, teachers, and (in most cases) the Education Authority. Depending on the school’s management structure, voluntary grammar schools may vary in the rates of capital funding to which they are entitled (with most entitled to 100% of capital grants).
There are also jointly managed church schools, where representatives of the Transferor churches and the Catholic church work together in the management of the school (hybrid management) as part of the “shared education” programs. These schools provide shared education in accordance with a Christian ethos and are managed by a board of governors with balanced representation from both the main church communities.
Some grant-aided schools also have additional characteristics, such as being single-sex schools or Irish medium schools. In 2020, there were 27 Irish medium schools in Northern Ireland, which adopt an approach called “immersion” education where a child whose first language is English is taught through the medium of Irish.
Contracted, non-state schools
No information was found.
Although education is compulsory in Northern Ireland, school attendance is not. Parents may educate their child at home without seeking government approval under the Education and Libraries (Northern Ireland) Order 1986. Reasons for educating a child at home may include school distance, religious, ideological, or cultural beliefs, dissatisfaction with the education system, special educational needs, or bullying. Home-schooled children are not required to follow the national (Northern Ireland) curriculum.
Market contracted (Voucher schools)
No information was found.
No information was found.
Northern Ireland is constituent part of the United Kingdom (UK) of Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) and Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Executive has overall responsibility for the education system, with the Department of Education (DE) overseeing pre-primary, primary, and secondary education (state and non-state) and the Department for the Economy (DfE) overseeing further and higher education (state and non-state). Early childhood education (including non-state provision) is overseen by the Early Years Teams based in the five regional Health and Social Care Trusts which provide integrated health and social care services across Northern Ireland. The Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) (as part of the Department of Education) is responsible for the inspection of state and non-state education institutions, while the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) advises the government on the curriculum, assessment, and qualifications of grant-aided schools.
The Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) manages and ensures the coordination of Catholic maintained schools, while the majority of the independent schools in Northern Ireland are members of the Independent Schools Council (ISC) of the UK.
The education system is centrally administered, with the only bodies responsible for non-state education at the regional level being the five regional Health and Social Care Trusts at the early childhood education level.
Vision: Northern Ireland’s state-funded education sector reflects the historic influence of the church on education, with schooling traditionally being organized along denominational lines. Controlled schools (owned by the state) mainly cater to Protestant students, Catholic maintained schools (owned by the Catholic Church) enroll Catholic students, while formally integrated schools aim to achieve equal numbers of Catholic and Protestant students (with the school population increasingly ethnically and culturally diverse). The Department of Education and bodies like the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools have a statutory duty under the Education Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 and the Shared Education Act (Northern Ireland) 2016 (supported by the Sharing works: A Policy for Shared Education 2015) to encourage and facilitate integrated and shared education (bringing together students and staff of different faiths and socioeconomic backgrounds) “which is secured by the working together and co-operation of two or more relevant providers”. According to the Children and Young People's Strategy for 2019-29, “it is essential that we do this with the active participation of our children and young people, and their families, and that Children’s Authorities, other public services and the community, voluntary and private sectors work collaboratively to improve the well-being of children and young people”.
In Northern Ireland, early childhood care and education (ECCE) covers ages 0 – 4 and is provided in nursery schools, nursery classes in primary schools, voluntary playgroups, and private day care providers. In 2020/21, voluntary and private ECCE centres accounted for 79% of all stand-alone ECCE provision, covering 56% of enrolments, with the rest of services provided in controlled nurseries (14%) and Catholic maintained nurseries (7%). Unlike compulsory education, which is organized along denominational lines, ECCE in all settings is accessible to children from all backgrounds in Northern Ireland.
Registration and approval: Private and voluntary ECCE providers (which include day nurseries, playgroups, and childminders) are required to be registered with the Early Years Teams based in one the five regional Health and Social Care Trusts. There is no requirement for providers to be legal entities. The Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 sets out the legal requirements for day care and childminding for young children, including the limits on the number of children being looked after and in specific age groups and child-staff ratios (1:8 for funded ECCE settings).
