National Schools

The national schools were established under the so-called Stanley letter in 1831.  The schools were originally multidenominational with a limitation and division between religious and non-religious education. Originally a sign was to be hung when religious education was in progress.

All religious symbols were to be removed.  Parents had a right to remove children from religious education if it conflicted with their beliefs. Schools that did not comply with the rules were denied state funding.

Legally and technically all schools remained multidenominational. However,  in practice, the various religious authorities governed national schools. Rules introduced in the late 1960s provided for the integration of religious education into the curriculum.

Religious Patronage

Although  all schools remain national schools, nearly all patronised or managed by Catholic or Church of Ireland clergy. However, schools remain formally non-religious.

The Equal Status legislation formerly  provided that schools did  not breach the legislation if it admits persons of a particular denomination in preference to others or  refuses to admit a person who is not was nomination, if it was proved that the refusal is essential to maintain the ethos of the school.

There are 2915 coeducational schools with 365 single-sex schools mainly in larger towns. The national schools are generally controlled by a board of management under diocesan patronage and often include the local clergyman.

Others Organisations

Gaelscoileanna are generally under the control and patronage of a national organisation Foras Patruntacta na Scoileanna Lan-Gaeilge. 10% of children attend Gaelscoileanna.

Some multidenominational schools are under the patronage of a not for profit company. Many are under the patronage of a voluntary organisation Educate Together.

There are some preparatory independent fee-paying schools. Many are under the patronage of a religious order.

Vocational education schools are both by the Education and Training Board, formerly the Vocational Education Committee. They educate 28% of secondary level pupils. 93% of the costs are met by the state.

Comprehensive and community schools are state-sponsored schools that have been established since the 1960s.They often involved the amalgamation of existing voluntary and vocational schools. They are fully States funded and run by boards of management. 15% of secondary level pupils attend such schools.

Gaelcholaisti are second-level schools that use Irish as the medium of instruction.

Compulsory Phase

The primary school curriculum 1999 is taught in most schools.  It is prepared by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment.

The religious aspect of the curriculum is left to the religious or other authority controlling the relevant school. The former primary certificate was abolished in 1967. Informal standardised tests are performed.

Secondary education is a product of its particular history. Voluntary secondary schools are generally owned by religious communities or private organisations.

Compulsory education continues until the age of 16 years. This must include one sitting of the Junior Certificate examination. The State funds almost all costs.

Rules and Organisation

The rules and programmes for secondary schools are published by the Department of Education. Examinations are monitored by the State Examination Commission.

There is a Junior cycle comprising three years culminating in the junior certificate examination. The transition year is a one-year informal course which is optional but taken by most  students aged 15 and 16.

The senior cycle builds on the junior cycle and culminates with the Leaving Certificate examination.


Persons recognised as patrons,  governors trustees or  managers of a primary post-primary school are deemed patrons for the purpose of the legislation. After the commencement of the legislation persons who request recognition and are entered in the register are deemed patrons.

Education and Training Boards formerly Vocational Education Committees are the patrons of schools established by them. Two more bodies may be registered as joint patrons.

Patrons of schools must carry out the functions and powers conferred by the legislation or  by the deeds, articles of management or other instruments establishing the school.

Recognised School

A recognised school is one registered with the Minister / Department of Education for the purpose of the Act. The Department may designate a school or proposed school to be registered, where it is satisfied that the numbers attending are such as to make it likely to be viable having regard to

  • diversity in  classes of schools in an area
  • needs of students likely to attend that cannot be reasonably met by existing schools
  • patron undertakes that the school will provide the designated curriculum
  • patron agrees to permit and cooperate with regular inspection and evaluation by the Inspectorate
  • the school complies with relevant health safety and building standards and standards prescribed by the Department
  • the patron  agrees the the school will operate in accordance with ministerial regulations and other terms and conditions as may be attached.

Schools in receipt of funds provided by government for the educational activities of students or the  remuneration of teachers are deemed registered and recognised under the legislation.

