Student and Graduate Publishing

Education in Ireland

Wednesday, 16 August 2017 11:04

Today, August 16th, is results day for Irish students receiving their school qualifications, known as Leaving Certificates. Although, like English students, Irish students are eighteen when they finish school, their education system is quite different. Have a read and find out more.

Schooling in Ireland is compulsory from ages six to sixteen, or until students have completed three years of second-level education. Secondary education consists of two sections: the Junior Cycle and the Senior Cycle. The Junior Cycle begins at twelve years of age, and after three years of study students take their Junior Certificate exam. The curriculum at this stage is broad and enables students to develop the skills necessary to reach the Senior Cycle. Recently, there have been changes to the Junior Cycle - for more information see

Most students spend two years in the Senior Cycle, while others take an extra year for what’s known as a Transition Year. This time provides students with the opportunity to carry out work experience and other work-related pursuits, with no formal examinations. Transition years are widely popular among Irish students. In 2014, more than 30,000 students were taking the programme in 80% of the country’s schools. To find out more about the Transition Year and Senior Cycle, visit the NCCA.

During the Senior Cycle, Irish students choose one of three programmes. Most take the Leaving Certificate, which occurs between seventeen and eighteen years of age. There are more than thirty subjects to choose from and students pick at least five, one of which must be Irish. Alternatively, they can take the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme. This is similar to the standard programme but differs in that it specialises in technical subjects, with additional modules on vocational subjects that lead to work-related qualifications.  

The third option is called the Leaving Certificate Applied Programme. This self-contained course, lasting two years, provides students with the opportunity to develop their self esteem and work-related skills to help them apply their learning to the working world. There are three sorts of courses offered: vocational preparation (work experience), general education (life skills, the arts and languages) and vocational education. The final examination is made up of several topic areas: English and communication, two vocational specialisms, maths, language and social education. Like those studying the standard Leaving Certificate, these exams take place in June, where students can earn either a Pass, Merit or Distinction. Have a read about the Leaving Certificate Applied Programme in this overview

- By Rebecca Gibson