Education in Ireland, by Dominic Murray, Alan Smith and Ursula Birthistle
[Key_Events] Key_Issues] [Conflict_Background]
Material is added to this site on a regular basis - information on this page may change
The Curriculum in Northern Ireland is based in law with the primary legislation being:
The Education and Libraries (NI) Order 1986: SI 1986 no 594 (NI3)
The Education and Libraries (NI) Order 1987 : SI 1987 no 167 (NI2)
The Education Reform (NI) Order 1989 : SI 1989 No 2406 (NI20)
The Education and Libraries (NI) Order 1993: SI 1993 No 2810(NI12)
There is a statutory requirement for the Curriculum to be delivered to all pupils attending grant-aided schools. This also applies to pupils with special needs, although in their case exemptions can be arranged through statements of special educational needs. The 12 years of compulsory schooling are divided into 'Key Stages'.
Table 4.1 Key Stages of Compulsory Schooling
Programmes of Study exist for all subjects. These set out the content, skills, and understanding to be taught to pupils of different levels of ability within each Key Stage. 2 The original programmes of study put in place in 1990/91 were revised in 1994/95 to take account of complaints of overload, particularly from Primary schools. It is envisaged that the complete revised primary curriculum should take up 85% of available teaching time. This will allow schools to allot the extra time to additional curricular work and extra-curricular activities.
Table 4.2 Programmes of Study in the Primary Curriculum
In addition there are four cross-curricular themes: Education for Mutual Understanding, Cultural Heritage, Health Education and Information Technology. EMU and Cultural Heritage were conjoined in 1992 because they share common objectives. They are now generally regarded as one theme.
Table 4.3 Programmes of Study in the Secondary Curriculum
The minimum statutory curriculum time recommended by DENI is 60-62.5%. This allows for extra time to be allocated to compulsory subjects or for offering additional subjects within the designated areas of study.4 Key Stage 4 completes the compulsory period of education, but pupils opting to continue further may proceed to either General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) or General National Vocational Qualifications (GNVQs).
Grammar schools have traditionally offered only GCSEs at Ordinary and Advanced levels, but since 1992 an increasing number are offering GNVQs. Most Secondary schools with a post-16 facility are offering GNVQs and A Levels.
GNVQs were developed to introduce more vocational elements into the curriculum. They are comprised of a combination of academic, technological and vocational elements. At advanced level they provide a realistic alternative to A levels. An important distinction is that while A levels are assessed in the main by end of year examinations, GNVQs consist of mandatory and optional units which are continually assessed. There is also internal and external assessment.
GNVQs may be taken at three levels:
Foundation Level - equivalent to four GCSEs at grade D-F or NVQ Level 1;
Intermediate Level - equivalent to four/five GCSEs at grades A-C or NVQ Level two or BTEC First Certificate/Diploma;
Advanced Level - equivalent to two A Levels or NVQ Level 3 or BTEC National Certificate/Diploma.
Pupils of 16 years or more with no qualifications may enrol for Foundation level GNVQs and then proceed to Intermediate. One Advanced GNVQ plus an additional unit or A level is equivalent to three A levels, which is the normal requirement for entry to university. Subjects may also be taken at Supplementary or AS level which is equivalent to half an A level. While areas may differ, the GNVQs currently on offer in schools in the Western Board area are, in order of popularity, Business, Health and Social Care, Leisure and Tourism, Manufacturing Science.[5,6]
The National Commission on Education has recommended the abolition of A levels in favour of a broader system. A levels are regarded as best serving the needs of the universities and thus, a minority of the population. However, one problem with GNVQs as an alternative to A levels remains that of acceptance. It is considered by some that it is not enough for them to be accepted by employers and even by the universities, but that unless they are widely accepted by the Grammar schools they will continue to be regarded as second class in nature.
The White Paper (1995) reinforces this commitment to increasing emphasis on science; introducing a European awareness programme; developing a broad arts curriculum involving dance, music, drama, art, poetry, story-telling; supporting a health and well-being programme including diet, hygiene, safety, relationships and sexuality. There is also a commitment given to the introduction of more precisely stated learning objectives and increased assessment.
Most types of post primary schools share similar curricular requirements and basically the same core curriculum. This consists of Irish, English, History, Geography, Maths, Science, or a language other than Irish and English, or a subject of the Business Studies Group, or Civics. The Rules and Programme for Secondary Schools recommends that Physical Education should form part of the curriculum. The programme will be based on an approved syllabus and teaching hours are registered on the school timetable.
