Secondary-Level Education

Secondary-Level Education

Secondary-level education in Ireland comprises secondary, vocational, community and comprehensive schools. All of these schools provide the Certificate courses prescribed by the Department of Education and Skills, and enter their students for the same national examinations.


Secondary Schools

Secondary schools, which educate approximately 54% of second level students, are privately owned. The cost of teachers’ salaries is, in the main, met by the State. Over thirty Irish secondary schools provide boarding facilities and many of these have a strong tradition of enrolling students from abroad.


Vocational schools and community colleges

Vocational schools and community colleges educate over 33% of all second level students, and are administered by statutory vocational education committees. They are also the main providers of adult education and community education courses. The main thrust of these schools was directed towards the development of manual skills and preparation of young people for trades. However, the full range of second-level courses is available.


Comprehensive schools

Comprehensive schools combine academic and vocational subjects in a wide curriculum. They are managed by a board of management and are financed entirely by the Department of Education and Science.


Community schools

Community schools are managed by Boards of Management entirely funded by the Department of Education and Science.  They offer a broad curriculum embracing both practical and academic subjects. They also provide facilities for adult education and community development projects.


Junior Cycle

Second level education in Ireland generally starts at the age of twelve and consists of a three year Junior cycle followed by a two or three year senior cycle.The junior Cycle covers the first three years of the post-primary education. It comprises different subjects and short courses, a focus on key skills, and new approaches to assessment and reporting.

There are numerous subjects available in junior cycle, students normally take 9 -10 subjects. However, not all subjects are offered in every school. The core subjects are Irish ( International students who aged 12 could be exempt in studying Irish ), English, Mathematics and a Foreign Language ( Italian, Spanish, German, French etc.) There may be other compulsory subjects, depending on the type of school.

All students sit the Junior Certificate Examination at the end of junior cycle in post-primary schools. The Junior Certificate is assessed by means of a written examination at the end of the three-year programme, along with practical examinations and project work in some subjects and oral and aural examinations.

Most of the private secondary schools do not accept international students in Secondary 3 entry. The appropriate entry years include Secondary 1,2,4 and 5.

Source from :

Senior Cycle

The senior cycle offers a “Transition Year” which is an optional one-year programme that forms the first year of a three year cycle. Transition year is intended to be a broad educational experience which assists in the transition from the school environment by encouraging creativity and responsibility for oneself.  

Most students take the Leaving Certificate Examination(LC) at the end of their senior cycle. Students normally choose 6 to 8 subjects from the list of approved subjects.

Students following the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) take 6 or 7 Leaving Certificate subjects and two additional Link Modules: Preparation for the World of Work and Enterprise Education.

Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) students follow a pre-vocational programme made up of a range of courses that are structured round three elements: Vocational Preparation, Vocational Education and General Education.

Leaving Certificate Established

The Leaving Certificate (Established) is a two-year programme that aims to provide learners with a broad, balanced education while also offering them a chance to specialize towards particular higher education and career options.

In general, students take five or more subjects (usually seven) for examination, one of which must be Irish. Subjects are normally studied at either Ordinary or Higher Level. Two subjects, Irish and Mathematics, can be studied at Foundation Level.

Syllabuses are available in 36 subjects. Each of these belongs to a subject group as shown in the table below. Two subjects, Home Economics and Physics and Chemistry, belong to two groups.

Resource: Senior Cycle –


Entry requirementsCourses
Secondary School
  • Current two years school report
  • Age
  • Online English test andInterview (If applicable)

Appropriate entry years : Secondary 1,2,4 (Transition Year) and 5

Click here to learn more about the Transition Year (link up to Transition Year page)