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Part 1 – Descriptive Section

1. EFA goals and targets

Expansion of early childhood care and developmental activities

A number of factors have combined to bring early childhood issues to the top of the policy agenda in Ireland in recent years. Firstly, there is growing recognition of the benefits for all children of good quality early childhood education. Secondly, the importance of early education in addressing socio-economic disadvantage and the contribution of education to economic development have given rise to demands for improved early education for all children. Thirdly, the needs of employers for increased numbers of workers, as well as increased participation in the labour force, have simultaneously increased the demand for and reduced the supply of childcare places.

The Government is committed to developing a national policy framework for early childhood education and to the provision of a specific budget for pre-school education. The principal objective of Government policy in regard to early childhood education is to support the development and educational achievement of children through high quality early education, with particular focus on the target groups of the disadvantaged and those with special needs.

As a result of the increased focus mentioned above, early childhood issues have been considered in a number of fora. One of these was the National Forum for Early Childhood Education, a week-long consultation process which took place as part of the process of preparing a White Paper on Early Childhood Education to be published shortly.

Universal access to, and completion of, primary education by 2000

A State-funded and administered national school system was established in Ireland in 1831. This provided universal access to primary education. By the Ministers and Secretaries Act, 1924, the administration and business of primary education were entrusted to a Department of Education, the head of which was the Minister for Education.

In 1997/98 there were 3,186 primary schools in Ireland including Gaelscoileanna (schools that teach through the Irish language) and multi-denominational schools and 119 special schools. Enrolment in primary schools was 460,845 children.

The Minister for Education and Science has introduced a new Education (Welfare) Bill which is currently being debated in the Oireachtas (Parliament) and will be enacted in 2000. The new legislation, which will replace school attendance legislation dating from 1926, will:

years of junior cycle education, whichever is later

A new National Educational Welfare Board will be established under the legislation. The Board will include representatives of the education partners and the State agencies involved in the education, care and welfare of children. The emphasis of the Board will be on assistance to schools, families and children, rather than penalties for non-attendance at school.

The Board will co-ordinate State services to children who have school attendance problems. In addition the Board will conduct and commission research into the reasons behind school attendance problems and develop strategies and initiatives to address these problems.

The aim in this legislation is to improve our ability to ensure that children and young people remain within the education system for as long as possible.

Improvement in Learning Achievement

Research recently carried out by the Education Research Centre, on behalf of the Irish Government, on learning achievement relative to expenditure, indicates that mean performances of Irish pupils in reading, mathematics and science are close to EU and OECD member country averages. The researchers advised the targeting of additional State expenditure in order to improve the effectiveness of the educational system. The measures taken in this regard to date are given below in the section on Investment in EFA.

Reduction of the Adult Illiteracy Rate

The need to improve literacy standards amongst adults has been a concern for the Irish Government. Funding was doubled for literacy programmes in 1998 and a further 3.2 million has been allocated for the two years 1999 - 2000.

A Government Green Paper on Adult Education published in 1998 proposed a National Adult Literacy programme targeted at redressing the literacy problem identified in the International Adult Literacy Survey (OECD, 1997).

Expansion of basic education and training in other essential skills required by youth and adults

Long-term unemployed

While the Irish education system is widely acknowledged both nationally and internationally as consistently providing a high quality service to the majority of Irish students, in recent years growing attention has been focused on the needs of a minority of persons who have not benefited from education. This group is characterised by either a lack of, or limited, educational attainments. The strong performance of the Irish economy in recent years has not been sufficient to provide this group with employment opportunities and, as a result, the individuals concerned have become marginalised from the labour market.

The problem is likely to worsen in the future as the needs of the labour market become more specialised and the level of educational qualifications increases. Accordingly, opportunities available to those with no, or low levels of qualifications will be reduced considerably, and the skills and jobs gaps will widen. The Irish Department of Education and Science is conscious of the need to design and support interventions targeted on the needs of the long-term unemployed.

Updating of Employees’ Skills

In the face of rapidly changing economic and employment conditions, it is essential that employees and potential employees should be in a position to build on their qualifications with a view to preparing themselves for changes in their employment or for new employment opportunities. Recognition of qualifications obtained, and of the relevance of these qualifications to further training and qualifications, is also vital. From the point of view of employers also, it is important that the skills presented by employees or potential employees should be recognised and should be capable of enhancement in light of changing economic and competitive conditions.

Interventions to date in both of the above areas are described under EFA Strategy below.

Increased acquisition by individuals and families of the knowledge, skills and values required for better living, made available through all education channels.