In all schools, the curriculum at Junior Cycle (three years) must
include the following subjects: Irish, English, Maths, History
and Geography, not less than two other subjects from the approved
list of examination subjects and Civics. The latter is to be replaced
by Civic, Social and Political Education.
Table 4.4: Recommended curriculum area time allocation in Junior Cycle
All subjects are offered at Ordinary and Higher Level and three subjects - Irish, English and Mathematics are also offered at Foundation Level for Junior Certificate. Two, Irish and Mathematics, are offered at Foundation Level at Leaving Certificate. Media education is mainly addressed as part of English and to a lesser extent Art. Information Technology is taught principally through technology and business studies and also on a cross-curricular basis. It can also be offered as a non exam subject at Junior Cycle. At present Religious Education is not an examination subject.
As a result of the White Paper (1995) increasing emphasis is being put on Science and Technology and either a Science or a technological subject will become part of the core syllabus in Junior Cycle. The Paper also states that each school will be expected to provide students with experience in the following areas as recommended by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment: Language and Literature, Mathematical Studies, Science and Technology, Civics, Social and Political Education, Arts Education, Religious Education, Guidance, Counselling and Pastoral Care, Physical Education, Health Education including Personal and Social Development, Relationships and Sexuality Education.
It is envisaged that some subjects will be dealt with in a cross-curricular way or by short modules e.g. Health Education. Schools will be required to involve management, staff and parents in developing and implementing a policy on Relationships and Sexuality Education.
It is anticipated that all students will have access to the study
of a modern European language and to a recognised course in at
least one creative or performing Art form. The area of the Arts
had been recognised as having been comparatively neglected and
the importance attached to redressing this is reflected in the
White Paper (1995) statement that cultural poverty is a significant
part of disadvantage.
The approved course must consist of five subjects from the following list of subjects, one of which must be Irish :
Table 4.5: Approved examination subjects for Leaving Certificate
All subjects are offered at Ordinary and Higher level. In addition, Maths and Irish are also offered at Foundation Level. In certain circumstances, approval may be obtained to present a subject not on the above list.
Concern has been expressed about Foundation level courses. This is related to the perceived danger of pupils opting for these courses early in their school life. As a result they may have difficulties accessing higher level courses later and thus get locked-in to a lower level of achievement.
Table 4.6: Composition of Leaving Certificate Applied Programme
One module is the equivalent of 40 hours which is approximately four class periods per week for half of the school year. One credit is given for satisfactory completion of each module. A maximum of 40 credits is possible for this element of the course. A further 27 credits are allocated for student tasks (three credits per task). Three tasks to be completed in each of the above areas i.e. General Education, Vocational Education and Vocational Preparation. There are also external exams accounting for 33 credits in English and Communication, Vocational Specialisms, Mathematical Applications, Language (Irish and Modern European), Social Economic Education.
The aim of this course is to facilitate transition to working life, but students may gain access to further education by taking a PLC course. Progress to higher education is then possible. Those schools offering the Senior Certificate are expected to opt for this new programme, and those currently running VPT1 courses will not be permitted to continue these if they opt for LCA.
A minimum of five Leaving Certificate subjects (including Irish and a continental language) must be taken within LCVP. Also required are the mandatory link modules of enterprise education, preparation for work and work experience, in addition to a choice from Specialist and Service groups of subjects. Creative and innovative skills are fostered through active learning processes e.g. projects, mini-enterprises, visits to workplaces, interchange with employers and report writing. There is an emphasis on vocational, technological, communicative and interpersonal skills.
The Senior Certificate consists of seven areas of study with a choice of units within these. 1) Work and communication skills (focal unit).- units include: work experience and enterprise education, functional literacy, money matters, citizenship, law, home management, baby care; 2) Food and Agriculture - units include nutrition, horticulture, agri-business; 3) Social and Cultural Studies - includes units on Northern Ireland, Europe, consumer education, health; 4) General Technology - includes construction, electricity, plumbing, home maintenance, craftwork; 5) Computer applications; 6) Irish (conversational); 7) Maths. It is intended that the Senior Certificate will be replaced by the LCA.