License: If satisfied that the minimum requirements under the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 have been met, the provider is issued a certificate of registration.
Profit-making: Profit-making is not regulated at the ECCE level.
Taxes and subsidies: In order to ensure that part-time ECCE provision is available to all 3-4 year-old children (in the year before compulsory education), grant-aided nursery schools, classes, and voluntary and private ECCE settings receive government funding via the Common Funding Scheme (under the Department of Education) as part of the Pre-school Education Expansion Programme introduced in 1998. Government funding covers ECCE provision for 2.5 hours a day, 5 days a week, for 38 weeks of the year. To receive funding under the program, providers are required to meet the Curricular Guidance for Pre-School Education, with both sectors (state and non-state) subject to the same quality standards and guidelines. Government funding of early years provision aims to support a wide range of providers (irrespective of ownership) to suit parents’ and children’s’ needs, with approximately 34% of funded ECCE places delivered by non-state (private and voluntary) providers. Extended Services Funding is also available to eligible preschool settings (state and non-state) to help them identify and address underdeveloped social, communication, emotional, and language skills of the children in the preschool setting. Finally, government-funded ECCE provision is also available to the most disadvantaged 2-to 3-year-olds under the Sure Start programme.
Curriculum and education standards: All state-funded ECCE settings (state and non-state) are required to follow the Curricular Guidance for Pre-School Education 2018 developed by the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) under the Department of Education and the Minimum Standards for Childminding and Daycare for Children Aged Under 12. The curricular guidance outlines six areas of learning and development through a play-based curriculum, including physical development and movement, personal, social and emotional development, language development, the arts, and early mathematical experiences. The Learning to Learn – A Framework for Early Years Education and Learning provides the policy focus for ECCE in Northern Ireland. There is no requirement for non-state-funded ECCE settings or childminders to follow any specific type of curriculum, with learning provision within these settings based on parental choice.
Teaching profession: Private and voluntary ECCE settings that receive government funding under the Pre-school Education Expansion Program must adhere to the staffing requirements set out in the Minimum Standards for Childminding and Daycare for Children Aged Under 12 (which include staffing ratios and minimum qualification requirements). These apply to both state and non-state ECCE settings. According to the qualifications for 'early years specialists' developed by the Department of Education, grant-aided nurseries must have a qualified teacher, whilst private and voluntary providers that receive government funding are required to “arrange support” from a qualified teacher or a suitably qualified early years specialist. State-funded private and voluntary providers must additionally ensure that at least 50% of their staff have a “relevant qualification” in education or childcare and adhere to the required child-staff ratios.
Fee-setting: Private and voluntary ECCE providers that receive funding under the Preschool Education Expansion Program are required to provide free part-time preschool places for 2.5 hours per day, five days a week, for 38 weeks of the year. Parents may pay for additional provision if they wish (the fees of which are not regulated by the government), while providers may request voluntary contributions or charge for additional, optional services. Free ECCE provision is also available for some disadvantaged 2-year-olds under the Sure Start’ program to help them prepare for preschool, with all other provision during that age (and under) paid by the parents themselves (with no specific regulation on fee levels).
Admission selection and processes: All children admitted to government funded ECCE places under the Preschool Education Expansion Program (in state, private, or voluntary settings) must be in their final preschool year (aged 3), with priority required to be given to children from socially disadvantaged groups. Children from “socially disadvantaged circumstances” are defined as those whose parents are in receipt of income support, income-based jobkeeper’s allowance, or universal credit. If a provider receives more applications than there are funded places available, the Pre-School Education in Schools (Admission Criteria) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2012 and the Education Authority’s School Admissions Guide (with specific guidance for private and voluntary providers) must be applied (which mainly give priority to disadvantaged applicants and children residing in Northern Ireland). Voluntary and private providers must additionally develop admissions sub-criteria to cater for oversubscription which should take into account geographical location, looked after children, and whether a sibling is attending the school. Under the Education and Libraries (Northern Ireland) Order 2003, parents may express a preference for a specific preschool setting, with no guarantee that a place will be offered in their preferred setting.