Social, Personal and Health Education

During the 1990’s the Department of Education and Science, in collaboration with the Department of Health and Children, developed a range of programmes dealing with aspects of Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE). Most of these are to be subsumed under a new compulsory subject on the curriculum, SPHE, in both primary and post-primary schools.

The two most widely disseminated programmes of SPHE at present are the Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) programme, which is compulsory in all primary and post-primary schools, and the Substance Misuse Prevention Programme (SMPP).

A central aim is to nourish positive mental health in young people so that they will neither perpetrate nor condone any sort of violence against others. Issues about relationships are dealt with in a holistic and connected manner rather than in a topic by topic way.

In the RSE curriculum the following areas are addressed: relating to others, self esteem, feelings and emotions, making decisions, roles of males and females in society, keeping safe. The themes of abuse, sexual harassment and rape, including legal issues and the identification of help agencies are addressed at Senior Cycle in the post-primary sector.

Civic, Social and Political Education

Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE) is mandatory in all post-primary schools at Junior Cycle. Topics have to fall within the area of Human Rights and Social Responsibilities.

Transition Year Programme

The overall mission of the Transition Year Programme is "to promote the personal, social, educational and vocational development of pupils and to prepare them for their role as autonomous, participative and responsible members of society". Practically all post-primary schools offer this Programme.

The Equality Committee of the Department of Education and Science has developed an Intervention Project for Transition Year students in single sex boys' schools. Current research in areas of gender equality formed the basis of planning and development of the Intervention Project.

2. EFA STratregy

Expansion of early childhood care and developmental activities

The development of policy for early childhood education is underpinned by a number of guiding principles, of which the following are particularly important:

In addition to the Government White Paper to be published shortly, recent studies dealing with early childhood issues were carried out by the Commission on the Family, and the Partnership 2000 Expert Working Group on Childcare. The development of early years policy will continue with the preparation of a co-ordinated national children’s strategy, work on which has recently commenced.

Apart from primary school provision for infants, the Department of Education and Science’s involvement to date in early childhood education has focussed principally on pilot interventions for children who are disadvantaged or have special needs. These are described under Investment in EFA.

Universal access to, and completion of, primary education by 2000

The Minister for Education and Science has introduced a new Education (Welfare) Bill, which is currently being debated in the Oireachtas and will be enacted in 2000. The new legislation, which will replace school attendance legislation dating from 1926, will:

years of junior cycle education, whichever is later

A new National Educational Welfare Board will be established under the legislation. The Board will include representatives of the education partners and the State agencies involved in the education, care and welfare of children. The emphasis of the Board will be on assistance to schools, families and children, rather than penalties for non-attendance at school.

The Board will co-ordinate State services to children who have school attendance problems. In addition the Board will conduct and commission research into the reasons behind school attendance problems and develop strategies and initiatives to address these problems.

The aim in this legislation is to improve our ability to ensure that children and young people remain within the education system for as long as possible.

Improvement in Learning Achievement

A range of measures is in place to improve educational achievement by breaking the cycle of educational underachievement in low-income families. The Education Research Centre monitors these pilot projects on an ongoing basis. They are described in the section on Investment in EFA below.

Reduction of the Adult Illiteracy Rate

The Government Green Paper on Adult Education pointed to the need for carefully targeted programming if those most in need (persons with low levels of literacy) are to benefit from adult education.

The Green Paper also stated that tackling low literacy/numeracy levels should rank as the primary adult education priority. There was a need to embark on a multi-faceted National Adult Literacy Programme. This would involve a comprehensive framework of statutory policy, programming and funding.

The Government is currently preparing a White Paper (policy statement) on the topic of adult education which will make detailed proposals in this regard.

Expansion of basic education and training in other essential skills required by youth and adults

Long-term unemployed

The Department's main intervention in this area is the Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme (VTOS). This scheme, which is operated through the Vocational Education Committees, is designed to provide education and training opportunities (courses of up to two years' duration) for long-term unemployed people over the age of 21. Its primary objective is to equip long-term unemployed people with the skills needed to enhance their chances of obtaining employment, either directly or through progression to further education and training. The annual cost of the scheme is IEP 25m (1998 figures).

The Area Development Management (ADM) Partnerships are also working to break the cycle of early school leaving, unemployment and poverty through the funding of preventive education projects. A recent OECD review has shown that the Partnerships are achieving some success in the areas of enterprise creation and development, education and training and services for the unemployed.

A major objective of the education system is an increase in the percentage of young people completing senior cycle at second level. The Department of Education and Science has provided an expanded range of educational programmes, the main aim being to ensure that the needs of all second-level pupils are met, either through the traditional junior and senior cycle programmes, or through a range of new, innovative programmes.