The curriculum in Northern Ireland is highly centralised, defined
and based in law. In the Republic of Ireland it is based more
on Ministerial directive and tends to be less prescribed. Although
the situation is changing, teachers in the Republic of Ireland
have had more freedom to initiate changes either locally or through
Curriculum Development Units. However some see what was a flexible
and innovative system becoming more rigid due to pressures at
the stage of transfer from Primary to Secondary schools. Competition
for entry to third level institutions also tends to have a restrictive
influence on the curriculum of Secondary schools.
Flexibility is also possible in the Northern Ireland Curriculum. A minimum statutory curriculum time is laid down as 60-62.5% for Key Stage 4 from 1996. The remaining time allows for a degree of choice at this level. However, it would appear that there remains a perception of over-prescription and over-assessment. Current changes are likely to result in a more malleable curriculum with less assessment. Flexibility in the Northern Ireland system is also possible with regard to choice of syllabus, especially at A level. For example, teachers may choose to do a Northern Ireland syllabus in one subject but a different Examination Board syllabus in another. These Boards are based in England (e.g. University of London Examination and Assessment Council). This may take place due to teacher preference with regard to the amount of course work involved or the perceived appropriateness of that particular syllabus for certain students.
One major difference between the curricula in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is that the Irish language is a compulsory subject in the latter. The situation in Northern Ireland is that the majority of Catholic Secondary schools and all Catholic Grammar schools offer Irish Language. Policy with regard to the subject varies. Some schools treat it as a compulsory unit for the first three years of Second level and present it as a voluntary option thereafter. Two integrated Secondary schools in Northern Ireland offer Irish for GCSE. At least one controlled school does Irish studies.
There is no equivalent to CH as a cross curricular theme in the Republic of Ireland. Neither is there an actual equivalent of EMU, although it can be argued that it is implicit in certain subjects e.g. Religious Education, the civics element of Environmental and Social Studies and the new Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE). This new CSPE programme will deal with citizenship, democracy, rights and responsibilities, human dignity, interdependence and law and involves cross-curricular projects. The INTO submission to the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation recommended the introduction of EMU and CH in the Republic of Ireland. In fact, according to the NCCA aspects of EMU are broadly written into CSPE. However, there is no specific module dealing with the political situation in Northern Ireland equivalent to that which was developed for the Social and Cultural Studies programme of the Senior Certificate. This programme addressed perceptions on both sides of the Northern divide. However, the Senior Certificate is soon to be replaced by the new Leaving Certificate Applied Programme and it is possible that this unit on Northern Ireland may be lost. However the two curriculum bodies North and South are working closely together to develop such programmes along similar lines.
The CSPE programme has been run as a pilot project and it is intended to introduce it as a mandatory subject at Junior Cycle level by September 1996, probably in the form of a discrete unit plus a cross-curricular approach.
Republic of Ireland
Many schools both Primary and Post Primary already have life skills or personal and social education programmes. Health Boards have been involved in developing and supporting some of these. There is concern among some teachers that the Department of Education has not provided sufficient material and support, although the Minister has established an implementation group which is comprised of the NCCA, parents, teachers and others. Suggested guidelines from this group are comprehensive and include personal and social skills, moral development, bullying, self-esteem, sexuality, gender stereotypes, community living and social responsibility. The programme caters for all age groups within schools. There will be free standing modules as well as a cross-curricular approach. The NCCA guidelines also state that the school should draw up a clear Relationships and Sexuality Education policy statement in consultation with teachers and parents and that this policy should cover the whole area of social, personal and health education. The policy must also make provision for parents who do not wish their children to take part on the grounds of moral objections.
Table 4.7: Work of Guidance Counsellor Republic of Ireland
In Northern Ireland careers education is mandatory at Key Stages
3 and 4. It is in fact a cross-curricular theme, although many
schools also provide specific modules.
In Northern Ireland there is a core Religious Education syllabus
based on Christianity and drawn up by the four main Churches,
Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Church of Ireland and Methodist.
Drawing up a core rather than a complete syllabus permits schools
to add to it what they deem suitable for their needs and ethos.15
The Core Syllabus is statutory for year 11 in Key Stage 4 from
1995 and for year 12 from 1996. A certificate in Religious Education
is required for teaching in Catholic maintained Primary schools
in Northern Ireland. This is not a requirement in the controlled
sector or in the Republic of Ireland.