Policies for vulnerable groups: According to the Minimum Standards for Childminding and Daycare for Children Aged Under 12, all government-funded ECCE settings must “actively promote equality of opportunity and inclusion for all children and their parents and staff and positively value diversity”. The Sure Start Programme additionally offers free ECCE provision to 2- 3-year-olds living in disadvantaged areas in Northern Ireland that would benefit most from additional support when preparing for preschool (through local Sure Start centres). The program varies according to local need, and includes services such as home-based support, healthcare and advice, support in speech, language, and communication.
Reporting requirements: ECCE settings that receive government funding under the Preschool Education Expansion Program are accountable to the Department of Education and Education Inspectorate for their adherence to the minimum standards set in the Curricular Guidance for Pre-School Education 2018 and the Minimum Standards for Childminding and Daycare for Children Aged Under 12.
Inspection: Private and voluntary ECCE settings are inspected annually by the Early Years Teams based in one of the five regional Health and Social Care (HSC) Trusts in Northern Ireland, as stipulated in the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995. ECCE providers that receive government funding under the Preschool Education Expansion Program (state and non-state) are additionally inspected and regularly monitored by the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI), with provision expected to be in line with the Curricular Guidance for Pre-School Education 2018. Inspections include staff observation, reading and evaluation of relevant documentation, talks with staff, and parent/staff questionnaires.
Child assessment: There are no statutory requirements for child assessment during preschool education, although the Curricular Guidance for Pre-School Education 2018 (applicable to funded providers) promotes child assessment though day-to-day observations and interactions with children over time.
Sanctions: If any provider (state or non-state) fails to adhere to the minimum funding standards set by the Department of Education following an inspection, they are given a timeframe to improve standards. If the standards are not improved within the given timeframe, government funding may be withdrawn. Moreover, the the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 lists a number of sanctions for providers that fail to meet the regulations and registration requirements, which include, fines and cancellation of the provider’s registration.
Registration and approval: Independent schools (which are established by “any person proposing to be so responsible”) are required by law to be registered with the Department of Education under the Education and Libraries (Northern Ireland) Order 1986. Applications must be accompanied by information on student numbers, curriculum, teachers, and hours of instruction, with all schools subject to the health and safety requirements in the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland that apply to state schools and state-funded schools. Premises must additionally be suitable to use as a school, having into regard the number, gender, ages, and abilities of the students. Independent schools initially receive provisional registration, during which the Education and Training Inspectorate inspects whether the standards of education and provision meet the minimum requirements (in order to be granted full registration).
Grant-aided schools are similarly required to be registered with the Department of Education (through the submission of a Development Proposal) and meet minimum standards, which include number and composition of staff and school infrastructure standards set in the School Premises (Standards) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1973, the Education (School Development Plans) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2010, and the Buildings Handbook (including space requirements, classroom size, and student-teacher ratios). The school’s premises are required to meet the standards applicable for grant-aided schools (and specifically for the type of grant-aided school being established) in order to be receive official approval from the Department. According to the Education (Northern Ireland) Order 1996, any controlled, voluntary, or independent school may be eligible for grant-maintained integrated status through submitting a proposal to the Department (and catering to a reasonable number of Protestant and Catholic students). For Catholic maintained schools, a proposal must be submitted to the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools which shall give its views on the application to the Education Authority (which then submits the proposal to the Department of Education). Grant-aided schools may additionally express interest in establishing “jointly managed church schools”, where both the representatives of the Transferor churches and Catholic Church work together in the management of the school. These schools are most likely to be established as a result of the amalgamation of former controlled and Catholic maintained schools, without however precluding the establishment of an entirely new school of this type. New jointly managed church schools should preferably by established by a formal body such as a Trust (appointed through a deed of appointment as legal representatives of the school) following the approval of their application by the Department.
License: The Minister of Education makes decisions on any Development Proposal (which are approved by the Department of Education). The Department is responsible for granting full registration to independent schools and keeping a register of these schools at all times. For grant-aided schools, recognition is granted by the Department based on specific terms and conditions.
Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH): Grant-aided schools are required to comply with the School Premises (Standards) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1973. Standards include having an adequate and wholesome supply of drinking water and water closets in every school (separated by sex and according to prescribed ratios).
Profit-making: There was no regulation found on profit-making for independent schools or grant-aided schools in Northern Ireland. Independent schools may be registered as charities, in which case they must demonstrate by law that they are for the “public benefit” and abide by charities legislation.
Taxes and subsidies: Independent schools do not receive state funding, although those that are registered as charities may benefit from tax concessions. These schools are mainly funded through tuition fees and income from investments. Grant-aided schools on the other hand receive government funding for both their recurrent (revenue) and capital expenditure depending on the legal category of the school, which is provided by the Department of Education via the Education Authority (or directly from the Department). Recurrent expenditure (distributed from the General Schools Budget) covers staff salaries, books, equipment, meals, transport, repairs, and maintenance, whereas capital expenditure is expenditure that produces or protects and asset that will last a long time such as a building or machinery. The Aggregated Schools Budget (ASB) (allocated to schools under the Common Funding Scheme) is allocated as a block grant. In addition to receiving government funding, grant-aided schools are free to raise extra funds through voluntary contributions or a variety of activities (such as renting the school premises or running additional activities that generate income). Funding is determined based on the school size, age and number of students, building costs, and individual school needs (such as Targeted Social Need that takes into account social deprivation, looked after children, and newcomer students, and Irish-medium education). Funding is also directed towards schools that are considered the highest priority based on educational need and ministerial priorities. For grant-maintained integrated schools to qualify for state funding, they have to satisfy a number of statutory requirements, including minimum student intake, religious balance (attracting at least 30% of students from a minority religion), and curriculum.
Curriculum and education standards: Independent schools are not legally required to follow the statutory Northern Ireland Curriculum. They must however offer a curriculum that is suitable for the age, ability, aptitude, and any special educational needs of the students (with the curriculum being one of the major aspects considered in school inspections). Grant-aided schools (including state schools) are required by law to provide the Northern Ireland Curriculum developed by the by the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) under the Education Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 1989, the Education (Curriculum Minimum Content) Order (Northern Ireland) 2007 (setting out the minimum content), and the the Education (Other Skills) Order (Northern Ireland) 2007 (specifying additional curriculum content). The national curriculum does not constitute the whole curriculum for schools, with each school free to include additional subjects on topics of their choice. The government requires these schools to offer a curriculum that is balanced and broadly based, promoting the spiritual, emotional, moral, cultural, intellectual, and physical development of students. Moreover, all grant-aided schools must provide religious education in accordance with the common core syllabus (which includes the study of both Protestant and Roman Catholic perspectives), as well as provide a daily act of collective worship (usually broadly Christian). The statutory requirements of the core syllabus are set out in the Education (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 and the Education (Core Syllabus for Religious Education) Order (Northern Ireland) 2007. Parents have the right to withdraw their children from religious education or collective worship under the Education and Libraries (Northern Ireland) Order 1986 and the Education (School Information and Prospectuses) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2003. In Catholic maintained schools, the curriculum policy is developed by the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools. The language of instruction must be English, except for Irish-medium schools which teach in Irish.
Textbooks and learning materials: There are no officially prescribed textbooks for primary or secondary students, with textbooks and learning materials selected by the teachers and schools themselves in accordance with national standards and guidelines. Textbooks are provided by commercial publishers and do not require government approval (for independent or grant-aided schools).
Teaching profession: Teachers in grant-aided schools (including state schools) are required to be registered by the General Teaching Council for Northern Ireland (GTCNI) (under the Education (Northern Ireland) Order 1998) and be properly qualified to teach under the Education and Libraries (Northern Ireland) Order 1986 and the Teachers' (Eligibility) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1997 (which specify the qualifications, age, and health requirements of teachers). Working conditions, salaries, and terms of employment are regulated by the Circular 2016/24 and the Teachers' (Terms and Conditions of Employment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1987 (and the Amendment Regulations of 1988, No. 229), with pay scales determined the Department of Education. The Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) is responsible for employing teachers in Catholic maintained schools, while the board of governors is the employing authority for teachers in grant-aided schools (other than controlled schools which are employed by the Education Authority).
