CAIN: Issues - Education. Education in Ireland by Dominic Murray, Alan Smith and Ursula Birthistle, 1997

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Education in Ireland, by Dominic Murray, Alan Smith and Ursula Birthistle

[Key_Events] Key_Issues] [Conflict_Background]

Text: Dominic Murray, Alan Smith and Ursula Birthistle ... Page Compiled: Fionnuala McKenna
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The administration of education
In both jurisdictions, the Departments of Education are engaged in significant changes to the administration system.. In the Republic of Ireland the Education Bill (1997) proposes the introduction of ten new Regional Boards. In Northern Ireland, the proposal is to reduce the five existing Education and Library Boards to three. (pp8-9)

The creation of Regional Boards in the Republic of Ireland will increase secular representation and may generate a broader debate concerning the ownership of schools. The re-organisation of Education and Library Boards in Northern Ireland involves a redefinition of geographical boundaries. It is also likely that this will lead to a different pattern of political representation within each new Board. (pp13-14)

In Northern Ireland the role of the Inspectorate has been moving towards school inspections and away from developmental responsibilities. In the Republic of Ireland the Inspectorate retains a developmental and advisory role. In addition, the Central Inspectorate, unlike their northern counterparts, carries responsibility for the examination system. (p12)

In recent years there has been an emergence of umbrella organisations to represent the interests of new forms of schooling with a distinctive ethos. In Northern Ireland, the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) has become a statutory body and the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NICIE) has been recognised by government. There have also been some demands for the establishment of a Transferor's Council to represent Protestant churches interests in education. In the Republic of Ireland, Educate Together has emerged to represent the interests of multi-denominational schools. In both jurisdictions all Irish medium schools are affiliated to 'Gaelscoileanna'. (pp15-19)

There has been considerable growth in the number of integrated schools in Northern Ireland and multi-denominational schools in the Republic of Ireland. Both represent trends towards more pluralist education and the motivation for their establishment has generally come from parents. Integrated schools in Northern Ireland have emerged within a Christian ethos. In the Republic of Ireland it is stressed that multi-denominational schools are to serve 'all religions and none'. (pp25, 31)

Preschool education
In both jurisdictions preschool provision is a mixture of State, voluntary and private facilities. It can be argued that preschool provision is inadequate and under-funded in both jurisdictions, particularly when compared to other European standards. Statutory regulations are more developed in Northern Ireland. In the Republic of Ireland the State makes special provision at preschool level for the children of travellers. This is not the case in Northern Ireland. A common debate in both jurisdictions is the suitability of educating four year olds within the more formal environment of the Primary school (in infant or reception classes). (pp27-28, 35-37)

The school systems
The organising principles of the school systems are different in each jurisdiction. In Northern Ireland, distinctive characteristics are segregation by religion and selection at age 11. In the Republic of Ireland schools tend to be distinguished by their disparate emphases on academic, vocational or technical education. In both jurisdictions there are significant numbers of single sex schools. (pp23,29)

OECD report (1995) indicates that Primary schools in the Republic of Ireland have the largest class sizes in Europe. This is reflected in high pupil teacher ratios. (p4).

In Northern Ireland current issues related to the development of integrated schooling concern Government policy to support the capital development of new integrated schools and also debate concerning the criteria to facilitate the transformation of existing schools to become integrated schools. (pp 25-26)

Further Education
In Northern Ireland it is proposed to transfer responsibilities for Further Education from the ELBs to DENI. A Further Education Authority is to be established in the Republic of Ireland. In both jurisdictions a more coherent framework for certification and recognition is emerging. (pp34-35)

There is a growing debate in the Republic of Ireland concerning the demand by Post Leaving Certificate students to be treated as third level students and thus qualifying for consideration for grant aid. (p35)

Initial teacher training
In Northern Ireland initial teacher training is becoming more school based with a movement towards Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) courses being offered by the universities and undergraduate degree programmes within training colleges. In the Republic of Ireland, the direct equivalent of the PGCE is the Higher Diploma in Education which is offered by universities and is a compulsory requirement for all Secondary school teachers. Teacher training colleges are the main providers of training for primary school teachers. In both jurisdictions quotas have been imposed on numbers entering teacher training. (pp37-38)

There is a significant difference in the participation rates of full-time mature students in both jurisdictions, with that in Northern Ireland being more than four times that in the Republic of Ireland.