A distinguishing factor in the Science curriculum at Senior level
is that in Northern Ireland, in addition to the traditional GCSE
'track', different awards can be attained. Single Award Science
is a course based on Physics, Chemistry and Biology combined and
leads to one GCSE. Double Award Science is also based on these
three components but requiring more curricular time and is equivalent
to two GCSEs. A separate GCSE in each of these may also be taken
(Triple Award). In the Republic of Ireland Physics and Chemistry
can be taken as one subject, but this has not proved to be a popular
In the Republic of Ireland, James Bennett sees considerable changes at Primary level since the 1971 curriculum review which proposed a less chronological approach and more use of primary source material and themes and a greater emphasis on social history. Also, at post-primary level, he sees a more critical approach developing which he ascribes to a diminishing fear of undermining religion and patriotism.
Many schools in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are
linked through European Studies. As well as a European awareness
being built into the curricula at Primary and Second level in
both jurisdictions, there are opportunities for cross-community
contact within Northern Ireland through joint project work with
other schools. There are also exchange programmes
such as the European Studies Project established by the Departments
of Education in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and
Great Britain. This project's aim is to develop curricular links
with schools in France, Belgium, Germany, Denmark and Holland.
This project operates four programmes catering for children from
Community initiatives existing for the post-16 age group include:
There are also a range of initiatives operated through the Education and Library Boards, the Central Bureau for Educational Visits and Exchanges and other organisations. The Central Bureau promotes student and teacher exchanges between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and at a European level.
The most recent Socrates programme brings together several earlier programmes namely - Erasmus, Lingua, Arion, (study visits for policy makers), Eurydice, (exchange of information) and Comenius. The latter programme covers Nursery, Primary and Secondary schools and also promotes teacher, principal and senior management exchanges.
The new Leonardo Initiative has been implemented to encompass Petra, Force, Comett, Eurotecnet. It will work to introduce an EU vocational training policy.
In the Republic of Ireland the bodies administering these programmes are:
Department of Education - Eurydice, Arion
The curriculum details programmes of study for each subject, which indicate the subject matter, skills, and processes to be taught to the different levels of ability in each Key Stage. Attainment Targets were introduced which identified the knowledge, skills and understanding expected to be reached for these different levels of ability by the end of each Key Stage. These were to be expressed as Statements of Attainment.
Currently teacher assessment, instead of involving the original box-ticking of Statements of Attainment, now involves an overall assessment of a pupils progress with the option of using externally produced Assessment Units to back up the teachers own assessment. Class assessment records form the basis of a portfolio of work which is submitted by the school to the CCEA for external moderation. Agreement Trialing was introduced to help establish acceptable uniform standards for each level.
Because of on-going curricular reviews, it is likely that statutory assessment will not be introduced before the 1996/97 school year and then only for Key Stages 1 and 2 for English and Maths (and Irish in Irish-Medium Schools) and Key Stage 3 for English, Maths and Science. The form of assessment is as yet not finalised.
Controversy still exists with regard to the system of selection at the age of 11. These arguments tend to be based around concerns such as the stigma of failure at an early age, that the pressure of the examination restricts investigative work and the relationship between success and social class background. On the other hand others argue that it is good for standards and that it gives an opportunity to academically bright children from less well-off backgrounds to attend the more prestigious Grammar schools.
Briefly, there are three major examination events in the system.
The Education Bill (1997) states:
At Second level, assessment by State examination takes place through the Junior Certificate, which is usually undertaken at age 15. It is externally set by the Inspectorate. Although assessment at Junior Certificate is seen as essential, change in the method of doing so is considered desirable. The current external State examination is seen as not catering adequately for assessment of project work. The Junior Certificate programme is intended to encourage active learning, problem solving and critical thinking, but Coolahan (1994) argues that the exam system tends to inhibit this. This has resulted in an unduly text-based, teacher centred approach. He also claims that the system encourages learning by rote, with results in non-exam subjects being downgraded e.g. Civics, Religious Education.
To address this the White Paper (1995) gives a commitment to the introduction of a synthesis of external examination and internal assessment (with external monitoring). At Senior level the emphasis is still to be on external examination but with improved assessment techniques. There has also been a decision that there will be no publication of the results of individual schools.
The final State assessment is mainly through the established Leaving Certificate, or one of the alternative programmes already discussed. It is taken either two or three years (if Transition Year is done) after the Junior Certificate and the usual age is 17-18 years.