Teachers in independent schools are not required by law to have “eligibility to teach” status, professional competences, or abide to regulations on performance management, with conditions of employment and salary scales determined by the school’s themselves. These schools however may make reference to the conditions applicable to teachers in the state-funded sector, with salaries usually similar to teachers in the state-funded sector.
Corporal punishment: Corporal punishment is strictly prohibited in all grant-aided and independent schools in the UK, with prohibition specifically extended to cover independent education in 2003 in Northern Ireland. In 2014, however, the government confirmed that legislation does not prohibit corporal punishment in “unregistered independent schools providing part-time education”.
Other safety measures and COVID-19: All schools (independent and grant-aided) are subject to the health and safety requirements in the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland, while grant-aided schools are additionally subject to the School Premises (Standards) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1973 (which includes precautions for health and safety).
Fee-setting: Independent schools do not receive any government aid and charge fees for student attendance (with no regulation found limiting these fees). Grant-aided schools on the other hand are required to provide free education to all students from the ages of 4 to 18, with the exception of certain voluntary grammar schools which may charge capital fees of up to £140 (153.99 USD) per year. According to the Education Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 1989, grant-aided schools are prohibited from charging fees for education provided during school hours, admissions applications, education that is part of the Northern Ireland curriculum and syllabus, national examinations (such as the GCSEs), and textbook supply (with charges only permitted for activities which fall outside these categories). Children in compulsory education whose parents or guardians receive certain state benefits are additionally entitled to free school meals. Schools may request voluntary donations from parents for school activities that take place during school hours, with any parent unable or unwilling to contribute not being discriminated against. No cash benefits are available to students in compulsory education. At post-compulsory education however, students from low-income may receive an Education Maintenance Allowance that contributes towards their costs of participating in education (such as book or travel costs).
Admission selection and processes: The Education (Northern Ireland) Order 1997 sets out the statutory requirements for student admissions in grant-aided schools (including criteria to be followed in case of oversubscription). The board of governors of each school draws up the schools admissions criteria, taking into account representations from the Council for Catholic-Maintained Schools (CCMS) in case of a Catholic maintained school. Catholic maintained schools must ensure provision for students with special educational needs, while integrated schools must ensure that at least 30% of their students are from the school’s minority tradition. Grammar schools are the only grant-aided schools that are permitted to use an entrance examination as part of their admissions criteria. Parents have a statutory right to express preference for a particular school, and schools to comply with this preference. When admissions are oversubscribed, priority must be given to siblings of students already attending the school, geographic proximity, and looked after children. Oversupply of school places are additionally addressed in the government’s ‘Sustainable Schools Policy’ and 'area planning' process. Primary and secondary school admissions are specifically regulated by the Primary Schools (Admissions Criteria) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1997 and the Secondary Schools (Admissions Criteria) Regulations Northern Ireland 1997, with specific guidance and the Circular 2016/17 summarizing the school’s statutory requirements. All public bodies are bound by equality legislation, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of age, gender, disability, race, religion, sex, political opinion, pregnancy, and marital/civil partnership. Grammar schools are the only grant-aided schools that are permitted to use an entrance examination as part of their admissions criteria (clarified in statutory guidance).
Policies for vulnerable groups: The Department of Education provides additional funding to so-called extended schools (grant-aided schools) which serve students in the most disadvantaged areas of Northern Ireland. The Education (Northern Ireland) Order 1996 and the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (Northern Ireland) Order 2005 (amended in 2016) also places emphasis on education children with special educational needs along with their peers in mainstream grant-aided schools. Cash benefits and free school meals that contribute towards education costs are also eligible for students from low-income backgrounds, as described above.
