Education in Ireland, by Dominic Murray, Alan Smith and Ursula Birthistle
[Key_Events] Key_Issues] [Conflict_Background]
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The total public expenditure on education in the Republic of Ireland during 1993 was £1.7 billion for a total student population of 960,928. This represents almost 20% of Government expenditure and 6% of GDP.
An OECD report in 1995 (based on 1992 figures) places the Republic
of Ireland relatively low on the list of spending per pupil at
pre-school, primary and secondary levels. The primary sector receives
approximately 50% of the OECD average, and the secondary over
50% of the OECD average. The third-level sector was well funded
by European standards.
Table 1.1: Expenditure per student by sector
A report of the National Education Convention (1994) and the National Economic Social Forum Report on Unemployment have highlighted inequalities in educational funding. Both reports suggest that more financial priority be given to pre-school and primary sectors. The third-level sector receives significantly higher funding than any other level although within this sector research is seen as an area that has been under-funded and under-developed.
Teachers salaries are paid by the Department of Education and
recurrent costs are met by a combination of a capitation grant
per pupil paid by the Department of Education and a local contribution
equivalent to at least 25% of the capitation grant.
The capitation grant covers lighting, heating, cleaning, maintenance
and the provision of teaching materials. There is a small library
book grant of £2 per pupil paid to the local library which
then lends books long-term to schools. Art materials, computers
or other extras must be financed out of the capitation grant or
Table 1.2: Current Capitation Grants
Differentials in State expenditure on different school types are
illustrated by the following figures from a recent Department
of Education study:
Table 1.3: State expenditure on different school types per pupil
75% of second-level pupils attend Voluntary Secondary schools
and demands have been made for parity of funding between all types
At secondary level schools are given a budgetary provision at
the start of the school year based on expenditure during the previous
year. There is no special provision for library books and items
such as computers since it is expected that the costs of these
will be met from the capitation grants. Schools also undertake
fund-raising for items such as musical instruments and school
Although officially schooling in the Republic of Ireland is free,
most schools find it necessary to fundraise. This may adversely
affect schools in disadvantaged areas where such parental contributions
may cause hardship. Coolahan (1994) has argued for increased funding
for students from lower socio-economic groups to assist in increasing
their participation rates in third-level education.
The OECD Report (1995) indicates that primary schools in the Republic
of Ireland have the largest class sizes in Europe and the third
largest class sizes at secondary level.
Table 1.4: Republic of Ireland pupil:teacher ratios
During 1993-94 the education budget in Northern Ireland was approximately
£1.23 billion for a total number of students at all levels
of 335,425. There are two principal channels of funding. The first
is the management of school finances by the Education and Library
Boards. The second is the delegation of financial responsibility
to the Boards of Governors of individual schools through the Local
Management of Schools (LMS) scheme.
All Nursery, Primary and Secondary schools are funded on the basis of a formula which is based primarily on enrolment figures, but also takes into account the cost of premises, deprivation and the higher cost of small schools. Formula funding is intended to ensure that funding is objective, transparent and allows for flexibility at school level in prioritising needs.
Expenditure per pupil is highest at third-level and lowest at
Table 1.5: Northern Ireland - expenditure per pupil
Table 1.6: Northern Ireland pupil:teacher ratios
Direct comparisons of statistics on funding between North and
South are very difficult because of different accounting systems,
different financial years and differences in currencies and rates
of inflation. The two Departments of Education produced some comparisons
of the second-level sectors for the annual Association of Secondary
Teachers of Ireland (ASTI) Conference in November 1995. It was
emphasised that, due to the difficulties mentioned, some simplification
was necessary and this must be borne in mind when interpreting
Table 1.7: Comparison of Second Level Statistics
At primary level, global comparative data is difficult to obtain
and present. However, a case study carried out by the Irish National
Teachers Organisation (INTO 1994) of six comparable schools in
Limerick and Derry claims to highlight differences in provision
and funding between the two jurisdictions. The study showed primary
schools in the Republic of Ireland to be under-funded and under-resourced
compared to those in Northern Ireland. The study also demonstrated
higher pupil:teacher ratios and poorer promotional prospects for
teachers in the six schools in the Republic of Ireland.