Other responsibilities include that Religious Education is taught in accordance with the statutory requirements and that the subjects within each area of study are taught in accordance with the written policy statement of the school. There is also a requirement that any courses leading to external qualifications are only undertaken if the qualifications are approved by DENI.
The Education Bill (1997), in outlining the responsibilities of Boards of Management, states that school plans, agreed by the patrons/trustees/owners/governors, are developed, implemented, published and regularly evaluated. There is a requirement that the curriculum, assessment and general education provisions within the schools are of a high quality and meet the requirements prescribed by the Department of Education. Boards of Management will be responsible for protecting and promoting the ethos of schools.
The development of school plans commenced at Primary level in the early 1980's and is now widely practised at that level and to some extent at Secondary level. The Department of Education is soon to circulate guidelines for school plans for the Primary sector and it will then become the responsibility of Boards of Management to ensure that a school plan is implemented. Guidelines for Second level will follow after a period of consultation.
The Government White Paper (1995) envisages school plans having
It is envisaged that the latter would be the responsibility of the principal and staff and a report may be published in the annual school report. The policy section is to be published by the Boards of Management for parents and other interested parties. The Board must also produce an annual report informing parents how the aims and objectives expressed in the school plan have been met. The school plan must be approved by the Board, and, in relation to values and ethos, by the patron/ trustees/owners/governors.
In both jurisdictions the definition of curriculum has widened from a narrow one of 'subjects' offered, to a broad, holistic view of education, with an increasing emphasis not just on personal development but also on the development of pupils as future participative citizens at a local and global level.
Table 4.9: Points of similarity and difference between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland Curricula
In-Service Support: Republic of Ireland
A National In-Career Development Unit was established in the Department of Education in 1994 with responsibility for curriculum development and in-service training. At the moment, training is seen as being provided in a number of ways; through the teachers' centres, which have been developing over the last few years and are now termed Education Centres and through external courses and courses within the schools themselves. When established, the new Education Boards will have a major responsibility in this domain.
In many ways the developments in the Republic of Ireland mirror provision already available within Northern Ireland. This is reflected in the new role being envisaged for Education Boards and Teachers Centres. Further examples can be seen in curricular and managerial contexts in terms of programmes for principals, school planning, Boards of Management. The gap in provision is narrowing and the Minister for Education in the Republic of Ireland has announced the allocation of £40 million to be directed towards in-career development over the period 1994-1999. The main source of these funds is the Community Support Framework (EU).
The White Paper acknowledges that these new developments will necessitate a revision of current practices in the Republic of Ireland in relation to substitution arrangements, travel and subsistence allowances and study leave. Currently, these facilities are more freely available in Northern Ireland. In the Republic of Ireland there is also a degree of dissatisfaction among teachers with regard to the non-recognition of award-bearing courses. The Department only pays a substitute in the case of a teacher being given leave of absence without pay or for an approved course of study e.g. Diploma in Career Guidance. Courses run by the Department of Education are free, but there is a charge for those run by other agencies.
It is estimated that payment for essential substitution will account for half of the total future government in-service budget.
There are six Education Centres which have a full-time director and secretary and a further twenty which are administered by part-time staff. The White Paper proposes these now be called Education Centres and has made provision for a major building programme and for the full-time staffing of the majority of centres. It is intended that as well as providing in-service courses, the Centres will also provide resources and facilities for parents and Boards of Management. The Centres will be under the auspices of the new Education Boards. Their importance in delivering in-service training is recognised and £11 million has been allocated to them from structural funds.
The Education and Library Boards provide in-service support and
advice to all grant-aided schools in their area. The training
programmes provided are worked out in consultation with the schools.
The Boards also consult with other bodies such as the Council
for Catholic Maintained Schools, Northern Ireland Council for
Integrated Education, Governing Bodies Association, Council for
Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment, Regional Training Unit.
The in-service programmes may be delivered in several ways:
Boards also provide induction training for new teachers and for those returning to work. Other support providers are the Boards Education and Welfare Service and the schools Psychological Service.
A major difference in the administration of the Centres north and south, apart from staffing and funding, is that in the south the Director of the Centre has complete control. In Northern Ireland the Director of the Centre is part of an overall team, and is responsible for administration but not necessarily for all the programmes run there. Programmes offered are usually on-going over a term or a school year and they cover all areas of the curriculum. The Centres also present programmes for Boards of Governors. They also provide library, film, and technological resources in addition to running programmes and providing advice. Some Centres catering for a specific subject area or special needs are located in schools.
