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EACEA National Policies Platform


6. Education and Training

6.10 Current debates and reforms

Last update: 28 November 2023
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  1. Forthcoming policy developments
  2. Ongoing debates


Forthcoming policy developments

The Higher Education Authority Act, 1971

The Higher Education Authority (HEA) is the statutory funding authority for the universities, institutes of technology and a number of other designated institutions. It leads the strategic development of the Irish higher education and higher education research system and is the advisory body to the Minister for Education in relation to the higher education sector. The Higher Education Authority Act, 1971 established the HEA, set out its functions and provided for its governance. It has been updated on several occasions. The Department of Education argue that the Higher Education Authority Act, 1971 is, in some important respects, not aligned with the current role and responsibilities of the HEA. Therefore, the Government has approved the updating of the act.

The Minister initiated a consultation process on the updating of the HEA Act in July 2018 and hosted a consultation forum in November 2018. The Consultation Report and Response of the Department of Education on the Legislative Reform of the Higher Education Authority Act, 1971 (DES, 2019) is a report on this process. It also includes the DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION’ response to the issues raised and the proposed framework for the new legislation. An Outline of the Legislative Proposals for the Reform of the Higher Education Authority Act, 1971 (DES, 2019) is an outline of the main provisions which it is proposed to include in the legislation.

Following review by Government, the consultation report and response of the Department of Education and Skills, and an outline of the legislative proposals for the reform were published in July 2019 . The views of stakeholders on the consultation report and the legislative proposals were sought by the end of September 2019. Further consultation was undertaken with the key stakeholders to progress the development of the issues raised.

A further consultation paper was prepared and published on 19 February 2021, Update on the Reform of the Higher Education Authority Act, 1971 – A Shared Approach, seeking the up to date views of stakeholders. This consultation paper outlined the further development of the performance and regulatory framework for higher education which reflected many of the views of stakeholders and the working group. There are no updates to these consultations as of August 2021.

Social Inclusion Model

A new School Inclusion Model to support for students with special educational and additional care needs was developed based on policy advice from the NCSE. Piloting and evaluation during the 2019/20 academic year. It is supported by €4.75m funding allocated in Budget 2019 and aims to build schools’ capacity to include children with additional needs and to provide other supports for pupils. 75 primary and post-primary schools 3 areas participated. The model does not require a formal diagnosis for access to Special Needs Assistant support.

Key features of the School Inclusion Model are:

  • A new frontloading allocation model for Special Needs Assistants (SNAs). A profiling system for Special Education Teaching will be used to allocate resources, breaking the link with the need for an assessment. An appeals mechanism will be included to deal with exceptional cases in schools.
  • National Educational Psychological Service will be expanded to provide more intensive in-school supports.
  • SNAs will be offered a new National Training Programme, emphasising the need for students to develop independence and resilience.
  • A new national nursing service for children with complex medical needs in schools.

The model is a collaboration across the Departments of Education, Health, and Children and Youth Affairs, as well as the National Council for Special Education and the Health Service Executive.

A School Inclusion Model Group was formed to advise, monitor and oversee the development, coordination and implementation of the trialing of a new School Inclusion Model as approved by Government on 12 February 2019.

Education plans

Under the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004 (the EPSEN Act) each child assessed with a special educational need should have a personal education plan. This system is not yet in place but its implementation is being coordinated by the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) which has published Guidelines for the Individual Education Plan process (pdf). The NCSE has also published Implementation Report: Plan for the Phased Implementation of the EPSEN Act 2004. This sets out how the Act can be implemented. However there is currently no date for the implementation of the assessment of need and individual education plans.

In 2017, a new assessment was introduced to determine how special education teachers are allocated to mainstream schools. Under the new system, each school gets a single allocation of special education teachers. The number of special education teachers allocation to a school is determined by the size of the school and its educational profile.

Schools are provided with the necessary resources in advance so that students with special educational needs can be enrolled into schools and access additional supports. The enables a school to be inclusive and put in place additional teaching support for students who need it. The Department of Education and Skills provides information for parents and guardians on how your child can get additional teaching support in school (pdf).

It was announced in May 2021, that the introduction of the frontloaded Allocation Model for Special Needs Assistants for students in mainstream classes in primary and post-primary schools will be deferred to the 2022-2023 school year.

Short Courses for Leaving Certificate Examination

Towards Learning. An Overview of Senior Cycle Education (National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, 2009) proposes the introduction of 90-hour optional short courses, alongside the current longer subjects. These would also be examined by the State Examinations Commission. Two sample short courses being developed for consultation in the areas of Enterprise and Psychology.

Traveller culture and history

Traveller Culture and History in the Curriculum: a Curriculum Audit (National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, 2018) recommendations included that Traveller and Roma culture to be embedded in the curriculum. The Traveller Culture and History in Education Bill 2018 was proposed in 2018, passed by Seanad Éireann (the upper house of the Irish Parliament), and is, as of September 2020, before Dáil Éireann (the lower house of the Irish Parliament). This act would include Traveller culture and history in the curriculum. As of 2021, the Minister for Education supports the adoption of this Bill however there is no implementation of it as of August 2021.

Enhanced Media Education

Digital Strategy for Schools 2015-2020: Enhancing Teaching, Learning and Assessment (DES, 2015) supports embedding digital learning objectives within future education policy and curriculum initiatives; and a specific strategic action is set out in that regard. This will mean that future curriculum specifications can drive effective application of ICT in learning, and support teachers in developing students’ digital learning competencies.