Table 1.8: Case Study: Six Primary Schools Limerick/Derry
At pre-school level, an OECD Report  stated that in 1988 in the Republic of Ireland 9% of the total public expenditure was directed towards this sector. This compares with 3.3% in the United Kingdom and 4.8% average in the OECD countries as a whole. The Republic of Ireland figures may be somewhat inflated since, although compulsory education is from the age of six, in practice most enter at 4-5. For example, 95% of all 5-6 year olds are in senior infant classes and 59% of 4-5 year olds are in junior infant classes. Both junior and senior infant classes are treated as pre-school.
The Department of Education for Northern Ireland (DENI) has overall responsibility for education, but many of its functions are devolved to other agencies within the system, particularly the Education and Library Boards (ELBs). The Education and Library Boards are defined in geographical terms and the current proposal is to reduce the number of ELBs from five to three. The composition and role of the Boards is described later in this report.
Since the Education Reform (NI) Order, 1989 there has also been further delegation of responsibilities to the Boards of Governors of individual schools, particularly in the area of financial administration.
The role of the Department of Education in Northern Ireland includes:
The more centralised nature of the Department in the Republic of Ireland has led to an emphasis on administrative matters. Comments on the need for strategic planning are included in the Green Paper and the report on the National Education Convention. The recent Education Bill (1997)6 proposes new structures aimed at devolving responsibility for administration to ten new Regional Boards and to the schools themselves. The Department of Education would then have clearer responsibilities for policy and strategic planning, resource allocation, monitoring of standards and curricular planning.
Within both jurisdictions there are central bodies with responsibilities in education throughout each region. These include:
In Northern Ireland the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) has a statutory role in advising the Minister for Education on curricular matters. CCEA has a remit to monitor the curriculum, engage in research and in the development of guidance and INSET materials. CCEA is also responsible for the administration of the Transfer Procedure, for examinations and for all assessment procedures. CCEA consults widely with teachers and educationists through its advisory and working groups.
In the Republic of Ireland, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) is not a statutory body, but has an important role in an advisory capacity in relation to the curriculum and assessment procedures.
The NCCA consults widely through course committees for each curriculum subject before making recommendations to decision-makers within the Department of Education. Other curriculum bodies also undertake developmental work for the NCCA. These include the City of Dublin Curriculum Development Unit (CDU) and Shannon Curriculum Development Centre (CDC). The Dublin CDU is a VEC body while the Shannon CDC is managed by the Department of Education and the Board of Management of St. Patrick's Comprehensive School, Shannon.
In Northern Ireland the Inspectorate advises and evaluates education
at all levels, excluding the universities. Its remit includes
evaluation of provision at the following levels:
The format of inspection in schools has changed from that of a single inspector to that of a team. There are two types of inspection: a general inspection which evaluates all aspects of the establishment with reference to its stated aims and policies and more focused inspections which evaluate specific areas of study.
Inspectors not only cover individual establishments, but also comment on provision within a given geographical area and survey areas of study and examples of good practice. Inspectors submit written reports on schools to DENI. These reports are published and are available on request to members of the public.
In the Republic of Ireland the Inspectorate has three primary roles under existing structures:
At present the Inspectorate has three divisions - primary, post-primary and psychology/guidance. Every school is allocated a specific inspector and each school can expect to be visited by this inspector every 5-6 years. In addition, the inspector supervises teachers during their initial probationary period and carries out a major inspection at the end of their first year.
Traditionally, the Inspectorate has been responsible for the setting and conduct of examinations. They have also been involved in selection boards for the appointment of teachers, have served on management boards of Community schools and have been involved in the provision of in-service training. The Report on the National Education Convention (1994) criticises over-involvement in these areas and suggests that it detracts from their evaluative role. The Education Bill (1997) will put the inspectorate on a statutory basis. It also proposes a Regional Inspectorate under the authority of the proposed Education Boards and a smaller number in a Central Inspectorate in the Department of Education. The role of the Central Inspectorate will be:
The Regional Inspectorate's role will be:
In Northern Ireland the universities also validate their own courses in addition to courses offered by other institutions such as colleges of further and higher education. Vocational courses are mainly validated by national examining bodies such as Business and Technology Education Council (BTEC); City and Guilds of London Institute (CGLI); Royal Society of Arts (RSA) and professional bodies.