In Northern Ireland the Regional Training Unit provides training at a regional level. Its remit includes management training for principals and senior staff in schools and Further Education Colleges and also for Education and Library Board staff. In addition to the management training programmes, a school-based support programme is also provided. New principals are given direct support for one year. The RTU also provides inter-Board courses in minority subject areas e.g. Irish-medium schools or the hearing impaired. Summer schools for teachers are also organised. The RTU also funds courses, operated by over 60 agencies, other than the ELBs. It is also involved in projects linking education and industry for example the Headteacher into Industry project and the Management in Education project.
In the Republic of Ireland, there is no direct counterpart at the moment although the Report of the National Education Convention has advanced the idea that teachers with special expertise be seconded as advisors to schools.
Table 4.12: Allowances granted for academic qualifications
* Only one of the allowances at a) or b) may be held with one of the allowances c) to g).
The Report of the National Education Convention has also stressed the need for increasing chances of promotion in schools in the Republic of Ireland by creating posts such as head of departments, head of staff development and mentor for inducting newly qualified teachers. Currently some teachers are seconded to the Department of Education and Teachers Centres for curricular planning, pre-service and in-service programmes. The proposed secondment of teachers to the newly re-structured Inspectorate will create another outlet for promotion.
The NICLR produces materials for the CCEA, ELB's and also for other bodies such as the Department of the Environment, the National Trust etc. CCEA generate materials through their own officers, working groups and by commissioning writers. They also produce guidance material for curriculum and assessment and give advice to the media in relation to drama being produced relevant to the curriculum. ELB's produce materials for pupils and in-service materials for teachers. These bodies all liaise from time to time in the production of material. An example of cross-border and EU co-operation was the production of the 'Kings in Conflict' video.
Schools can also apply to a small grants scheme if they wish to
Research and Development
The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment has little role in the production of educational materials. They are an advisory body to the Minister on the content of the curriculum. In this respect there is a significant difference between the NCCA and the CCEA in Northern Ireland. There has also been little involvement of the national TV station in this area. The Department views this as an expensive way to develop materials, but it is an area that is being considered. Local schools, and teachers also produce materials e.g. their own workbooks etc. and materials are also being developed by Teachers Centres.
Also involved in materials development and production were the City of Dublin and Shannon Curriculum Development Centres. These were initially established to produce materials especially for the junior cycle of Secondary schools.
The ASTI has proposed greater consultation and co-operation between
the Irish Educational Publishers Association (IEPA) and the Department
of Education and NCCA. The ASTI also suggest that the IEPA should
liaise with the Curriculum Development Units and Teachers Centres
and use materials developed by teachers.
Research and Development
The OECD Review (1991), acknowledged that for a small country the Republic of Ireland had a good record with regard to research but pinpointed a lack of policy-related research. A review of the field by the NCCA similarly highlighted the need for closer liaison between policy makers and a greater co-ordination of educational research.
According to the Green Paper there has been a considerable growth in the last few decades involving a wide variety of bodies and substantial State funding both direct and indirect. At the level of Higher Education there is concern about the underfunding of research. In addition, it has been argued that there is an apparent concentration on funding research linked to industrial needs resulting in a comparative neglect of research in the field of humanities and social sciences.
At Primary and Secondary levels school books must be bought by parents. Exceptions are made for the disadvantaged and this is up to the school principal to assess and apply for. Books in this case may be lent or rented out. Except for a very small grant of £2 per pupil at Primary level, little provision is made for school libraries, these must be financed out of the capitation grants.
By comparison Northern Ireland is very well funded. DENI allocates money each year to the Boards for specific targeted areas such as libraries or computers. These may remain designated areas for a year or so, after which money may be directed elsewhere. It is the responsibility of the Education and Library Boards to distribute this in whatever way they feel fit to the controlled schools in their area.
According to the Western Education and Library Board their aim is to have a minimum of ten computers in each Information Technology or Business Studies Department plus some extra per school at Second level and to have one computer per class at Primary level. At present there is a shortfall and it now needs another Department initiative on computers. Under the new LMS arrangements, schools now control their own budgets so they can prioritise and buy computers for themselves if there is no current targeted funding for this purpose.