School board: Grant-aided schools are required to have board of governors a scheme of management under the Education Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 (which acts as the school’s basis for administration and governance) and the Education and Libraries (Northern Ireland) Order 1986, which provides for the membership of the school’s board of governors. The size and composition of the board varies according to the size and legal category of the school, with membership ranging from 8 – 36 members. In every grant-aided school, one or more positions are required to be filled by parents of registered students in the school (through election), those who originally founded the school (such as the foundation governors), Education Authority or Department of Education representatives, and teachers. Guidance for the role of the board can be found in the Every School a Good School: The Governors’ Role and the The School Governor Handbook for Irish Medium Schools (for Irish-medium schools). The internal governance of independent schools is not regulated by law.
Reporting requirements: Independent schools are mainly accountable to the Department of Education for maintaining their statutory requirements (which includes complying with public health and safety legislation) and parents (who pay their fees). Schools (including independent and grant-aided schools) are also required to conduct self-evaluation as an integral part of the Department of Education’s school improvement policy Every School a Good School – a policy for school improvement, a process which is underpinned by by the Education (School Development Plans) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2010 and by guidance from the Department of Education titled Together Towards Improvement.
School inspection: Independent schools and grant-aided schools are regularly inspected by the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) (part of the Department of Education) based on three main models of inspection: full inspection, sustaining improvement inspection, and monitoring inspection (each supplemented with phase-specific guidance). The Education and Libraries (Northern Ireland) Order 1986 forms the legal basis of the ETI’s work. ETI inspects schools (and preschools) based on the Inspection and Self-evaluation Framework (ISEF) and publishes inspection reports, with providers subject to intervention if important areas for improvement exist. There is a dual quality assurance system of external inspection and self-evaluation (see reporting requirements).
Student assessment: The Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) is responsible for the examinations and assessment of grant-aided schools (including state schools) in Northern Ireland, which includes conducting and moderating student assessments that are considered equivalent to examination standards across the UK. There is no legal requirement for independent schools to take part in national assessments.
Diplomas and degrees: The Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) oversees external qualifications in grant-aided schools, with awarding organizations designing qualifications in line with the regulatory requirements set by the CCEA. The General Conditions of Recognition of all approved qualifications for use in Northern Ireland are developed by the CCEA, with details of all approved qualifications contained within the Register of Regulated Qualifications. The CCEA has specific responsibility for the regulation, accreditation and quality assurance of all qualifications offered to students in Northern Ireland, including the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE).
Sanctions: If an independent school is found to be operating unregistered, the provider is fined up to £2,500 (3,434 USD) and/or imprisoned for up to 3 months, as stipulated in the Education and Libraries (Northern Ireland) Order 1986. Voluntary (grant-aided) schools may propose to discontinue their school with prior approval from the Department of Education (with 2 years notice). According to the Education Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 1989, the Department of Education may also close a grant-aided school if the school does not respond to any notices (which specify the time in which the school’s board of governors are required to remedy certain matters).
The tertiary education system in Northern Ireland shares a number of characteristics and features with tertiary education in England, Wales and Scotland. In all four parts of the UK, higher education institutions are autonomous, self-governing bodies that are not owned by the state (having their own legal identities and powers), but the great majority receive significant government funding. In Northern Ireland, the higher education sector consists of 3 universities (the Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University, the Open University in Northern Ireland), and 2 university colleges (St. Mary’s University College, Stranmillis University College). There are also 4 small religious colleges which receive no government funding (independently owned and funded) and are affiliated with the Queen’s University Belfast. Finally, there are 6 further education colleges which operate in Northern Ireland across 40 community campuses, offering full-time general education programs for 16 – 18 year-olds and higher education programs. In 2019/20, most Northern Ireland students (33%) were enrolled in Ulster University, followed by Queen’s University Belfast (31%) out of all UK institutions.
