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What about the education system?

Education in N.Ireland is divided into: primary, secondary, further and higher education. Compulsory education lasts for 11 years; statutory schooling ages are between 5 to 16 years. Children are legally required to start attending school at the start of the term after their fifth birthday either on 31 August, 31 December or 31 March, however, children often start earlier than this. Pupils are required to stay in school until the last Friday in June of the school year in which they reach 16 years of age. During this time children must receive full-time education that is suited to their age, ability, aptitude and special educational needs.

Most pupils transfer from primary to secondary school at age 11 years.
Under the National Curriculum, as a result of the Education Reform Act 1988, four Key Stages to education were established.

These are as follows:

  • Key Stage 1:       5 to  7 years old           year   1 -  year   4
  • Key Stage 2:       7 to 11 years old         year   5 – year   7
  • Key Stage 3:     11 to 14 years old         year   8  - year 10
  • Key Stage 4:     14 to 16 years old         year 11 -  year 12     GNVQ

Pupils are assessed by National Curriculum tests at the end of each Key Stage.

Key Stage 1 assessments are taken at age 7,
Key Stage 2 assessments are taken at age 11
Key Stage 3 assessments are taken at age 14.
Key Stage 4 is assessed by levels of achievement acquired at General Certificate of Secondary Education (GNVQ) level. Having completed GNVQs, pupils have a choice of whether to continue with further education at school or college or to undertake employment.

In Northern Ireland choosing a school can seem complicated as there are several types of school.

1. Controlled Schools. Managed by the Local Education and Library Board – the Southern Education and Library Board. (SELB)
2. Maintained Schools. Under the management of the Council for Catholic maintained Schools (CCMS)
3. Grant Maintained Integrated Schools. These aim to have a balance of Catholic and Protestant pupils and staff.
4. Voluntary Schools. These are grammar schools with greater autonomy than controlled schools.

Many parents are happy to send their children to the nearest local school, but you do have the right to say which school you prefer and to appeal if a place is not available. You should be aware, however, that there is no guarantee of a place in your nearest or preferred school. All parents must fill in application form.

Special education needs

A child has special education needs if she or he has a:

  • learning difficulty which is significantly greater then majority of children of the same age
  • disability which makes if difficult to use the facilities normally available.

Special education needs are described as falling into four areas. These are:

  • communication and interaction
  • team work and learning
  • behaviour, emotional and social development
  • sensory/physical

The majority of children with special education needs will have their needs met in their school, in accordance with the Code of Practice. All schools are expected to have in place agreed policies for special needs including:

  • curriculum delivery
  • behaviour management
  • Recording of pupil’s progress
  • Systems for identifying special needs and communicating them to all staff who will be in contact with the child
  • A pastoral care system
  • Access to appropriate information and technology and other appropriate equipment and aids
  • Some individualised teaching through Individual Education Plans.