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

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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

This chapter covers the organisation and structure of educational provision for young people aged 11 to 18/19 years.

For the purpose of this description, secondary education is divided into:

In terms of ISCED (International Standard Classification of Education) categorisation, lower secondary (ISCED 2) refers to 11- to 14-year-olds and upper secondary (ISCED 3) refers to 14- to 18/19-year-olds.

There are no programmes categorised as post-secondary, non-tertiary education (ISCED 4) in Northern Ireland.


Structure of general lower secondary education

The general lower secondary education articles describe compulsory full-time education for pupils aged 11 to 16.


Types of school

Children usually transfer to compulsory secondary education at the age of 11 from a local primary school and most attend publicly funded schools known as grant aided schools.

Different types of school provide this phase of education. The differences reflect different legal frameworks and governance rather than different study pathways for students. They also reflect the fact that schooling is organised along denominational lines in Northern Ireland, with most Roman Catholic children enrolled in Catholic maintained schools and most Protestant pupils in controlled schools. Further information about the different categories of grant aided school is provided in the article on ‘Administration and Governance at Local and/or Institutional Level’.

At secondary level, schools are collectively known as post-primary schools and include grammar schools and secondary schools. They may be mixed- or single-sex schools, and a small number are Irish-medium schools or include Irish-medium units attached to English-medium schools. Further information on the types of secondary school in Northern Ireland is provided under the subheading ‘Types of Institutions’ in the article ‘Organisation of General Lower Secondary Education’.

 All schools in Northern Ireland enjoy a high level of autonomy but, unlike in England, there are no academies (publicly funded independent schools).

 Students aged 11-16 not attending grant aided schools may attend fee-paying independent schools (see the article on the ‘Organisation of Private Education’), or be educated at home (see the article on 'Organisational Variations and Alternative Structures').

 Of a total number of 1160 schools (including nursery, primary, special and independent schools) in the 2016/17 academic year, 201 were grant aided post-primary schools.

There is one Irish-medium post-primary school (of 29 grant aided Irish-medium schools in total), and three Irish-medium units attached to English-medium post-primary schools (of ten in total).

Curriculum and assessment

The Northern Ireland Curriculum is statutory in compulsory secondary education.

Under the Education (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 (and as originally determined by the Education Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 1989), the Northern Ireland Curriculum is divided into key stages of which the following two are taught in compulsory secondary education:

  • Key Stage 3 (KS3) for pupils aged 11 to 14 in Years 8, 9 and 10 of secondary education (ISCED 2)
  • Key Stage 4 (KS4) for pupils aged 14 to 16 in Years 11 and 12 of secondary education (ISCED 3).

In Key Stage 4, pupils also work towards external qualifications, most commonly the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) single subject qualifications. Under the Education (Northern Ireland) Order 1998, all courses leading to an external qualification for pupils of compulsory school age in grant aided schools must be approved by the Department of Education (DE). The DE seeks the advice of the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) before deciding on these approved qualifications.

There is no distinct vocational branch in compulsory secondary education, but the ‘Entitlement Framework’ for pupils in Key Stage 4 (introduced on 1 September 2013 by a commencement order of the Education (Northern Ireland) Order 2006) aims to ensure that young people aged 14-16 have access to a broad and balanced curriculum which offers a range of courses linked to relevant learning and career pathways. A third of the courses offered to students must be ‘applied’ courses, that is practical courses and / or courses linked to employability.


Structure of general and vocational upper secondary education

Young people aged 16 to 18/19 are not required by law to be in education. They may choose, at this stage, to continue their education at school, transfer to a further education college, join the workforce and/or follow a government-supported vocational training and work programme such as an apprenticeship.


Study programmes

Where young people continue in full-time education in a school sixth-form or further education (FE) college, they can take academic or vocational courses or a combination of both. Under the ‘Entitlement Framework’, they must be offered a range of courses, a third of which must be applied (practical courses or courses linked to employability).

Students following a programme of post-compulsory, full-time general academic education usually take GCE A Levels in school. Vocational programmes are usually offered in further education (FE) colleges. In practice, however, schools also offer vocational courses and FE colleges offer general academic programmes alongside a wider range of vocational programmes. The institution a young person chooses to attend will depend on their chosen pathway, the local organisation of provision and the courses available.

Although most post-16 programmes are intended to be of a maximum two years’ duration, the funding framework applies up to age 19. For this reason, the age range 16–18/19 is adopted throughout this description.

The articles on ‘Teaching and Learning’ and ‘Assessment’ in ‘General Upper Secondary Education’ explain the general academic A Level pathway and more about the Entitlement Framework, while the articles on ‘Vocational Upper Secondary Education’ focus on the main vocational qualifications and on apprenticeships.


Legal framework

Schools and further education colleges operate under different legal frameworks, described briefly below, although the age groups they cater for and the programmes they provide overlap.


Schools

There is no single framework Act for secondary education and most legislation for schools applies to both primary and secondary education.

The following brief list of legislation covers key aspects of school structures, curriculum and assessment. For a fuller list, see the ‘Legislation’ chapter.

