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Main trends in young people's participation in education and training
Increasing Enrolment Rates
Ireland’s population has grown in recent years. This increase has caused a surge in the number of students enrolled in post-primary schools. Education Indicators for Ireland [Department of Education and Skills (DES), 2019] show 362,899 post-primary students enrolled in school in 2018. Compared to 2014’s enrolments, this is a 7% increase in post-primary students. Regional Projections of full-time enrolments Primary and Second Level, 2019 - 2036 (DES, 2019) forecast that post-primary enrolments will continue to rise until 2024, when it will reach 402,175 enrolments.
Cumasú Empowering through learning, Statement of Strategy 2019-2021 (DES, 2019, pp. 8) notes that ‘Growing numbers of students at second and third level will present many challenges across the education and training system, including the requirement for a significant programme of capital expenditure’. These increasing enrolment rates also intensify the existing challenge of supplying enough teachers for the national education system. The Chief Inspector’s Report: Excellence in Learning for All (2018) noted the difficulties in sourcing teachers at post-primary levels. Teacher Supply Action Plan (DES, 2018) and the Action Plan for Education 2019 (DES, 2019) also aims to address the supply of teachers.
Early School Leavers
Eurostat data on Early leavers from education and training by sex and labour status (2020) showed, Ireland’s number of 18- to 24-year-olds, who leave further education and training with at most a lower secondary education, fell to 5% in 2017, remaining relatively stable in 2018 (5%) and 2019 (5.1%). As noted in the National Reform Programme (Department of the Taoiseach, 2020), this is one of the lowest rates in the EU and substantially below Ireland’s Europe 2020 (European Commission, 2010) target of 8%. Nevertheless, the National Reform Programme (Department of the Taoiseach, 2020, pp. 107) also recognises that ‘Ireland still faces challenges in the area of early school leaving and young people not engaged in employment, education or training (NEETs) in disadvantaged areas’ and within certain groups, including Irish Travellers.
Travellers are formally recognised as a distinct ethnic group within the Irish nation. The Equal Status Act 2000 defines the ‘Traveller community’ as ‘the community of people who are commonly called Travellers and who are identified (both by themselves and others) as people with a shared history, culture and traditions including, historically, a nomadic way of life on the island of Ireland’ [Equal Status Act, 2000, Section 2 (1)]. Early school leaving is much more common amongst the Traveller community in Ireland. In the last Census 2016 (Profile 8 Irish Travellers, Ethnicity and Religion)
13.3% of Traveller females were educated to upper secondary or above compared with 69.1% of the general population
57.2% of Traveller men were educated to at most primary level compared with 13.6% of the general population.
The unemployment rate among Irish Travellers is substantially higher than amongst the general population. 80.2% of Irish Travellers were unemployed (Profile 8 Irish Travellers, Ethnicity and Religion) compared to 12.9% of the general population (Profile 11 Employment, Occupations and Industry).
Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools
A priority of Ireland’s youth policy framework, Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures: The National Policy Framework for Children and Young People, 2014-2020 (Department of Children and Youth Affairs, 2014), is to ‘Work together to protect young people at risk’. The Department of Education's Social Inclusion Unit develops and promotes a co-ordinated Department response tThe Department of Educationo tackling educational disadvantage in second-level education. One of the Unit’s key methods is the DEIS Plan 2017 Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools. It provides a standardised system to identify levels of disadvantage and an integrated programme of Supports to DEIS Schools. Of the 723 second-level schools in Ireland, 198 are included in the DEIS School List 2020 - 2021 (DES, 2020).
Findings from The Evaluation of DEIS at Post-Primary Level: Closing the Achievement and Attainment Gaps (Weir and Kavanagh, 2018) included:
Significant positive trends in retention rates for both state examinations; the Junior Certificate Examination and Leaving Certificate Examination.
A selection of subjects in the Leaving Certificate Examination may be taken at higher, ordinary or foundation level. The proportions of students, in DEIS schools, sitting the English and mathematics exams decreased at foundation level and increased at higher level exams.
These improvements appear to be greater for DEIS than non-DEIS schools.
National Traveller Roma Inclusion Strategy
The National Traveller Roma Inclusion Strategy 2017-2021 (Department of Justice and Equality, 2017) takes a whole of Government approach to improving the lives of Travellers and Roma in Ireland. It aims to improve public service engagement with Traveller and Roma communities. It proposes:
Traveller and Roma women should be supported in key areas including education, employment, and economic development.
Improved educational access, participation and outcomes for Travellers and Roma.
SOLAS [the national Further Education and Training (FET) Authority] and the Education and Training Boards consider the needs of disadvantaged groups, including Travellers and Roma, when planning FET provision.
Addressing the high rate of early school-leaving in the Traveller and Roma communities, by strengthening the cooperation between formal education and non-formal learning sectors.