In Northern Ireland responsibilities for local administration of education are devolved from the Department of Education to Education and Library Boards which cover separate geographical areas. In the Republic of Ireland these responsibilities have been more disparate, but new legislation is being introduced to create Regional Boards of Education.
Members are reappointed every four years. Membership of the Boards consists of:
The Boards are 100% funded by DENI with the following roles:
The core Board may also be able to nominate additional persons, other than the above categories, for example, minority group representatives, or persons with special expertise. It is proposed that each of the groups on the Boards are to have equal representation.
The Boards will receive annual grants from the Department of Education. It is envisaged that the new Boards will co-ordinate services in their areas for primary and second level schools, as well as for adult and continuing education, vocational education and training, outdoor education centres, youth services and sporting activities. The Boards will channel Departmental funds for recurrent expenditure to Primary and Second-level schools and grants to Vocational schools via the Vocational Education Committees. They will also be responsible for the redeployment of teachers, monitoring and enforcing of school attendance, and the rationalisation of specialist services by facilitating co-operation between schools.
The proposed Boards will also be entitled to own school buildings and to lease these to the school authorities in their area. This is a very significant development in terms of rationalisation of existing schools and provision of new and different types of schools. Buildings could thus be transferred from one type of school to another depending on demand in an area. There is on-going debate in relation to 'ownership', with many of the older traditional schools wanting to retain ownership, but it is intended that all new schools will be owned by the Regional Boards.
Council for Catholic Maintained Schools
The Council has 36 members who each serve 4-year terms of office. Membership of the Council is comprised of:
The NICIE Board of Directors consists of twelve representatives
allocated plus three possible co-optees:
Unlike controlled and maintained schools, the Board of Governors of an integrated school is the employing authority for teachers.
The Integrated Education Fund (IEF) is a charitable body which exists to raise funds for the establishment of integrated schools.14
There are also a number of professional bodies and associations such as the Governing Bodies Association (GBA) which represents the interests of Grammar schools within the system.
Current concerns for unions in Northern Ireland would seem to revolve around areas of increased workload and stress amongst teachers as a consequence of recent education reform and local management of schools. The unions have also taken a critical position with respect to the continued existence of selection at age 11.
Under existing structures the Vocational Education Committee (VEC) is the only intermediate body with responsibilities similar to the Education and Library Boards (ELBs) in Northern Ireland. It was intended to incorporate the VEC's into the new Regional Education Boards. It is now planned that the VEC's will be reduced in number from 38 to 23.
Prior to the proposed establishment of Regional Education Boards there have been a number of intermediate bodies representing various interests in education in the Republic of Ireland. These include:
Joint Managerial Body, which is an umbrella body for all second level management. The JMB includes representatives from Catholic, Protestant and other schools. It negotiates all conditions of service with the Department. There is a corresponding body for primary level. The Irish Vocational Education Association is the managerial authority for VEC (Vocational Education Committee) schools. With the Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools having similar responsibilities for their sector.
The above three bodies negotiate at national level and have an input into the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA). The multi-denominational and Irish-medium schools are outside these bodies and they negotiate with the Minister and Department of Education through Educate Together and Gaelscoileanna respectively.
Current priorities of the INTO, ASTI and the TUI concern the issues of the teachers' role in pupil assessment and conditions for early retirement. New courses, such as the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA), require assessment of the project work involved at certain stages over the course of the two year programme. There has been some general disagreement among the two post-primary unions about the use of teacher-based assessment.
The Ulster Teachers Union and the Irish National Teachers Organisation work closely together on cross border issues and both support the formation of a teaching council as do all unions in the Republic of Ireland.
CAIN contains information and source material on the conflict and politics in Northern Ireland.
CAIN is based within Ulster University.
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