There is an on-going library initiative which aims to bring all
Primary schools up to an acceptable standard. However, with recent
cut backs there is no money being allocated the year 1995-96.
The Secondary level is resourced by the Library service itself.
The Central Library will assist and advise on purchases made possible
by money which has been allocated through the LMS. In the case
of a new library being set up, this is provided for by the Board
out of the Central budget. Where an existing library is being
refurbished the Education and Library assists plus there is an
allowance under LMS. School books are purchased by schools from
the ELB's and are free to pupils.
The influence of Europe on the education systems in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland has been considerable and has operated at both legislative and financial levels. European legislation has led to the mutual recognition of qualifications, although there is an anomaly in relation to the requirement of Irish in order to teach in the Republic of Ireland. Although this appears to run contrary to EU directives, it is in fact legal because of the position of Irish as the first language of the State according to the Constitution, and EU regulations with regard to the protection of minority languages.
Substantial EU funding for education and training especially in the Republic of Ireland, (£100 million in each of the five years 1989-1993), has had a major impact and ensured a European dimension in both curriculum and increased the mobility of students and teachers. This increase in mobility is due to the encouragement and funding of many exchange programmes and to the EU directives on student fees which led to many students from the Republic of Ireland going to Northern Ireland and other United Kingdom third level institutions where they were eligible to have their fees paid. As of 1997 undergraduate third level education in the Republic of Ireland will be free and this may change the situation, especially if the promised extra 6,000 places come on stream.
There is widespread recognition of the necessity to ensure the compatibility of standards and qualifications within the European Community and also the necessity to exchange information as evidenced by a proposal to set up a network of teacher education institutions to share information and research.
Table 4.10 Profile of School Leavers: Northern Ireland
Table 4.11: Profile of School Leavers Republic of Ireland
In the Republic of Ireland in 1993 there was a total of 67,500 pupils of which 3,300 left with no qualifications. Approximately 1,000 pupils per year leave after primary school. It appears many of these are likely to be the children of travelling families. The aspiration is to increase the current percentage of pupils completing Senior cycle (79%) to 90% within the next five years. There is a ten year target to get all traveller children of Secondary school age to complete the Junior cycle and 50% to complete Senior cycle. It is also intended to have all traveller children of the appropriate age to be enrolled in Primary schools.
In Northern Ireland the educational targets for the year 2,000 are that 85% of 19 year olds will have achieved 5 GCSEs at Grade C or higher or an Intermediate GNVQ or an NVQ Level 2. It is also expected that 60% of 21 year olds should have achieved two A levels or an Advanced GNVQ or an NVQ Level 3.
A recent OECD report refers to the lack of credibility among employers of the NVQs in the United Kingdom generally. However, NVQs, depending on their nature and their relevance to the course applied for, are acceptable for entrance to universities in the case of mature students.
A similar issue in terms of recognition of standards and qualifications has been experienced with regard to the Post Leaving Certificate courses in the Republic of Ireland. Many of these appear to be accepted more readily by United Kingdom universities than by those in the Republic of Ireland. This may be partially due to the relative availability of places. The PLC's developed originally in response to a perceived need and were aided by ESF Grants. They were not initially recognised by the Department of Education and therefore they sought and obtained recognition through City and Guilds and BTEC in the United Kingdom. As a result of the popularity and growth of the PLCs, the Department of Education established the NCVA to examine and certify these courses. To date, their emphasis has been on a consideration of the year long PLC's although many PLC courses are of two and three years duration. It is expected that the newly established Board, Teastas, will speed up the co-ordination and standardisation of all such courses and qualifications.
In Northern Ireland a similar drive to monitor standards is evident. The DENI Strategic Analysis (1994) stresses the need for the NICCEA to work with awarding bodies for vocational qualifications to ensure high quality courses. There is some liaison between the two jurisdictions in determining the equivalent values of courses. In some cases joint certification occurs e.g. FÁS and City and Guilds.
Liaison takes place between the United Kingdom/Europe and the United Kingdom/Republic of Ireland. The National Academic Recognition Information Council U.K. is part of the European network of organisations involved in assessment and recognition of qualifications. NARIC operates in Dublin under the aegis of the Higher Education Authority. Bilateral agreements also exist between the two jurisdictions at the level of Higher Education Authorities.
