27% of the Irish
populace is currently engaged in full time education. The quality of Irish
education is quite high.
Discipline problems are
not yet severely plaguing the system, though particularly in inner city Dublin
schools, unruly behavior is becoming more common. Bullying has been a topic of radio and TV talk shows and increased teacher training.
School uniforms are standard throughout the system.
exam system is the key method of assessing students and the curriculum
and style of teaching are all built around the need of passing these exams.
The key exams occur at the end of high school and determine placement in universities
and technical institutes. Even some college exams are national.
These exams, while putting
a damper on innovative teaching, do keep everyone honest. Students must thoroughly
know their subject to graduate with decent marks.
So How Good Are They?
I am continually
sent questions about the schools. How good are they? Is there a rating system?
What about city versus rural schools?
They're good! I can't
think of a local elementary school within a 20 mile radius where I'd have
any worries about sending my own kids. They are uniformly well thought of.
The high schools are found in the towns and there's an open house night at
each where parents and prospective students are invited to come take a look
and ask questions. If you don't like one, you pick another. It's open enrollment
at all schools. Of course, school buses only operate within a given catchment area, so if your child is attending school in a distant town, you'll have to make your own transportation arrangements.
There is no system of
ratings. But, all schools are teaching to the same core curriculum and the
testing at the end of the junior certificate (junior high) and leaving certificate
(high school) keeps everyone focused. I know many nieces and nephews, friends
and colleagues whose children have gone through urban, rural, small town and
special needs schools. I have never heard of anyone who is dissatisfied with
the school their child attends. They might dislike parts of the curriculum
(particularly the mandatory Irish courses) or the occasional teacher, but
all speak well of their local schools.
exams at the end of the Junior Certificate/Jr. High and Leaving Certificate/Senior
High and at the end of every college year are all national. Everyone in the
nation takes the same exam. There are no multiple choice answers in anything.
You have to prove a deep understanding of the subject to even get a pass.
This system, with all its pressures, keeps everyone honest. There is no grade
inflation, because grades during the year have to honestly reflect how a student
is doing. Otherwise, parents will be yelling bloody murder when a child who
has gotten A's suddenly scores a D on the national exam. And school grades
are merely a guide - they don't count toward college or anything else.
The quality of a school
always depends on three things - the principal, the teachers, and the socio-economic
level of the students. The principals and teachers will be roughly the same
overall whether you're in an inner city school or a suburban or rural area.
It's the socio-economic level of the students which changes.
This economic effect only
comes into play at a couple of dozen Dublin, Limerick and Cork schools. Even here, plenty
of kids do excellently - in fact the majority. But, obviously, it plays havoc
if you have a high percentage of classmates dropping out and doing heroin.
Another advantage of the
Irish school system is the stability of the society. Almost all students who
start at a school finish their education at that same school. The revolving
doors of an American educational institution are, thankfully, not an issue
Special Needs and Disabilities
School and Health services are discussed on the Special Needs and Disabilities page.
This depends on the age
Primary - Sept
1st to June 30th
Secondary/high school - All secondary schools operate on a unified
national calendar. All high schools now open in the last few days in August. They
all finish about the end of the first week in June. Third year students (in
the US. this is 9th grade) and 6th year students (US 12th grade) attend for
another 3 weeks of exams.
Third level/University - The starting date varies widely with the Technical Institutes usually opening earlier and closing later - mid-September to early June. The University Colleges usually begin around the first week in October and finish around the end of May. After
a short "study" break there is a several week round of exams for
Of course, each year is
slightly different depending on where weekends and Xmas holidays fall. But,
in general, these dates hold.
The School Day
J. reminded me that the school day varies from school to school but generally runs from around 9am to 3pm for primary schools and 9am to 4pm for secondary schools. The schedule in secondary schools is fixed, and in general there are eight or nine 30-40 minute lessons in a full school day. Many schools allow the kids to go home for lunch, as freshly cooked school dinners are not provided over here. The first two primary classes (Junior Infants and Senior Infants, affectionately known as "Babies") usually gets out an hour earlier, or around 2pm in the afternoon. Another headache for parents, who frequently rely on child care for this hour.
Children are entitled to enroll in Irish schools - primary through high school - whatever their nationality or the residency status of their parents. That said, if the parents are deported, the kids go with them, school or no. But, while here in Ireland, the children can enjoy the benefits of the Irish educational system.
Religion in the Schools
The Catholic Church's
direct influence over the schools has declined tremendously from the days
when nearly all the teachers were nuns or brothers. Now, the church's influence
can be seen in the fact that schools are where communion and confirmation
are religious instruction are taught. Right through high school students regularly
attend Masses for special events, Christmas and end of year. Religion classes
are mandatory through Junior Certificate / Jr. High School level. These are
usually taught by members of the religious orders - most high schools have
two or three still on staff. At the high school level, these classes are really
about values and citizenship. At the elementary level, they involve learning
That said, what sounds
like huge intrusions from an American point of view boil down to a couple
of hours a week where the kids are mostly bored and rebellious minded about
the message they're taught. The schools are simply reflecting the fact that
Ireland is a Catholic nation (92 percent) and that for centuries it was the
church which alone carried on any teaching in Ireland.
There are, however, Jewish, Muslim and a growing number of non-denominational schools. For more on this topic, click here.
The curriculum, aside
from the religious classes, is totally out of the hands of the church. That
includes science where there are no bogus debates about evolution. It's taught
properly, unlike many American school systems where religious groups have
forced creationism onto the curriculum.
The Department of Education
is responsible for setting curriculum. This is done, usually, by committees
of teachers, textbook publishers and Department Inspectors who themselves
were teachers for many years. In a few controversial cases like a withdrawn "values education" course, outside firms are hired to devise a curriculum
which is then inspected by the appropriate committee.
There's loads more in the Full Site. Topics include single sex schools, placement of your child, choosing a school, costs to be expected for such items as school uniforms, class size, home schooling, finding schools, school holidays, vaccinations, and more.