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United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Overview

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Overview United Kingdom (Northern Ireland)

Contents

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Political, Social and Economic Background and Trends

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Historical Development

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Main Executive and Legislative Bodies

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Population: Demographic Situation, Languages and Religions

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Political and Economic Situation

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Organisation and Governance

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Fundamental Principles and National Policies

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Lifelong Learning Strategy

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Organisation of the Education System and of its Structure

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Organisation of Private Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:National Qualifications Framework

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Administration and Governance at Central and/or Regional Level

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Administration and Governance at Local and/or Institutional Level

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Statistics on Organisation and Governance

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Funding in Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Early Childhood and School Education Funding

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Higher Education Funding

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Adult Education and Training Funding

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Early Childhood Education and Care

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Organisation of Programmes for Children over 2-3 years

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Teaching and Learning in Programmes for Children over 2-3 years

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Assessment in Programmes for Children over 2-3 years

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Organisational Variations and Alternative Structures in Early Childhood Education and Care

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Primary Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Organisation of Primary Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Teaching and Learning in Primary Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Assessment in Primary Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Organisational Variations and Alternative Structures in Primary Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Secondary and Post-Secondary Non-Tertiary Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Organisation of General Lower Secondary Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Teaching and Learning in General Lower Secondary Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Assessment in General Lower Secondary Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Organisation of General Upper Secondary Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Teaching and Learning in General Upper Secondary Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Assessment in General Upper Secondary Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Organisation of Vocational Upper Secondary Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Teaching and Learning in Vocational Upper Secondary Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Assessment in Vocational Upper Secondary Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Post-Secondary Non-Tertiary Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Higher Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Types of Higher Education Institutions

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:First Cycle Programmes

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Bachelor

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Short-Cycle Higher Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Second Cycle Programmes

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Programmes outside the Bachelor and Master Structure

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Third Cycle (PhD) Programmes

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Adult Education and Training

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Distribution of Responsibilities

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Developments and Current Policy Priorities

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Main Providers

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Main Types of Provision

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Validation of Non-formal and Informal Learning

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Teachers and Education Staff

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Initial Education for Teachers Working in Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Conditions of Service for Teachers Working in Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Continuing Professional Development for Teachers Working in Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Initial Education for Academic Staff in Higher Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Conditions of Service for Academic Staff Working in Higher Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Continuing Professional Development for Academic Staff Working in Higher Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Initial Education for Teachers and Trainers Working in Adult Education and Training

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Conditions of Service for Teachers and Trainers Working in Adult Education and Training

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Continuing Professional Development for Teachers and Trainers Working in Adult Education and Training

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Management and Other Education Staff

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Management Staff for Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Staff Involved in Monitoring Educational Quality for Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Education Staff Responsible for Guidance in Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Other Education Staff or Staff Working with Schools

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Management Staff for Higher Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Other Education Staff or Staff Working in Higher Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Management Staff Working in Adult Education and Training

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Other Education Staff or Staff Working in Adult Education and Training

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Quality Assurance

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Quality Assurance in Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Quality Assurance in Higher Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Quality Assurance in Adult Education and Training

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Educational Support and Guidance

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Special Education Needs Provision within Mainstream Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Separate Special Education Needs Provision in Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Support Measures for Learners in Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Guidance and Counselling in Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Support Measures for Learners in Higher Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Guidance and Counselling in Higher Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Support Measures for Learners in Adult Education and Training

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Guidance and Counselling in a Lifelong Learning Approach

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Mobility and Internationalisation

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Mobility in Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Mobility in Higher Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Mobility in Adult Education and Training

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Other Dimensions of Internationalisation in Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Other Dimensions of Internationalisation in Higher Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Other Dimensions of Internationalisation in Adult Education and Training

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Bilateral Agreements and Worldwide Cooperation

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Ongoing Reforms and Policy Developments

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:National Reforms in Early Childhood Education and Care

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:National Reforms in School Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:National Reforms in Vocational Education and Training and Adult Learning

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:National Reforms in Higher Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:National Reforms related to Transversal Skills and Employability

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:European Perspective

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Legislation

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Glossary

 

News Feed United Kingdom (Northern Ireland)


Key features of the education system

Overall responsibility for the education service lies with the Northern Ireland Executive, which is the devolved government of Northern Ireland. Two government departments have responsibility for education:

  • The Department of Education (DE) is responsible for pre-primary, primary and secondary education and the youth service.
  • The Department for the Economy (DfE) is responsible for further education and skills programmes, further education colleges, and higher education.

Reforms in the 1980s and 1990s changed the balance of responsibilities for publicly funded education outside of higher education. Schools became more autonomous as responsibility for staffing and budgets was delegated to each school’s board of governors.  The governing bodies of further education colleges were incorporated as bodies with control of their assets, staffing and budgets.

Northern Ireland has a complex educational structure with a range of bodies involved in management and delivery. Reforms have streamlined some structures. In 2007, 16 further education colleges merged to form six and in 2015 a single Education Authority (EA) was established with operational responsibilities for effective primary and secondary education to replace the five regional Education and Library Boards. However the range of school sectors, each with different management types and characteristics has been retained and the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) retains its role as the upper tier of management for Catholic maintained schools. Schooling is organised along denominational lines with most Roman Catholic children enrolled in Catholic maintained schools and most Protestant pupils enrolled in controlled schools. At secondary level the landscape is further complicated by division into grammar schools (the majority of which are academically selective schools) and non-grammar schools. There are also many single-sex schools. These factors, combined with the rural nature of parts of Northern Ireland, means that Northern Ireland has a large number of schools for its population.

