The post-primary education sector comprises secondary, vocational, community and comprehensive schools. Secondary schools are privately owned and managed. Vocational schools are state-established and administered by Vocational Education Committees (VECs), while community and comprehensive schools are managed by Boards of Management of differing compositions.
Post-primary education consists of a three-year Junior Cycle (lower secondary), followed by a two or three year Senior Cycle (upper secondary), depending on whether the optional Transition Year (TY) is taken.
Students usually begin the Junior Cycle at age 12. The Junior Certificate examination is taken after three years. The main objective of the Junior Cycle is for students to complete a broad and balanced curriculum, and to develop the knowledge and skills that will enable them to proceed to Senior Cycle education. A new Framework for Junior Cycle is going to make significant changes to the current Junior Cycle beginning in September 2014.
The Senior Cycle caters for students in the 15 to 18 year age group. It includes an optional Transition Year, which follows immediately after the Junior Cycle. TY provides an opportunity for students to experience a wide range of educational inputs, including work experience, over the course of a year that is free from formal examinations.
During the final two years of Senior Cycle students take one of three programmes, each leading to a State Examination: the traditional Leaving Certificate, the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) or the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA).
The Leaving Certificate
The traditional Leaving Certificate examination is the terminal examination of post-primary education and is taken when students are typically 17 or 18 years of age. Syllabuses are available in more than 30 subjects and students are required to take at least five subjects, one of which must be Irish.
The Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme
The Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) is similar to the traditional Leaving Certificate Programme, with a concentration on technical subjects and some additional modules which have a vocational focus.
The Leaving Certificate Applied Programme
The Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) Programme is a self-contained two-year course, intended to meet the needs of those students who are not adequately catered for by other Leaving Certificate programmes. It is a person-centred course involving a cross-curricular approach rather than a subject based structure.