The National Strategy for Higher Education for 2030 (DES, 2011) recognises an upward trend of Irish students studying abroad. The main route for Irish third level students to study abroad is though the European Union’s Erasmus+ programme. The Erasmus+ Annual Report Factsheet Ireland 2017-18 (European Commission, 2018) documented a total of 5,749 outgoing Irish students, between Erasmus+ mobilities in higher education (4,553) and vocational education and training (1,196) in 2017.
This increasing internationalisation of higher education is also visible in the rates of incoming Erasmus+ students. The Erasmus+ Annual Factsheet also reports 8,017 incoming higher education students and trainees in 2016/17, a 39.4% increase from 2011/12.
Organisation of the education and training system
Full-time education is compulsory from 6 to 16 years, or until the completion of 3 years of second-level education. Both state-funded and private education is available at all levels in Ireland.
Typical Age of Attendance
Awarded level on National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ)
Awarded level on European Qualifications Framework (EQF)
Awarded level on International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED)
Lower Second Level / Post-Primary Education
Upper Second Level / Post-Primary Education
Further Education and Training
A diagram describing the Irish education system can be found on page (i) of A Brief Description of the Irish System (Department of Education and Science, 2004).
Post-Primary Education may take place via secondary schools; vocational schools; community and comprehensive schools; or special schools. The majority of post-primary students study in secondary schools. Secondary schools are owned and managed privately. There are three secondary school models:
- Community Colleges - established by the local Education and Training Board (ETB) which is also the sole patron of the school. Community Colleges are funded by the Department of Education through the ETBs and deliver the post-primary curriculum determined by the Minister for Education supported by syllabuses, guidelines for teachers, circulars to schools and prescribed material for the examinations.
- Community Schools - established by one or more private or religious patrons coming together with an ETB patron or as the result of the amalgamation of voluntary secondary and ETB schools. Community Schools are funded by the Department of Education and deliver the post-primary curriculum determined by the Minister for Education supported by syllabuses, guidelines for teachers, circulars to schools and prescribed material for the examinations.
- Voluntary Secondary Schools - privately owned and managed post-primary schools, usually under the patronage of an individual body such as a religious community, a charitable trust or a private charitable company. Voluntary Secondary Schools are funded by the Department of Education and deliver the post-primary curriculum determined by the Minister for Education supported by syllabuses, guidelines for teachers, circulars to schools and prescribed material for the examinations.
Post-primary education is divided into two cycles. A 3-year Junior Cycle ends with the State Examination known as the Junior Certificate Examination. This leads onto a Senior Cycle of 2 or 3 years (depending on whether an optional Transition Year is taken at the start of the Senior Cycle). A second state examination is typically taken following the completion of the Senior Cycle. This exam may take the form of the Leaving Certificate (Established), the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme or the Leaving Certificate Applied. Students can progress into further education and training (FET) or higher education.
Full-time FET includes Post Leaving Certificate Courses, Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme and Youthreach. Part-time FET includes Back To Education Initiative, Community Education, and Adult Education.
Apprenticeships can take place within FET or higher education, leading to an award at level 5-10 NFQ/4-8 EQF. They are 2-4 years duration, with a minimum of 50% on-the-job learning. Apprentices are employed under a formal contract and paid by the employer for the duration of the apprenticeship. According to Review of Pathways to Participation in Apprenticeship (Generation Apprenticeship, 2018) there were 14,953 apprentices in October 2018, and of these, 85% were males under 25 years old. For further details on apprenticeships see Youth Wiki Chapter 3.5.
Higher Education, also known as Third Level, is primarily provided by Universities, Colleges of Education, and Institutes of Technology. Education Indicators for Ireland (DES, 2019) showed that, in 2017, 64% of students progressed from post-primary to higher education.
Adult Education may be formal or non-formal, and often overlaps with community education. Formal adult education is often provided through Education and Training Boards or non-governmental organisations.
Early school leaving
Multiple definitions of early school leaving are used in Ireland.
The legal definition is ‘non-participation in school before reaching the age of 16 years or before completing 3 years post-primary education, whichever is later’.
The Central Statistics Office’s Educational Attainment Thematic Report defines ‘early school leavers as persons aged 18 to 24 whose highest level of education attained is lower secondary or below and have not received education since.’
A commonly used interpretation is ‘those who leave the education system without a minimum of 5 passes in the Leaving Certificate or equivalent qualification’.
Under the Education For Persons With Special Educational Needs Act 2004 [No. 30.2] ‘inclusive education’ is educating children ‘with special educational needs […] in an inclusive environment with children who do not have such needs’ unless it would go against the child’s best interests or negatively affect the other children’s education.
Inclusive education is commonly known as special education. The same Act [No. 30.1] defines ‘Special educational needs’ as ‘a restriction in the capacity of the person to participate in and benefit from education on account of an enduring physical, sensory, mental health or learning disability or any other condition which results in a person learning differently from a person without that condition…’.
‘Youth work’ is defined by the Youth Work Act, 2001 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—
(a) complementary to their formal, academic or vocational education and training; and
(b) provided primarily by voluntary youth work organisations.