Education Policy Outlook Snapshot: Ireland


Back to the Home Page

Download the Profile‌ 

‌‌Ireland’s educational context

Students: Ireland is a high performer in PISA 2012 in mathematics, reading and science, with improvement in science, unchanged performance in mathematics and decreased performance in reading across PISA cycles. The impact of socio-economic background on Irish students’ performance in mathematics in PISA 2012 is around the OECD average. In recent years, the percentage of students with immigrant background increased. Some aspects of Irish education contribute to a high level of equity. Children aged 3-4 are provided with a free year of pre-primary education, and students aged 4-6 can enrol in either pre-primary or primary school. Education is compulsory from age 6 until age 16, with low grade repetition compared to the average among OECD countries, and tracking starting at age 15. Academic selection of students for admission to schools is not allowed. Attainment rates in upper secondary education are around the OECD average. The enrolment rate in vocational education and training (VET) upper secondary programmes (limited to a narrow set of occupations) is comparatively low, even though transition from VET to other educational pathways is ensured. Tertiary education attainment is above average, and proficiency levels in literacy and numeracy among 16-65 year-olds and 16-24 year-olds are slightly below the average of their peers in countries participating in the Survey of Adult Skills. In the context of the economic crisis, unemployment is above average.

Institutions: Autonomy over the use of curriculum and assessment in Irish schools is around the OECD average, and autonomy over resource allocation, such as hiring and dismissing teaching staff, is below average. Teachers in Ireland need to have a credential or license in addition to pre-service training (five years for lower secondary teachers), as well as a mandatory teaching practicum. In primary and secondary schools, their teaching time is longer than in other OECD countries. The Inspectorate undertakes external school and system evaluations, using various sources of information, including standardised tests and examinations focused on student achievement.

System: The school system is steered by schools and the central government through the Department of Education and Skills. Schools are locally owned and managed by private (mainly religious) organisations, and universities are autonomous. In the context of the economic crisis, the government has been assessing how to reallocate resources to ensure sustained investment in education. Expenditure on educational institutions as a percentage of GDP (for all educational levels combined) is above the OECD average, with a higher share of public funding than the OECD average. Ireland had also one of the greatest increases in expenditure per student among OECD countries during 2005-11 at the tertiary level.

‌‌Selected indicators compared with the average

 EPO SPIDER IRL                                                                                                       Click here to access the underlying data
Note: For each indicator, the absolute performance is standardised (normalised) using a normative score ranging from 0 to 180, where 100 was set at the average, taking into account all OECD countries with available data in each case. See for maximum and minimum value countries. Source: The Ireland Snapshot was produced combining information from Education Policy Outlook: Australia, (OECD, 2013) with OECD data and the country’s response to the Education Policy Outlook Snapshot Survey (2013). More information on the spider chart and sources is available at

‌‌Key issues and goals

Students: A challenge for Ireland is helping all students from different socio-economic and increasingly diverse immigrant backgrounds to reach their potential. Ireland has had to cope with many difficulties during the economic crisis, including an increase in youth unemployment.

Institutions: Irish school leaders and teachers need to meet the particular challenges of learning environments in small schools and to deliver quality education across all schools. Schools need the capacity to raise performance and deliver quality education for all students, with special attention to diversity and students from the most disadvantaged back grounds. School self-evaluations, teacher appraisals and assessments for improvement can be strengthened. An integrated evaluation and assessment framework can help improve teaching and student outcomes.

System: Ensuring that those working at the local and school level can respond to national education objectives is a key goal for Ireland. Due to the economic crisis, Ireland has had to deal with significant budget cuts in education. Therefore, it is seen as important to maximise resources to ensure that budget cuts do not affect the quality and equity of the system.


‌‌Selected policy responses

  • The National Strategy to improve Literacy and Numeracy among children and young people 2011-2020 (2011) aims to improve literacy and numeracy standards among children and young people.

  • Initial Teacher Education Criteria and Guidelines for Programme Providers (2011), developed by the Teaching Council, aims to clarify the inputs (or characteristics) of initial training programmes, the processes that student teachers should follow in these programmes, and the expected outputs of these programmes.

  • School Self Evaluation: Guidelines for Primary School (2012) and School Self Evaluation: Guidelines for Post-Primary Schools (2012) were introduced to improve the quality of learning.

  • The Further Education and Training (FET) Sector in Ireland is undergoing significant reform.

  • SOLAS (An tSeirbhís Oideachais Leanúnaigh agus Scileanna, 2013) is the new national FET Authority. SOLAS provides oversight and funding of the FET programmes, with 16 Educational and Training Boards (ETBs, 2013) established to replace 33 Vocational Education Committees.

  • Higher education reforms (2011) aim to ensure efficient funding. These reforms include a gradual increase of student tuitions between 2011 and 2015. In addition, a mean-tested grant and a new scholarship scheme aim to temper the effect of the tuition increase on students from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds.


Spotlight: Improving opportunities for disadvantaged students

In 2005 the Department (then called Education and Science) developed Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) as an on-going national policy for educational inclusion. The plan consists of a standardised system to identify each school’s level of socio-economic disadvantage (based on its community) and an integrated School Support Programme that provides schools and school clusters or communities with additional resources and support, depending on their level of disadvantage. The key initiatives of DEIS include:
●  early childhood education for disadvantaged communities
●  targeted student-teacher ratio to reduce class size in disadvantaged primary schools
●  access to teachers/co-ordinators in rural primary schools
●  professionalising school leaders and teachers as well as access to an administrative principal
●  measures to target deficits in literacy and numeracy
●  additional funding for school books, based on level of disadvantage
●  support for school library and librarians for post-primary schools with high levels of disadvantage
●  access to Home, School, Community Liaison services and to the School Completion Programme
●  measures such as guidance and counselling to increase attendance, retention and attainment
●  more curriculum choice
●  improved access to higher education for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The independent government-funded Educational Research Centre evaluated the programme in 120 DEIS schools first in 2007 and again in 2010. The findings show an overall improvement in reading and mathematics in both urban and rural schools, with rural students improving more than their urban peers. Evaluations by the Inspectorate confirmed the positive effect of DEIS in primary schools. The Department points to positive outcomes of DEIS post-primary schools, with an increase in completion rates from 68.2% for 2001-07 cohorts to 80.1% for 2006-12 cohorts. Further evaluations are planned to understand the specificities of the policy that are contributing to the positive outcomes.

Back to the country profiles page

Permanent URL:

OECD work on education:


Related Documents