Approximately 40% of Northern Ireland students attend universities outside the State, while applicants from the Republic of Ireland to universities in the U.K. rose by 40% in 1995 to 13,402.[1]

Fees have been abolished in the Republic of Ireland for all undergraduate students.

Adult and Continuing Education
The general trend in adult education in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is for men to predominate in the vocational, technological and managerial courses and women in liberal arts areas including self development courses.(p51) There is also a growing demand for vocational and accredited provision within the sector. (p47)

In Northern Ireland there has been a significant growth in education among working class Catholics and especially among women. In the Republic of Ireland there is a disproportionate number of better-off and better educated participants in adult education. (p53)

In both jurisdictions there is an increasing tendency for adult education to be used as access to higher education through certificate and diploma courses. (p50) Provision is becoming more self-financing.

Special needs education
In both jurisdictions there is a continuing debate concerning mainstream as opposed to special provision, with the general preference being for the former.

There is a general demand for increased financing and improved education and training in the area.

In the Republic of Ireland there is statutory recognition for the educational and cultural needs of gypsy and travelling peoples. This does not apply in Northern Ireland where such groups are not recognised as having special status. There is a general trend to integrate travellers into mainstream provision with the caveat that integration should not be perceived as assimilation.

Concern has been expressed with the high level of drop-off in participation levels of travellers in education after Primary school age. (pp55-57)

The curriculum
There are several impediments to mobility for pupils moving from one jurisdiction to the other. These include the difference in age of transfer from Primary to Secondary school and in taking the Junior Certificate and GCSE. (p61)

Also, the different provision and requirements in terms of the Irish language can create educational and social problems for young people transferring from one system to another. Problems also arise with regard to the differing degrees of specialisation at A level and Senior Certificate.


North/south co-operation
The recent establishment of the Standing Conference on North-South Co-operation in Further and Higher Education links the universities, the Northern Institutes for Further and Higher Education and the Southern Regional Technical Colleges with the aim of promoting and facilitating cross-border projects. Projects must have at least one partner from North and South and "must contribute significantly to the quality of the learning experience for students or the furtherance of academic research relevant to both parts of the island." Funding is channelled through the University of Ulster. The organisation also intends to set up a database of North-South partnerships.[2]

The Confederation of Student Services in Ireland co-ordinates information on student services throughout the island, producing newsletters, holding biennial conferences and annual events. The CSSI is interested in increasing north-south co-operative ventures in all aspects of third level education including research and support services. It is envisaged that increasing use of the internet will not only give students access to information on all services available on campuses but will also allow for curriculum development committees to operate on an inter-campus basis. Co-operation between institutions is also seen as possible in the area of open and distance learning.[3]

Advances are also taking place in relation to assessment and the recognition of qualifications. Joint certification arrangements have also been developed between, for example, FÁS and City & Guilds. The National Academic Recognition Information Council (NARIC U.K.), which is part of a European network of organisations involved in assessment and recognition of qualifications, operates in the Republic of Ireland under the aegis of the Higher Education Authority.

At Primary and Second level, institutional links are made more difficult due different educational structures in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. There are however many contacts at the level of individual schools through various exchange schemes, many organised through Co-operation North. There is also collaboration between the two Departments of Education and the curriculum bodies in both jurisdictions. The current lack in the Republic of Ireland of an equivalent to the Northern Education and Library Boards makes contact at an intermediate level difficult. It is likely that this intermediate level is an area where more could be done, especially in relation to teacher development. Some work is beginning in this area and also in relation to possible collaboration with regard to the curriculum for 16-19 year olds north and south.