Full-time education is compulsory from age 4 to 16. Children start primary school in the September following their fourth birthday, as long as they turned 4 by July 1.

In accordance with the Education and Libraries (NI) Order 1986:

The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable—

to his age, ability and aptitude, and
to any special educational needs he may have, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.

Parents who wish to educate their child at home do not have to seek approval.

Accountability is based on:

  • outcome measures. For schools, these consist of moderated teachers’ assessment of student progress against central standards (up to age 14) and the results of national tests and qualifications (taken at age 16 and 18).
  • inspection by the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI), part of the Department of Education. ETI inspects both schools and further education institutions.  Reports are published.

Grade repetition is not a feature of the school system. While the system features some early tracking, with different schools catering for different ability levels, all schools provide the same core curriculum and offer the same types of qualifications.

Broad aims for the curriculum were established by the Education Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 to promote the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils at the school and of society and preparing pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of later life. There was no central control over the curriculum until the Education Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 first introduced a Northern Ireland Curriculum with the aim of giving pupils an entitlement to a broad and balanced curriculum and setting standards for pupil attainment. Now revised by the Education (Northern Ireland) Order 2006, the Northern Ireland curriculum specifies areas of learning, cross-curricular skills (communication, using mathematics, using ICT) and thinking skills and personal capabilities. The Northern Ireland Curriculum does not aim to be the whole curriculum. Teaching hours for individual subjects are not prescribed.

Qualifications drive the curriculum from age 14. General and vocational qualifications outside of higher education are regulated by CCEA. They are provided by independent awarding organisations and, as they are external, can be taken at any age, thus providing a structure for progression from school to adult learning. Qualifications are assigned one of nine levels of difficulty on the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF), which allows for comparability with qualifications taken in England and Wales.

Higher education institutions are private bodies that, subject to their degree-awarding powers, are free to design their programmes and awards and to determine the conditions on which they are awarded. There is no system for the accreditation of institutions but institutions’ capability to manage their own quality and standards is judged on a UK-wide basis by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA), with the UK Quality Code for Higher Education as the definitive reference point. There has been a shift from direct public funding to tuition fees backed by public loans, with a new fee regime introduced in 2006.

Stages of the education system

ISCED 0

For children aged 2 to 3, there is targeted free provision. Free part-time pre-school education in accordance with curricular guidance is available to children in the year immediately before they start compulsory education at age 4. Settings include nursery schools, nursery classes and units in primary schools and voluntary and privately run playgroups.

ISCED 1

Children start school in September if they have reached the age of four by the previous 1 July, which is the earliest compulsory school starting date in the UK, and one of the earliest in Europe.

Primary education consists of the Foundation Stage for ages 4 to 6, Key Stage 1 for ages 6 to 8 and Key Stage 2 for ages 8 to 11.

At the end of Key Stages 1 and 2, statutory assessment requirements apply to cross-curricular skills. Teachers’ judgments are supported by assessment tasks and a system of external moderation. These assessments do not influence student progression.

At the end of primary education, parents may elect for their children to take a transfer test (provided by private suppliers), which focus on English and maths, for admission to academically selective schools.

ISCED 2

Key Stage 3 is for ages 11 to 14. It is generally provided in post-primary schools catering for students from 11 to 16 or 18/19. Post-primary schools are divided into grammar schools  (the majority of which are academically selective schools) and non-grammar schools.

At the end of Key Stage 3, statutory assessment requirements apply in each area of learning and each cross-curricular skill. Teachers’ judgments are supported by assessment tasks and a system of external moderation.  These assessments do not influence student progression.

ISCED 3

Students normally continue at the same school for Key Stage 4, which is the final phase of compulsory full-time education for ages 14 to 16.

The entitlement framework guarantees all students access to a minimum number of courses at Key Stage 4 and post-16 and a balance of general and applied subjects. 

Attainment at the end of Key Stage 4 is measured mainly through GCSEs, which are single subject qualifications. Vocational qualifications may be offered alongside GCSEs. These qualifications are important for both student progression and school accountability.

At age 16, depending on the local offer and their own preferences, students may continue at the same school in the sixth form, transfer to another school sixth form, or transfer to one of the six regional further education (FE) colleges, which operate across 40 community campuses and which typically offer a wider range of professional and technical options. Most academic routes lead to three A levels. These qualifications are important for both student progression and school/college accountability.

Apprenticeships are offered at different levels.

ISCED 5, ISCED 6, ISCED 7

Higher education institutions structure their programmes within a 3-cycle framework: bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral studies. Short programmes are also available. Institutions determine their own admissions policies and there are wide variations in terms of competition for places. A levels are the most common entry qualification for young entrants to bachelor programmes, but other qualifications may be accepted. There are well-established routes, such as Access programmes, for mature learners who lack formal qualifications.



Structure of the national education system

2016 diagram UK NIR.pngSource: Eurydice 2016

Common European Reference Tools Provided by the Eurydice Network


Article last reviewed October 2016.