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EACEA National Policies Platform


5. Participation

5.7 “Learning to participate” through formal, non-formal and informal learning

Last update: 28 March 2024
On this page
  1. Policy Framework
  2. Formal learning
  3. Non-formal and informal learning
  4. Educators' support

Policy framework

There is no specific national strategy which applies to social and civic competences in Ireland.

Formal learning

Citizenship education is taught in second-level schools in Ireland as a separate subject called ‘Politics and Society.’ Politics and Society was introduced as a senior cycle subject in 2016 and was examined for the first time in 2018.

The recommended teaching time for Politics and Society is one hour 20 minutes per week, i.e. a double class. Weekly class time includes engagement in participatory learning activities and undertaking project work. The facilitation of the citizenship project takes in the region of 30 hours.

The main learning objectives of Politics and Society are to develop:

  • an understanding of the social systems within which people act: locally, nationally and more widely
  • an understanding of concepts which underpin contemporary systems of government and of the diverse models for making these concepts operational
  • an understanding of and a respect for human rights and responsibilities, for human dignity and for democratic modes of governance
  • an understanding of and a respect for sustainable development
  • a commitment to and a capacity for active participation in the learner’s social and political worlds
  • a commitment to and a capacity for critical, discursive and independent thinking
  • a commitment to and a capacity for engagement in peaceful and democratic means of resolving conflicts
  • a sense of care for others and a respect for and a valuing of diversity in all areas of human life within the parameters of human rights principles
  • the capacity to analyse and interpret qualitative and quantitative social and political research data, and to use such data carefully in forming opinions and coming to conclusions. 


Non-formal and informal learning

Participative structures within formal education

The Education Act (1998) is the legislation that makes provision for student councils to be set up at post-primary level in Ireland.

Goal 3 of Ireland's previous national framework for children and young people, Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures, aimed to create mechanisms to provide children and young people with the opportunity to be heard in primary and post-primary schools and centres for education through Student Councils or other age-appropriate mechanisms.

The main role of a Student Council as set out in the Education Act is "to promote the interests of the school and the involvement of students in the affairs of the school, in cooperation with the board, parents and teachers." Student Councils set their own objectives, which vary from school to school.

According to the Department of Education guidelines (2002), student councils can actively contribute to the development of school policy in a wide range of areas such as bullying, uniform requirements, behaviour code and extra-curricular activities. It suggests student councils could form sub-committees to consider individual policy issues, to consult with students, staff and parents on those issues and to represent the Council’s views on those issues to school management.


Measures to encourage student participation in the local community and wider society

There are no provisions is the national curricula or education regulations/guidelines encouraging or obliging pupils at upper secondary level to take part in activities serving the (local) community outside school.

Student participation in the local community and wider society is encouraged through participation in Comhairle na nÓg. Comhairle na nÓg are local child and youth councils that operate in the 31 local authorities of the country.

Comhairle na nÓg give children and young people the opportunity to be involved in the development of local services and policies.

Every Comhairle na nÓg holds an Annual General Meeting in September or October, to which children and young people are invited from local schools and youth groups. Attendance at AGMs ranges from 80 -150 young people, depending on the size of the city or county.

Many students participate in Gaisce, the President’s Award in secondary schools as part of Transition Year. Gaisce is a self-development programme for young people between the ages of 15-25.

There is a Community Involvement section of the Gaisce programme that involves volunteering in their local community. This offers young people the opportunity to engage with society and gain an understanding of the importance of your role within their immediate and global community. 


Partnerships  between formal  education providers, youth organisations and youth work providers

The youth work sector works with young people outside, yet alongside, the formal education sector. Section 3 of the Youth Work Act 2001 defines youth work as:

‘a planned programme of education designed for the purpose of aiding and enhancing the personal and social development of young persons through their voluntary participation, and which is complementary to their formal, academic or vocational education and training; and provided primarily by voluntary youth work services’.


Supporting non-formal learning initiatives focusing on social and civic competences

Foróige Youth Citizenship Programme

Foróige Youth Citizenship Programme is a youth development programme that promotes young people’s civic and social skills. Foróige is the largest youth organisation in Ireland, working with over 50,000 young people aged 10-18 every year through volunteer-led Clubs and staff-led Youth Projects. The aim of the programme is to enable young people to make a positive difference in their community by taking part in a citizenship project.

The programme involves young people researching the needs of their community, organising practical action in response, evaluating the effectiveness of their work and reflecting on what they’re learning along the way.

The programme has an explicit commitment to inclusion of young people who traditionally would not have entered the Citizenship Programme. For example, there has been a significant increase in entries from projects such as Garda (Police) Youth Diversion and Neighborhood Youth Projects in recent years.

Garda Youth Diversion Projects are community based and supported youth development projects which seek to divert young people from becoming involved (or further involved) in anti-social or criminal behavior. These projects facilitate personal development and promote civic responsibility.

Neighborhood Youth Projects are community based preventative adolescent projects for young people experiencing adversity. 


Foróige Youth Citizenship Awards

The Aldi Foróige Youth Citizenship Awards are open to all young people aged 10 - 18 involved in citizenship projects or activities in their youth clubs or groups. This includes young people involved in Foróige youth clubs or groups, other youth clubs or groups and Comhairle na nÓg (local child and youth councils).

The Awards Showcase gives young people the opportunity to display their citizenship projects/activities and gain recognition for the work they have done to help improve their communities.


Quality assurance/quality guidelines for non-formal learning

The Foróige Youth Citizenship Programme is measured against indicators of good practice in youth civic engagement. These indicators include:

  • Organised efforts are required to promote youth civic engagement and encourage young people to see that they can make a difference
  • Facilitate young people to input into what citizenship means rather than telling them what ‘good citizenship’ is
  • Programmes should be action-orientated, providing real opportunities for young people to engage in civic action
  • Promote skills development and reflection
  • Provide clarity regarding the degree of youth ownership, avoid ‘adultism’
  • Promote adult-youth partnerships
  • Have structured guidelines to encourage project completion
  • Encourage exposure to diverse social networks
  • Encourage participation of young people who traditionally may not be involved in civic activities. 

An evaluation report on the Foróige Youth Citizenship Programme was published in 2012:

The National Quality Standards Framework (NQSF) is the quality assurance framework for non-formal learning in Ireland. The aim of the National Quality Standards Framework (NQSF) is to ensure that youth work organisations provide quality services to young people.


Educators' support

Our Voices Our Schools

Our Voices Our Schools is a resource for schools to support listening to and involving young people in decision making about matters that affect them in school. Our Voices Our Schools is the outcome of a decision made by Comhairle na nÓg National Executive 2016 – 17 to focus specifically on equality in the school setting. It includes resources for teachers and students to help young people have their voices heard in schools. Our Voices Our Schools is supported by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. 


Politics and Society

Politics and Society curriculum specification is available online to teachers. There are also Politics and Society support materials for teachers. 


Foróige Youth Citizenship Programme

Foróige Youth Citizenship Programme has a Briefing Paper for youth workers. Foróige Youth Citizenship Programme has a ‘Citizenship Programme Manual’ used to train staff and volunteers which was developed by the Foróige Best Practice Unit  is not available online.