Registration and approval: Higher education is mainly governed by the Higher Education (Northern Ireland) Order 2005 and the Further Education (Northern Ireland) Order 1997. Universities are established through Royal Charter, while further education colleges are legally constituted as further education corporations under the Further Education (Northern Ireland) Order 1997. The use of the word ‘university’ is regulated by law and must be approved by the Privy Council, with applicants required to meet standards in governance, quality assurance, administration, academic staffing, student enrolment, and research degree designations.
License: Universities do not receive a license, but are established through Royal Charter. Further education colleges are established as corporations.
Taxes and subsidies: Higher education institutions receive annual grants from the Department for Economy. In contrast to England and Wales, where the largest component of higher education funding comes from tuition fees, in Northern Ireland, government grants make up a significant proportion of the higher education funding (more than tuition fees). Teaching is funded through government grants and tuition fees, while research is funded through a dual support system which includes government funding for research infrastructure, and funding for specific research projects and programs from the from the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Research Councils. Further education colleges receive funding directly from the DfE or via a franchise agreement. Higher education institutions have the autonomy to decide how to spend government grants and other streams of income according to their priorities. This must be however, in compliance with the purposes set out in the Education and Libraries (Northern Ireland) Order 1993, which include providing education and undertaking research and providing facilities. The four religious colleges are fully independent and receive no government funding from the DfE for higher or further education provision.
Curriculum and education standards: The structure of higher education programs is not regulated by law, with institutions free to design and offer the programs they wish. However, all institutions structure their programs along broadly similar lines which conforms to the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) qualifications framework (incorporating undergraduate, postgraduate, and doctoral study). The programs offered in further education colleges are designed and approved directly by the higher education institution with degree awarding powers under a formal recognition arrangement.
Teaching profession: Higher education institutions are responsible for appointing and employing their own teaching staff, with no general requirement for academics to undergo any formal program of training. Institutions have the autonomy to decide whether to make it mandatory for academic staff to hold specific qualifications, with training programs often created based on the UK Professional Standards Framework (UKPSF) developed by the Higher Education Academy (HEA). The Academy recommends that all probationary academic staff have a relevant accredited teaching qualification, such as a Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education (PGCertHE). Similar to other UK higher education staff, academic staff working in higher education are not civil servants, but employees of the individual higher education institutions. Pay structures and working conditions are negotiated for all higher education staff in the UK on a multi-employer basis through the New Joint Negotiating Committee for Higher Education Staff (New JNCHES), with employers represented by the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) and teaching staff by the University and College Union (UCU). Although these pay structures are agreed nationally however, they are not mandatory.
Fee-setting: Tuition fees are set by individual institutions, but for full-time undergraduate students in Northern Ireland, were limited to £4,395 (€4834.24) for the 2020/21 academic year (which also apply to the Republic of Ireland and the EU, excluding England, Scotland, and Wales). These arrangements are regulated under the Higher Education Act 2004 and the Higher Education (Northern Ireland) Order 2005. Maximum tuition fees may only be charged by institutions if they have a widening access and participation plan approved by the Department for the Economy (DfE). These plans set out the measures institutions have in place to improve access and retention (including improving the representation of under-represented groups). Once approved, the plans are published on the DfE’s website. Students can take out subsidized student loans to pay their tuition fees, which are paid directly to the institution by the Student Loans Company (SLC). Other support includes loans, grants, bursaries and scholarships. Postgraduate tuition fees, fees for part-time undergraduate students, and fees for non-EU/EEA overseas students are not regulated by law and determined individually by each institution.
Admission selection and processes: The Access to Success outlines an integrated strategy for widening participation in higher education in Northern Ireland up to 2020, which includes supporting institutions to develop additional support measures for students to sustain continuing participation and developing a Widening Access and Participation Plan. The Plan should include increasing participation and widening access (particularly from under-represented groups). Institutions (considered public bodies) are otherwise required by law to promote the equality of opportunity between men and women, persons of different religious belief, racial group, age, political opinion, marital status, and sexual orientation, as well as persons with disability and those without and persons with dependents and those without (Northern Ireland Act 1998). As autonomous institutions, higher education institutions are otherwise free to determine their own admissions policies and determine what other measures to implement to support disadvantaged learners (with provision varying in different institutions).
