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.


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.


Key figures

  • Ireland boasts one of the highest success rates in the OECD for pupils completing their education within the given time (87%). (OECD – 2011)
  • 62.5% of young Irish people choose mainstream education in the senior cycle of secondary education and 37.5% the pre-vocational stream. (CEDEFOP – 2012)

Last update : 04/12/2013 


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