At Departmental level, several projects have been jointly established. These include the European Studies Project which involves three-way co-operation between schools in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and another European Union country. This project aims to develop curricular links and was jointly established by the Departments of Education in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain.[4] European Action for the Environment, involving 26 schools north and south, is an environmental education network supported by DENI and the Department of Education in the Republic of Ireland and also by Co-operation North and Olin Chemicals.

The Warrington Project, set up in the aftermath of the Warrington bomb, has approached the Ministers of Education north and south with a view to establishing a programme to improve north-south and east-west relationships and understanding. They are currently considering the new Civic, Social and Political Education programme as a channel for this project. Also, in the wake of the Warrington bomb, Irish studies have been introduced into a number of second level schools in co-operation with Liverpool University. A pilot programme has also been started involving the final two years of Primary schools in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and Warrington. It is intended that this should result in children getting a total of seven years cross-cultural, cross-border education.

Although there is no continued structured relationship, co-operation has been developing between curriculum bodies principally related to specific topics. Discussions between the NCCA and the CCEA have included topics such as the new CSPE programme and EMU.

The Curriculum Development Unit in Dublin and the Northern Ireland Training and Employment Agency jointly co-ordinate the Wider Horizons Programme. This targets unemployed 16-28 year olds, giving them training and work experience either in Ireland or in Europe. The programme is funded by the International Fund for Ireland and must have a cross-community and a cross-border element.

At teacher level there is little regular or structured contact. Some teacher exchanges do take place through Co-operation North or through the Central Bureau for Educational Visits and Exchanges (NI) and its Southern counterpart, Leargas. Annual conferences of the teacher unions north and south also provide opportunities for exchanges of views. The UTU representing teachers from all levels, mainly from the controlled sector, works closely with the Northern branch of the INTO and liaises informally with the Southern INTO.

In the integrated sector, regular contact between northern and southern bodies includes liaison between NICIE and its southern counterpart ACT. This also applies between the Gaelscoileanna north and south. The formation of WISE, links bodies dealing with special education ranging from gifted to remedial. There is also close liaison between bodies concerned with travellers education and rights.

Since its inception in 1979, Co-operation North has promoted cross-border exchanges between primary, second level and third level students and teachers as well as youth community links. Many of these links continue between schools after the initial formal exchange arrangements have ended.

The Irish Council of Churches which represents eight Protestant denominations and the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace supported by the Roman Catholic bishops, have done much work in the area of Education for Mutual Understanding and developed related educational materials for use north and south.


Although Education for Mutual Understanding exists in Northern Ireland and Civic, Social and Political Education in the Republic of Ireland, neither seems to explicitly address issues about north/south relationships. A programme in this area involving schools from both jurisdictions would seem to be an obvious course of action. In this context research would also be useful which considers young people's perceptions of each other at a cross border level and their understanding of contemporary social and human rights issues.

A qualitative study of those who have special needs in both jurisdictions would be beneficial. The study might identify types of need, how these are addressed, what are the major gaps in provision and what are the issues involved in proposed 'solutions'.

A study of the role of Education and Library Boards in Northern Ireland with special regard to informing the emerging system of Education Boards in the Republic of Ireland.

Comparative research into issues concerning power, representation, role and legitimacy of parents in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Empirical research which examines how formal and informal selection within both educational systems operates and the extent to which it supports or impedes social inclusion of different groups in society.

A comparative study of initial teacher training and induction which considers the feasibility of implementing a pilot programme to increase contact and understanding between trainee teachers north and south. A pilot module for trainee teachers on north/south issues and teaching methods appropriate to conflict resolution and controversial issues would also be beneficial.

A comparative study of student access, mobility and social and cultural segregation within higher education in Ireland.


1. Dennis, R.C. (1996), UCAS Documentation, Cheltenham
2. (1996) Information Brief. Standing Conference on North-South Co-operation in Further and Higher Education
3. Confederation of Student Services in Ireland (1996), Magee College, University of Ulster, June
4. N.I. Curriculum Council (1992), Thinking European - Ideas for integrating a European Dimension into the Curriculum, Belfast

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