A Back to Education Programme administered by the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs is designed to encourage the unemployed to participate in a range of second or third-level education programmes or training and development courses.

Updating of Employees’ Skills

Legislation was enacted in 1999 to:

The development of a national framework of qualifications will make possible arrangements for access, transfer and progression for learners. Thus each learner will be able to determine her or his own educational goals and see how they can be fulfilled. This will make education and training goals a continuing and lifelong ambition.

A major purpose of the legislation is the creation of greater partnership, co-operation and cohesion between the education and training sector on the one hand and industry, business and the wider community on the other.

Education for Better Living

In 1987 the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment was established to advise the Minister on both primary and post-primary curricula and on assessment. In 1991 the Minister invited the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment to conduct a review of the primary curriculum. The review takes account of the rapid social, scientific and technological changes that are taking place, and of Ireland's position in the European Union and in the wider world.

The revised curriculum is being introduced to schools on a phased basis from the beginning of the 1999/2000 school year.

Legislative Actions

Education Act, 1998

The Education Act, 1998 was signed into law on 23rd December, 1998. The Act sets out, for the first time, a statutory framework for the operation and continuing development of the publicly funded schools within the Irish education system. The Act does not apply to the very small number of schools which are owned and wholly funded on a private basis. It sets out clearly the rights and roles of all the partners in education, placing considerable emphasis upon the principle of partnership in the management and operation of our education system.

The main provisions of the Act set out the role and functions of the Minister, the Inspectorate, school boards of management, principals and teachers. These provisions will ensure that parents, teachers and patrons will have rights under law to be involved in the management of their schools, and provides a framework for the administration of these schools.

The Act also provides for the statutory recognition of the Inspectorate of the Department of Education and Science, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, and the State examinations system.

The commencement of this Act is currently being undertaken by the Minister. All provisions of the Act will be commenced by December 2000.

Teaching Council

The Minister for Education and Science has announced his commitment to the introduction of a Teaching Council in Ireland in the near future. To this end, he has established a Steering Committee representative of the Partners in Education, which has reported to him on the possible role and functions of such a Council.

The Report envisages that the Teaching Council will operate as an independent, statutory agency and exercise the powers and perform the functions through which teachers can achieve a large degree of professional autonomy and self-regulation. The Report considers that this development will enhance the status and morale of the teaching profession and the quality of education being provided for students in our schools.

The Minister hopes to be able to publish legislation in this area very shortly, to allow for the establishment of the Council in the near future.

Review of Pre-Service Education for First and Second-level teachers

The role of the teaching professional in the Irish education system is of enormous significance in assuring the continuing quality of our education system. To this end, the Minister has recently (February 1999) established two separate Working Groups to carry out a review and make recommendations on the pre-service teacher education programmes in the Colleges of Education and programmes in teacher education for second-level teachers respectively. The Working Groups, which are composed of Experts in the area of teacher education, have been considering the issues arising over the course of the year. It is hoped that the Reports and Recommendations of these Groups shall be available to the Minister shortly.

3.Educational Decision-Making and Management

As mentioned above, the Department of Education since 1924 has carried out the administration of the educational system.

In recent years the education environment in Ireland has changed rapidly and it is continuing to change:

The Irish educational system operates in a complex and changing environment, which features many different partners – parents, students, teachers, patrons, managerial authorities, the Department of Education and Science, and other special interest groups, such as employers and community organisations. All of these partners have played a part in the major developments in Irish education within the last decade.

A Green Paper on Education was published in 1992 followed by the National Education Convention in October 1993. The National Education Convention brought together representatives from forty-two organisations, educational bodies, the social partners, and the Department of Education to engage in structured and sustained discussion on key issues of educational policy in Ireland. Following the publication of the Report on the Convention, a White Paper (policy document) on education was published in 1995. The White Paper was entitled Charting Our Education Future. It set out the State’s commitment to the principle of partnership in education.

The White Paper also announced the Government’s intention of introducing legislation which would put the arrangements governing the Irish education system on a statutory footing and reflect the educational principles of the White Paper. This legislation was enacted as the Education Act, 1998.

The Education Act provides that the Minister for Education and Science shall, following consultation with patrons, national associations of parents, recognised school management organisations, recognised trade unions and staff associations representing teachers, and such other persons as the Minister considers appropriate, establish a committee to advise him or her on policies and strategies to be adopted to identify and correct educational disadvantage.

Educational disadvantage is defined as the impediments to education arising from social or economic disadvantage which prevent students from deriving appropriate benefit from education in schools.

The committee, when established after consultation with the partners, will prepare a statement containing an outline of proposed policy for correcting educational disadvantage and the areas of activity to which the committee accords priority.

