Skip to main content


EACEA National Policies Platform


6. Education and Training

6.1 General context

Last update: 22 January 2021

LAST MODIFIED ON: 25/10/2020 - 23:00

On this page
  1. Main trends in young people's participation in education and training
  2. Organisation of the education and training system
  3. Main concepts

Main trends in young people's participation in education and training


Statistical tables published by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency show trends in quarterly data for young people aged 16 to 24 not in education, employment or training (NEET). Over the period April to June 2020 10.3% of all young people 16-24 in Northern Ireland were NEET.  This shows a decrease from 11.3% in the same quarter from 2018. Overall there is a steady decline in young people who are NEET in Northern Ireland since 2015, however it remains the highest rate among the four nations of the UK. 


Increasing numbers of students from Northern Ireland are gaining international experience during their higher education.

Around half of the outward mobilities which take place in the UK do so within the Erasmus+ programme.Figures from the Publications Office of the European Union state that 16,868 UK students participated in the Erasmus+ programme in 2018 (report published January 2020). .

In 2017/18, 17,048 higher education students participated in the Erasmus+ programme in the UK. This is an increase from 14,803 in 2014/15, reflecting a steady upward trend consistently since 2010. Additionally, in 2018 51,427 participants in 741 UK projects benefited from mobility in higher education, vocational education and training, school education, adult learning and youth for a total grant amount of €121.03 million.


Organisation of the education and training system

Education for 11- to 16-year-olds in Northern Ireland is usually referred to as 'post-primary’ education, and the term ‘lower secondary' is not generally used.General upper secondary education for 16- to 18/19-year-olds is usually referred to as 'post-16' or 'sixth-form', and the term 'upper secondary' is not generally used.Post-16 education is not compulsory in Northern Ireland. The main general pathway for students on full-time programmes in schools involves GCE A Level, and equivalent, courses which are available in a range of subjects.

The International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) categorisation is divided into stages 0-8. 

  • ISCED 0 is aged 0-5
  • ISCED 1 is aged 5-11 and encompasses Key Stage 1 and 2, the two key stages of primary education. Primary schools are either maintained schools or academies. Most are mixed-sex.
  • ISCED 2 is equivalent to Key Stage 3 for 11-14 year old’s in secondary education. Secondary schools are either maintained schools or academies and can be either mixed or same-sex.
  • ISCED 3 features Key Stage 4 for 14-16 year olds. This stage is attained through GCSE examinations. Following these exams, young people continue to either sixth form college, a further education college or an apprenticeship/traineeship. This stage is attained through A Level exams or Applied General Qualifications in a vocational area. 
  • ISCED 5-8 refer to higher level education from foundation degrees all the way to doctoral studies.

Further education (FE) colleges are also major providers of full-time courses for 16- to 18/19-year-olds. They offer a wider range of technical and professional programmes than schools but also offer general qualifications including GCE A Level courses for 16- to 18/19-year-old learners.

As there is currently no traineeship programme in Northern Ireland (although the  Youth Training strategy is set to introduce one; see the 'Current debates and reforms' article for further information), only apprenticeships will be discussed. .Apprenticeships encompass specific skills training relevant to the apprentice’s chosen occupation and include a broader knowledge component equivalent to two A-levels, as well as other requirements as agreed by employers. Apprenticeships are provided in a wide range of professional and technical occupational areas. Apprenticeships are for employed people and all the training provided is relevant to the workplace. They areawarded at Level 3 and above of the RQF.

Information on the Regulated Qualifications Framework is available in the section Regulated Qualifications Framework of the article on the National Qualifications Framework in the Eurydice national education system description.

Higher education courses are provided both by further education institutions and higher education institutions.

Further information

Further information on the organisation of the education and training system is available from the Eurydice national descriptions.

Organisation and Governance

Secondary and Post-Secondary Non-Tertiary Education

Higher Education


Main concepts

Newcomer pupils

The term ‘newcomer’ pupil is used to refer to a pupil whose home language is not English or Irish and who may require support in school for this reason.

See the ‘Educational support’ section of the article on ‘Social Inclusion through Education and Training’

Integrated education

Integrated education brings children and staff from Catholic and Protestant traditions, as well as those of other faiths, or none, together in one school. Integrated schools ensure that children from diverse backgrounds are educated together.

The context for this programme is that the Northern Ireland education system is characterised by a high degree of segregation along denominational lines. The majority of Roman Catholic children are enrolled in Catholic maintained schools and most Protestant pupils in controlled schools.

Further information on integrated schools is available on the Department of Education’s website.

Shared education

Through shared education, schools of all management types, including integrated schools, are encouraged and facilitated to provide further opportunities for the education together of children and young people, who are otherwise being educated at different schools.