The Department of Education announced the development of a new Digital Strategy for Schools in 2021 commencing with a wide-ranging consultation process.

The new Digital Strategy for Schools will replace the existing strategy, which will run out in the current school year. The new Strategy will build on what has been achieved to date including increased funding to support potential remote learning.

Learnings from the current strategy and the experience of teachers, school leaders, students and parents with the embedding of digital technologies across the curriculum and the opportunities provided by this, as well the impact of remote learning during COVID-19 will inform the development of the new Digital Strategy for Schools. This Strategy aims to address the emerging issues and trends in digital technology.

Under Project Ireland 2040, the government’s long-term overarching strategy to make Ireland a better country for all of its people, the ongoing embedding of the use of digital technologies in teaching, learning and assessment through the Digital Strategy for Schools will be supported through a further investment, under the current National Development Plan, of some €200 million up to 2027.


Ongoing Debates

School patronage

While the State provides for free primary education, schools are established by patron bodies. Under the Education Act, 1998 (Government of Ireland, 1998), patrons define the ethos of the school and appoint the board of management to run the school on a day to day basis. Most schools in Ireland are owned and under the patronage of religious denominations. Although they are increasing in number, there are still a very limited number of non-Catholic schools. Their limited number of student places available and their absences in certain areas, has come under criticism in recent years in public discourse and in the media.

School admission policies

Many schools in Ireland are oversubscribed for available pupils/student places. Each school must publish an admissions policy. These admissions policies typically include several contributing factors.

Often a waiting list is formed for admission and children are often prioritized if they have a sibling, parent or grandparent who attended, or is attending, the school. There has been debate that waiting lists and ‘siblings first’ policies can disadvantage immigrants and Travellers from being offered places at their preferred schools. Under the Education (Admission to Schools) Act, 2018, schools must accept applicants where they have places and a limit of 25% of available places can be prioritised for children or grandchildren of past pupils. Some debate on this topic remains.

Reform of the Leaving Certificate

The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) began a major review of the senior cycle and the leaving certificate examination, in 2016. In 2019 NCCA engaged in a public consultation. The next stage of the review is for NCCA to issue an advisory report to the Minister for Education for consideration.

The response to COVID-19 in the provisions for education

Due to COVID-19 and related health measures, a number of temporary reforms to education occurred during 2020. Calculated grades were used instead of the Leaving Certificate Exam for sixth (final) year secondary school students during 2020. This move was highly criticised by many students, parents, members of the teaching community and media. Objections to calculated grades included, some students’ fear of teacher bias and some teachers’ feeling that they were ill-equipped and/or that it was inappropriate for them to give predicted grades. Teacher and principle representatives also criticised students and parents contacting Leaving Certificate teachers to lobby them about calculated grades.

Following the release of students’ calculated grades, three errors in the coding used to generate standardise results were discovered. 6,100 students gained improved marks following a review of the Leaving Certificate calculated grades system. The Minister for Education confirmed that a similar number of students were awarded grades that were higher than they should have been.

The Leaving Certificate 2021 gave students the option of a calculated grade, a written exam or both in each subject. Every student had to opt in to pick which system they would prefer to do in each subject. The exams themselves ran at the normal time in June and was subject to public health advice. The calculated grades will be given to students at the same time as examination results. The decision was made to give students the choice because the government has said that it would be unfair to make students sit exams when a large amount of their time in senior cycle has been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

National Strategy for a Comprehensive Guidance Service for Young People

The Further Education and Training Strategy 2020 - 2024 (SOLAS, 2020) states that the nature and quality of guidance provision vary across the different access points into the FET sector. The Further Education and Training Strategy 2014-2019 (SOLAS, 2014) reported that the need for an integrated FET guidance approach was frequently mentioned during the consultation process. Based on these consultations and on research, the strategy recognises the need for an integrated FET Guidance approach. The aim of an integrated model of guidance for the FET sector should build on practice currently in operation within the AEGI services including development of national referral protocols between Adult Guidance Services and ‘Intreo’ and other national agencies e.g. HSE, disability services etc. The National Youth Council of Ireland has called on Government to develop a National Strategy for a Comprehensive Career and Life Guidance for Young People.

Further cyber safety

The Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs published a Report on Cyber Safety for Children and Young Adults in March 2018. The committee believed a national campaign regarding cyber safety is needed, which could be similar to other government safety campaigns, such as those about road safety. While there is some digital literacy lessons in school, as outlined for second level schools in Chapter 6.8, the Committee also suggested that online safety be part of the curriculum in primary and post primary schools, including peer-to-peer workshops on Cyber Safety in schools. this Committee ceased with the dissolution of the 32nd parliament (Dáil) on the 14 January 2020.

QQI reengagement

Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) was established in 2012 under the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) Act 2012 (Government of Ireland. 2012). It has taken over the functions of the following 4 bodies:

  • National Qualifications Authority of Ireland (NQAI)
  • Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC)
  • Higher Education and Training Awards Council (HETAC)
  • Irish Universities Quality Board (IUQB). 

Re-engagement describes the process by which education and training providers whose Quality Assurance was previously agreed with HETAC or FETAC are now required to demonstrate how their governance and Quality Assurance systems meet with the QQI guidelines. In 2017/2018, QQI piloted the re-engagement process, with 12 providers, to test its efficacy. The Reengagement process for independent and private providers formally commenced in 2018.

Many providers criticise the reengagement process arguing that it is a time-consuming and expensive process. These providers argue that some providers, particularly smaller non-profit providers, may not have the necessary resources to dedicate to the process.