4.Co-operation in EFA

Funding

Irish primary and post-primary education developed according to a private State- assisted model from the nineteenth century on. Today the State provides most of the financial assistance to schools: the system is best described as publicly funded, but privately owned.

The State funds the great majority of primary and post-primary schools. Most of these schools are privately owned, generally by a religious denomination. Until the 1970’s these schools were managed by a clergyman of the denomination to which the school belonged. Today they are managed by a board of management, the composition of which is intended to reflect and promote participation and partnership among owners, parents, teachers and the wider community. A smaller number of multi-denominational schools set up by groups of parents are also funded by the State.

The current and capital costs of primary schools, including the full cost of teachers' salaries, are funded mainly by the State and supplemented by local contributions. In addition, special funding arrangements are in place for some schools in disadvantaged areas, for example, and for children with special needs.

Provision of education service

The Education Act provides a statutory basis for the role of Boards of Management in administering schools at local level. It sets out some broad parameters for the role of a Board of Management in primary schools and allows individual schools considerable discretion to conduct their own affairs within those parameters.

Some of the more important Board of Management functions are:

5. Investment in EFA since 1990

Policies and actions in relation to education for all are being further strengthened through a 57m plan to tackle disadvantage. The funds are being invested to expand the remedial and home/school/community liaison schemes, to improve services for those with special needs, to encourage more young people to stay in school to completion of senior cycle, to establish a National Educational Psychological Service, to strengthen adult literacy provision, and to address issues of disadvantage in third level education.

Investment in First Level Education continues to increase despite the significant decline in pupil numbers. The average pupil teacher ratio in primary schools was 22:1 in 1997/98 compared to 27:1 in 1989/90.

The following areas of expenditure are designed to ensure that the basic educational needs of all are met by the education services:

Disadvantaged Areas Scheme

The primary mechanism for addressing the effects of socio-economic deprivation is the Disadvantaged Areas Scheme, which provides special teaching assistance and extra funding to schools in designated areas of disadvantage, the aim being to compensate for deficiencies associated with disadvantage. Schools seeking disadvantaged status were assessed and prioritised as to need on the basis of socio-economic and educational indicators such as unemployment levels, housing, medical card entitlement and levels of basic literacy and numeracy.

A total of 316 primary schools (72,957 pupils) are included in the Disadvantaged Areas Scheme. All of these schools receive an enhanced capitation funding of IEP 30 per pupil.

Breaking the Cycle Programme

Breaking the Cycle is a pilot initiative which aims to target still further the most seriously disadvantaged pupils in primary schools.

The schools in question also have the services of 293 concessionary teaching posts. The Breaking the Cycle Programme has been in place since 1996, and is designed in particular to break the cycle of disadvantage resulting from low educational achievement of parents. The programme provides a very favorable pupil-teacher ratio for the junior classes. It is based on studies of educational disadvantage conducted by the Combat Poverty Agency and the Education Research Centre.

Special support package - urban schools

Special support package - rural schools

Home/School/Community Liaison Scheme

The Home/School/Community Liaison Scheme operates at primary and second-level. It focuses on disadvantaged areas. Locally based coordinators work in selected areas in developing parental involvement in their children's education and fostering positive relationships between the parents and the schools.

The Home/School/Community Liaison Scheme was expanded in September 1999 to include all primary schools in the Disadvantaged Areas Scheme.

Early School Leaving Initiative

Since early 1998 an initiative has been in place targeting early school leavers, both potential and actual, aged between 8 and 15 years. This includes a tracking system and service to ensure that children who drift out of the system can be identified.

A total of IEP3.68m is being made available to the Early School Leavers initiative over the two school years, 1998/99 and 1999/2000. The objective of this initiative was to select a range of strategic pilot projects in urban and rural areas of disadvantage, which will develop models of good practice, with a view to their integration, after evaluation, into mainstream policy and practice.

 Early Start

The Early Start Pre-school Programme was introduced in 1994. In 1997/98 the total number of pre-schools was 40 with 56 classes catering for 1,559 children. Each pre-school class caters for up to 30 children - 15 in the morning and 15 in the afternoon.

Each pre-school class attracts:

Primary School Accommodation

Grants are paid by the Department of Education and Science towards the provision of new buildings, including prefabricated structures, major renovations, and projects not covered under the minor capital works scheme. A scheme of grants towards the cost of minor works to primary school properties was introduced in 1997.

Scheme of Grants Towards the Cost of School Textbooks for Needy Pupils

A scheme for the supply of schoolbooks to needy pupils is administered at local level.


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