Board: The Higher Education Code of Governance 2018 is a voluntary code that aims to promote high standards of higher education governance in the UK, with the Governing Body Responsibility for Academic Governance 2017 providing detailed guidance on higher education governance structures and governing body responsibilities. Under the Further Education (Northern Ireland) Order 1997, governing bodies of further education colleges are incorporated governing bodies that are responsible for the suitable provision of further education within their institution. They consist of 12 to 18 members which include the principal, staff members, student members, members from local business or industry that is relevant to the institution’s activities, and co-opted members. The Further Education Code of Governance and Guide for Governors of Northern Ireland Further Education Colleges 2019 provides further information on the governors, their responsibilities, and composition.
Reporting requirements: Universities and university colleges have the autonomy to decide how to spend government grants by the Department of Economy, but are accountable to the Department to use funds based on the broad purposes described in the Education and Libraries (Northern Ireland) Order 1993. These include providing education, undertaking research and providing necessary facilities. Further education colleges are also accountable to the Department for the college’s performance.
Inspection: Quality assurance at the higher education level is not regulated by law, with institutions responsible for the approval of their own programs and ensuring that appropriate standards are met. The Revised Operating Model for Quality Assessment in Higher Education 2016 is the external process used to examine how effectively higher education institutions operate their internal quality assurance system. The UK Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) is responsible for checking how well institutions fulfil their responsibilities and effectiveness based on the UK Quality Code for Higher Education. The Department of Economy also has a statutory duty under the Education and Libraries (Northern Ireland) Order 1986 to assess the work it funds, with the QAA undertaking Quality Review Visits on behalf of the Department. The core framework for reviewing established higher education providers in Northern Ireland is the Annual Provider Review (APR), while the Research Excellence Framework helps assess the quality of research conducted in higher education institutions. External inspection of further education is conducted by the Education and Training Inspectorate based on the Inspection and Self-Evaluation Framework (ISEF).
Assessment: Providers are responsible for designing their own programs and conducting student assessments.
Diplomas and degrees: Higher education institutions in Northern Ireland (like the rest of the UK) offer degrees by virtue of their own degree-awarding powers or (in the case of further education colleges) the degree awarding powers of another institution. These degree awarding powers are officially recognized by UK authorities (Northern Ireland and Welsh Assemblies, UK, and Scottish Parliaments), with the QAA advising the Privy Council on applications. Although not required to do so, all higher education institutions design their qualifications based on the Frameworks for Higher Education Qualifications of UK Degree-Awarding Bodies (FHEQ) developed by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) as part of the UK Quality Code for Higher Education. Degrees (which include taught degrees, research degrees, and foundation degrees) are legally owned by the awarding institutions, and not the state. However, it is an offence for an institution to award a UK degree if they are not authorized to do so.
Sanctions: If an institution is found to not meet the requirements in its Annual Provider Review, the provider undergoes a period of enhanced scrutiny, alongside an action plan which outlines areas of immediate concern that need to be addressed. If the DfE has serious concerns about the institution’s quality and standards, the process outlined in the Unsatisfactory Quality Scheme (UQS) is followed, with the QAA carrying out a desk-based analysis of evidence, followed by an investigation visit. Once the new evidence is considered, the provider receives the outcome (which is decided by the DfE).
In Northern Ireland (similar to the rest of the UK), private tutoring is considered a “free market” and does not fall under an education legislation. Private tutoring companies are subject to commercial law.
Private tutoring agencies are registered as limited companies under the Companies Act 2006.
Private tutoring companies are not subject to any education standards, as they fall under commercial law. They are allowed to be established on a profit-making basis.
Tutors that work for a private tutoring agency in the UK are required to present a certificate from the Criminal Records Bureau that indicates that they have not been convicted of a crime. Private tutors who run their own business (self-employed) are required to be registered with Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC), where they declare their income similar to any other form of self-employment. There are no standard qualifications for private tutoring in the UK.