In spite of the development of new courses and the increased participation of young people in Further and Higher education, there is still an unacceptable level of young people leaving school with no qualifications or with low levels of skills, in both jurisdictions. It is argued that the skills level in the U.K. economy as a whole lags behind that of most of its competitor countries, and Northern Ireland lags behind the U.K. average. The success rate of the top 33-35% of students is recognised but the numbers leaving with little or no qualifications is an area that needs to be targeted. There is a need for greater vocational provision, raising of standards and esteem for qualifications, better co-ordination in the Further Education sector and greater co-operation between schools and colleges of Further Education and other providers of vocational education and training.
In the Republic of Ireland, the White Paper (1995) also stresses the importance of upgrading skills, monitoring and standardising qualifications and increasing co-operation between the various providers. The necessity for broad occupational training which provides people with transferable skills comparable to developments in Europe is also emphasised. The White Paper also recognises the need to develop more flexible course structures to allow for easier transfers between courses and institutions. The need to be aware of education and training developments within Europe and to keep pace with these and for qualifications to be recognised internationally is evident in both jurisdictions and has resulted in many links being established between educational institutions.
There is a growing acknowledgement in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland of the importance of life-long education and the need to improve access for adults, the long-term unemployed and the marginalised. The DENI Strategic Analysis (1994), suggests the introduction of certification for non-vocational courses on the basis that many courses are initially pursued for leisure but if certificated, could lead to further education and training. The document also acknowledges the contribution made to adult and continuing education in the voluntary sector by the Workers Educational Association. Enrolments in WEA courses have increased by 63% in the five years up to 1993/4. In 1992/3 almost 9,000 students were enrolled and of these almost 60% were on State benefit and included many who might be considered disadvantaged. In recognition of the role of WEA, DENI has given a commitment to an expansion in this area. This commitment is reflected in the expressed targets for the area which anticipate a 5% increase per annum in enrolment to WEA courses and a 5% increase per year in the proportion of students gaining accreditation through recognised qualifications.
Similarly in the Republic of Ireland there is a perceived need for improved adult education. Concepts relating to access, especially for disadvantaged groups, adult career guidance, accreditation and funding are considered in the Report on the National Education Convention (1994). There is also general agreement that this is an area which is experiencing rapid growth and within which there is a significant potential to tackle educational disadvantage.
There are now moves in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to have mutual validation of non-vocational and adult education courses.
A significant difference between the two systems is that UCAS makes offers in advance of the examinations with other factors e.g. a confidential report and other information on the application form being taken into consideration. The CAO system is based exclusively on points achieved in the examinations and offers are made after the results are published.
Leaving Certificate and A levels are mutually recognised for entrance to universities. Northern universities also recognise NCEA certificates and diplomas and exemptions may be granted on the basis of good results in these. Regional Technical College Diplomas are acceptable in some cases in Northern Ireland.
Entrance to universities from Post Leaving Courses (PLC's) remains problematic. Some PLCs are accepted in the University of Ulster, in Regional Technical Colleges, the Dublin Institute of Technology and in many UK universities. Universities in the Republic of Ireland are rather more reticent to accept such qualifications. The establishment of Teastas as the new regulating and certification body may change this situation.
In the Republic of Ireland, all teachers, including those from Northern Ireland, must have their qualifications assessed by the Registration Council and must pass an examination in Irish. Since 1992 the regulations with regard to Irish prevent fully qualified teachers from taking up posts even in special or remedial schools. A further anomaly is that neither Montessori teachers or university lecturers are required to sit the Irish exam.
Following the Anglo Irish Agreement and the Framework Document, it was envisaged that the active co-operation between the Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland education systems would be promoted. The White paper (1995), gave a commitment to re-examine the situation with regard to mutual recognition of teacher qualifications and to prioritise the facilitation of North/South teacher mobility. Also in this context, the Irish National Teachers Organisation, as part of their submission to the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, recommended that accreditation should not depend on the ability to speak Irish.
A ministerial statement in November 1995, guaranteed full recognition of Northern Ireland qualifications and allowed a two year period to acquire the necessary qualification in Irish for teachers at Primary level. It is expected that this directive will come into force in September 1996.
The current situation is that those without the qualification in Irish continue to be paid at the untrained rate of £43.60 per day compared with the fully trained rate of £66.17 per day.
CAIN contains information and source material on the conflict and politics in Northern Ireland.
CAIN is based within Ulster University.
Last modified :