Eire (picture from Wikimedia)Since the 1990s, Ireland has undertaken an in-depth reform of its educational system. Education for all has been written into the country’s legislation. From now on, both young people and adults whether they are unemployed or have a job, have the right to a second chance in terms of education.

A mainstream and vocational qualifications framework has been set up.

Employers and social partners have been called on notably to define training quality standards and facilitate recognition of qualifications and experience.

The innovations introduced into the education system include the following:

  • a transition year. This year between lower and upper secondary education is neither compulsory nor validated by an examination. Young people have the opportunity of discovering different subjects, doing theatre, travelling or carrying out work placements etc. The objective is for them to become more mature and independent through open contact with the outside world and to provide them with everything they need to think carefully about their professional career.
  • in the senior cycle Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP), two compulsory modules have been introduced: developing a spirit of enterprise and preparing for the working world. The aim is to develop the pupils’ skills in the fields of communication, documentary research, drafting reports and teamwork.

Since FET in Ireland comprises post-secondary non-tertiary education as well as second chance education/training, the FET sector is characterised by a high degree of diversity in terms of the type, level and learner.

The Irish education system – 2013


Irish system (© Onisep / Elise Veteau)




The vocational pathway in Ireland


Secondary education

In Ireland, schooling is compulsory for children between the ages of 6 and 16.

Secondary education starts at the age of 12. It comprises a junior cycle lasting for 3 years, leading to the Junior Certificate, followed by the optional transition year for those who want to take this opportunity.

At this stage pupils choose between 3 senior cycle streams leading to the Leaving Certificate at the end of their secondary school studies

  • one of the traditional streams allowing pupils to go on to higher education
  • the second stream prepares pupils for the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) which gives greater emphasis to vocational subjects. The LCVP opens the door to higher education.
  • the third stream prepares pupils for the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA). It is geared towards pupils who do not want to enrol directly in higher education. Pupils holding the LCA can prepare the post-leaving certificate which opens a gateway to technical higher education.


Higher education

In higher education, Institutes of Technology prepare students for certificates and degrees in either 2 years (Higher Certificate) or 3 years (Ordinary degree) and for Higher degrees in 4 years.

Universities also offer professional-oriented diplomas, Bachelor’s degrees, Master’s degrees and postgraduate degrees.



The Irish apprenticeship pathway is currently changing, and is limited in scope with only 25 training programmes offered by the FÁS (National Training and Employment Authority), soon to be replaced by Solas. Apprentices are recruited and employed by enterprises and receive a wage. They must be at least 16 and hold the Junior Certificate.

Apprenticeships last for at least 4 years. They lead to the National Craft Certificate.

One of the features of Irish apprenticeships is that they are standard-based.

Young people over the age of 16 can participate in the national Traineeship programme, a dual vocational system leading to a qualification set up by the social partners in relation to the needs of local economy. It awards qualifications recognised by professional organisations.

Most vocational education and training (VET) in Ireland occurs within the FET sector.

Most VET takes the form of apprenticeship training, and to a lesser extent traineeship and specific skills training (for the unemployed) some Post Leaving Certificate courses are also considered to be VET.

Apprentices are considered to be part of the employed population in Ireland and pay the appropriate level of employment insurance. They sign an employment contract with the employer and therefore have the legal status and associated rights and responsibilities of employees. And the largest numbers of apprentices are enrolled in electrical and carpentry/joinery trades.

Key figures

  • The employment rate for 20 to 64 year-olds is 70.3% in Ireland. (CEDEFOP – 2017)
  • Irish seasonally adjusted unemployment rate decreased to 6.0 percent in February of 2018 from 6.1 percent in the previous month and compared with 7.3 percent a year earlier. (tradingeconomics – 2018)

Last update : 18/06/2018


The Irish Education system on Eurypedia

EURES (European Job Mobility Portal) : Living and working in Ireland

IVEA – Irish Vocational Education Association

NQAI – National Qualifications Authority of Ireland

Department of Education and Science

CAO: portal for higher education admissions

Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment

FÁS – Training and Employment Authority

SOLAS – New Training Authority (autumn 2013) 

Careerlist: containing a list describing different trades and professions

IBEC – Irish Business and Employers Confederation