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Assessment policy: introduction - Ireland

Compulsory education

In the Republic of Ireland, full-time education is compulsory for all children between six and sixteen years of age.

Primary and pre-school education

It is compulsory for children to attend primary school from the age of six years. However attendance is permitted from the age of four years. Almost all children begin school in the September following their fourth birthday. There are currently over 450,000 children in primary education. The Department of Education and Science (DES) provides a number of targeted pre-school programmes for three year olds, including programmes for children with special needs, children of Travellers and children experiencing social and economic disadvantage. 

Post-primary (second level) education (approximately 12 – 18 years)

Over 330,000 students are receiving second-level education, which consists of a three-year junior cycle, followed by a two or three-year senior cycle. The Junior Certificate examination is taken on completion of the junior cycle and the Leaving Certificate examination on completion of the senior cycle. 

Special education

As parents have a right under the Irish Constitution to choose where their children are educated, children with special educational needs may be found in a range of settings, including special schools, special classes and mainstream classes in primary and post-primary schools.


There are two official languages in the Republic of Ireland, Irish and English. All children, with limited exceptions including those with significant special educational needs, are expected to learn both languages. In the majority of schools, English is the main language, but there are a few areas (Gaeltachtaí) where Irish is the main language and a growing number of schools (Gaelscoileanna) in English-speaking areas, where parents have opted to have their children educated through Irish. Of recent years, due to the significant increase in immigration into Ireland, there is a growing number of children in schools in Ireland whose maternal language is neither English or Irish. 

Educational Funding

Education is free in national schools.  National schools are funded almost entirely by the State, including teachers’ salaries. These schools may receive additional funding according to their circumstances; for example, if they are serving areas of socio-economic disadvantage or children with special needs. 

Appendix 2 - Definitions

  • Assessment – “that part of the learning process where the learner and the teacher can evaluate progress or achievement in the development of a particular skill, or in the understanding of a particular area of knowledge. In the early years, such assessment is generally informal based on observation by a parent/guardian or early learning practitioner” or “the process of gathering, recording, interpreting, using, and reporting information about a child’s progress and achievement in developing knowledge, skills and attitudes.” (National Council for Curriculum and Assessment)
  • Assessment - “a systematic process of gathering information in order to make appropriate educational decisions for a student. It is a progressive process identifying the student’s strengths and needs, and results in the design and implementation of selected educational strategies. Assessments can vary and include both formal and informal processes which involve observing the child in the classroom or school yard, assessing a child’s reading, spelling or maths skills and finding out about the general level of ability” (National Council for Special Education)
  • Child – “a person under the age of 18 years” (Children Act 2001) (EPSEN Act 2004)
  • Disability – “a substantial restriction in the capacity of a person to carry out a profession, business or occupation in the State or to participate in social or cultural life in the State by reason of an enduring physical, sensory, mental health or intellectual impairment.” (Disability Act 2005) 
  • Individual Education Plan – “a written document prepared for a named student which specifies the learning goals that are to be achieved by the student over a set period of time and the teaching strategies, resources, and supports necessary to achieve these goals” (NCSE – Guidelines on the Individual Education Plan Process 2006)
  • “Second level education” is used interchangeably with “post-primary education” in this report. 
  • Special Educational Needs – “a restriction in the capacity of a person to participate in and benefit from education on account of an enduring physical, sensory, mental health or learning disability, or any other condition which results in a person learning differently from a person without that condition” (EPSEN Act 2004) Note: the Education Act 1998 also included persons of exceptional ability. (See amendment to Ed Act 1998 at end of EPSEN Act 2004) 
  • Student – “a person enrolled in a school or a centre of education” (Education Act 1998) 
  • DES – Department of Education and Science
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