  •  The Education and Libraries (Northern Ireland) Order 1986 specifies that, up to the age of 16, parents are responsible for ensuring that their child receives ‘efficient full-time education suitable to’ his / her ‘age, ability and aptitude and to any special educational needs he may have, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise’. The Order also provides a definition of compulsory school age and of secondary education.
  • The Education Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 introduced the Northern Ireland Curriculum with the aim of giving pupils an entitlement to a broad and balanced curriculum, which promotes their spiritual, emotional, moral, cultural, intellectual and physical development, and prepares them for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of life. It also established linked standards for pupil attainment and assessment arrangements.  
  • The Education (Northern Ireland) Order 1998 included provisions relating to discipline, assessment, performance and management of schools, and stipulated that all courses leading to an external qualification for pupils of compulsory school age in grant aided schools must be approved by the Department of Education.
  • The Education (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 amended the Education Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 to implement revised statutory curriculum and assessment arrangements. It also established the legal basis for the ‘Entitlement Framework’ for pupils aged 14-18/19, which was introduced on 1 September 2013 to ensure that young people have access to a range of relevant courses for their future careers.

Further education colleges

Most further education colleges are statutory corporations set up under the Further Education (Northern Ireland) Order 1997. This took further education institutions out of local control and is the principal piece of legislation governing further education in Northern Ireland.

The provisions of the Education (Northern Ireland) Order 1998 relating to the approval, by the Department of Education, of courses leading to an external qualification also apply to those qualifications offered to students under the age of 19 in an institution of further education.

Note: Where post-compulsory, post-16 education is provided full-time in the sixth-form of a school, it is considered to be secondary education and is subject to schools regulations / legislation.  

More detailed information on the legal framework for particular aspects of education is provided in the various articles within this chapter.

Note on devolution: The Northern Ireland devolution settlement, made under the Northern Ireland Act 1998, gives legislative control over certain matters, known as ‘transferred matters’, to the Northern Ireland Assembly. Education is a transferred matter. Further information on devolution and the legislative framework in Northern Ireland is provided in the article on the ‘Main Executive and Legislative Bodies’.


Main national policy aims and general objectives

Programme for Government

In terms of education, the draft ‘Programme for Government’ of the Northern Ireland Assembly elected on 5 May 2016 maintains an emphasis on:

  • ensuring that all children and young people have the opportunity to reach their full potential
  • improving educational outcomes
  • raising standards in literacy and numeracy
  • tackling educational disadvantage. 

Focusing on intended outcomes rather than on the structures required to deliver them, the 14 strategic outcomes and 42 indicators and measures in the Programme include, in relation to compulsory and post-compulsory secondary education in particular, the key objectives of:

  • improving educational outcomes for school leavers, with an emphasis on literacy and numeracy
  • reducing educational inequality by improving the attainment gap between disadvantaged school leavers and others, again with a particular focus on English and mathematics
  • improving provision for learning and, consequently, the overall quality of education. 

The Programme for Government is supported by:

The ‘Entitlement Framework’ for 14- to 19-year-olds aims to offer young people in compulsory and post-compulsory secondary education increased breadth and balance of general and applied (practical and vocational) courses. This aims to ensure that they reach their potential through pathways which are relevant to their needs, aptitudes, interests and future job prospects. Similarly, the strategy for improved careers education – detailed in a government document for 2015-2020 – is intended to contribute towards young people achieving their potential and improving their employability by supporting them in making appropriate decisions on their participation in education, training and employment. The further education strategy aims to ensure that further education institutions support these developments by:

  • providing relevant programmes of study for those who decide to leave school education at age 16
  • contributing towards ensuring that professional and technical courses and qualifications available meet the needs of learners, employers and the economy
  • taking a key role in delivering the apprenticeship and youth training programmes. 

Note: following the collapse of the Northern Ireland Assembly in January 2016, new Assembly elections will take place in Northern Ireland on 2 March 2017. The Programme for Government may change depending on the outcome of these elections.


Shared education

Responding to Northern Ireland’s difficult political history, cross-community initiatives and collaboration have long been a feature of the education system, in particular through ‘integrated schools’. These bring together children and staff from Catholic and Protestant traditions, as well as those of other faiths and none. In response to a slowing of the growth of integrated education, the Government has commissioned an independent review, with a view to examining how the effective planning, growth and development of integrated education can be supported in the 21st  century.

In addition, in May 2016, it introduced the Shared Education Act. This confers a duty on the Department of Education and on arms-length bodies such as the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools to encourage and facilitate shared education. The Act defines shared education as:

the education together of those of different religious belief, including reasonable numbers of both Protestant and Roman Catholic children and young people, and those who are experiencing socio-economic deprivation and those who are not by the working together of two or more grant aided schools or other providers of educational services to children and young people.

As such, it not only focuses shared education on collaboration across religious communities but also on improving education for disadvantaged young people, which is one of the other key priorities for education in Northern Ireland.


Irish-medium education

The Department of Education has a duty to encourage and facilitate the development of Irish-medium education. In 2013, the  Government commissioned a review to examine the strategic development of post-primary Irish-medium provision. This was in view of the small numbers of pupils in post-primary Irish-medium education (either in Irish-medium schools or in units attached to English-medium schools), compared with an expansion of Irish-medium education at pre-school and primary levels. In responding to the review in November 2014, the Government agreed to:

  • develop a strategic approach to identify, project and plan for demand for post-primary Irish-medium provision
  • develop a pathway for the development or Irish-medium education at the post-primary level
  • examine the constraints to the development of post-primary Irish-medium education such as teacher supply. 

 

 

Article last reviewed February 2017.