Duties of Recognised Schools

A recognised school must

  • provide education to students which is appropriate to their abilities and needs
  • use it available resources to ensure the educational needs of students including those with disabilities or special needs are identified and provided for
  • ensure education is provided that meets the requirements of educational policy prescribed by the Department of Education including, in particular, the curriculum
  • ensure that  students have access to appropriate guidance to assist them in educational and career choices
  • promote the moral, spiritual, social and personal development of students
  • provide health education in consultation with parents having regard to the characteristics of the school
  • promote equality of opportunity for male and female members of staff and students
  • promote the development of the Irish language, literature, arts and other cultural matters
  • ensure parents of students and in the case of students over 18 years the student has access in the prescribed manner  to the school records regarding the progress of the student and education
  • in Gaeltacht areas, contribute to the maintenance of Irish as the primary community language
  • ensure the needs of personnel in management functions and staff development needs generally are identified and provided for
  • establish and maintain a system by which the efficiency and effectiveness of the operation can be assessed including quality and effectiveness of teaching, and attainment levels and academic standards of students
  • maintain and establish contacts with other schools at appropriate levels throughout the community and
  • establish and maintain an admissions policy that provides maximum accessibility.

Withdrawal of Recognition

If the Department is satisfied that the requirements for recognition are no longer met by a school or their functions are not being effectively discharged, and in the opinion of the Minister, recognition should be withdrawn, the  Minister must inform the board patron, teachers, student council and parents by notice in writing.

If after three months after consideration of representations t made by the above bodies the Minister remains of the same opinion, the Minister may withdraw recognition by notice in writing addressed to the above. This is effective on the last day of the school year following the school year on which notice was addressed or on such  later date as may be determined

The Minister must make alternative appropriate education facilities available where recognition has been withdrawn. Where the Minister is satisfied that the requirements for recognition are mat and the requisite functions may effectively be discharged, restoration of recognition may take place.


The Minister with the concurrence of the Department of Finance must determine and establish in each school year, criteria by which any class a class of recognised school are to be funded in the following year. Criteria must allow for payment of additional monies to recognised schools having regard to the level of educational disadvantage amongst pupils

The Department must make a grant to each recognised school according to the criteria established,  from State funds for the purpose of carrying out the functions of the school or centre for education. Grants may only be made to recognised schools. grants may be made to intermediate bodies for disbursement to two or more recognised schools, where such arrangements were in place before the legislation commenced.


The Department of Education appoints an Inspectorate consisting of a chief inspector and such  numbers of inspectors as are appropriate. The inspectorate must include persons having qualifications as psychologists or having other expertise in relation to the education of children with special needs.

The function of the inspectorate is to support and advise recognise schools centres of education and teachers on matters relating to education. The inspectors must visit recognised schools and centres for education on their own initiative. Following consultation with the board, patron, parents and students it may do all or any of the  following

  • evaluate the organisation and operation of schools and centres on the quality and effectiveness of the education provided including the quality of teaching and effectiveness of individual teachers
  • evaluate education standards in the schools
  • assess the implementation and effectiveness of programmes of education that have been devised in respect of individual schools for students with disabilities and special needs
  • assess the implementation of regulations made by the Minister
  • report to the Minister, board parent students and teachers in prescribed forms in relation to these matters and any other matters relating to the activities of the schools and the needs of those attending.

School Assessment

The Inspectorate may conduct assessments on the educational needs of students in schools and advise the students and their  parents in relation to their educational development. They shall advise teachers and boards in relation to the performance of their duties and a particular assist teachers in employing improved methods of teaching and conducting classes. They shall advise parents and parent associations

They must also evaluate the  quality and effectiveness of the provision of education in the State including

  • comparison with international practice
  • conduct research into education
  • promote excellence in management of teaching and use of support services and procedures for consultation and cooperation between schools.

They most disseminate information relating to the performance by the Inspectorate of functions provided and successful  education initiatives implemented by the schools. They must promote informed debate on these matters.

The inspectorate must evaluate the effectiveness of teaching. They must assess the development and promotion of the use of Irish. They must advise the Minister on education policy generally including the curriculum taught assessment and teaching methods.

Other Functions

They must perform functions relating to the preparation of marking of school examinations, as the chief inspector may determine. They must monitor and evaluate the content and standards of examination and report to the Department.

The inspectorate carries out its function according to procedures for inspections determined by the Minister following consultation with patrons, school management organisations trade unions, staff associations and such other persons as appropriate.

The inspectors have such powers as are necessary or expedient for the purpose of performance of their functions. They must be accorded every reasonable facility and cooperation by the board and  staff of a  school or centre for education.

A teacher or board of a school may request that any inspection which affects the teacher or school. The inspection is to be reviewed in accordance with such procedures as the chief inspector determines.


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