Schools in Northern Ireland


While there are no schools offering an international or foreign curriculum in Northern Ireland, expat parents can rest assured that their children will have access to a high standard of education. In fact, when it comes to academic prowess, the country often outperforms other parts of the UK.

The education system in Northern Ireland is similar to the schooling system in England and Wales, especially in terms of curriculum content. However, year groups work differently and religion plays a much more prominent role in education in Northern Ireland than it does in the rest of the UK.

Expat parents unsure of which school to choose can consult the website of the Education and Training Inspectorate, which conducts frequent assessments on all Northern Irish schools.

Schooling is compulsory from the age of four, culminating in the GCSE exams at age 16. Post-16 education is optional. Those that continue will usually pick a path that is either academic (A Levels) or vocational (Applied A Levels).

Education in Northern Ireland is divided into primary education from Year 1 to Year 7 (ages 4 to 10) and secondary education from Year 8 to Year 12 (ages 11 to 16). The final stage of secondary education – namely Years 13 and 14 (ages 17 and 18) – is optional.


Types of public schools

Controlled schools make up about half of the country’s schools and are managed by boards of governors. Some are entirely funded by the state while others are funded by a foundation or trust, usually of a religious nature. Though controlled schools have open admissions policies, most were originally Protestant schools and retain Protestant representatives on their boards, which greatly influences the running of the school.

Catholic schools are also commonly found in Northern Ireland, numbering in the hundreds. These schools are owned and managed by the Catholic Church.

Catholic and Protestant schools remain highly segregated from one another. The integrated education movement, which is gaining traction, aims to bridge the gap between the two denominations and has opened a number of integrated schools throughout Northern Ireland.

Private schools, known as independent schools, are rare in Northern Ireland, with only a few available. Most are religious. As they receive no grants from the government they are privately funded and require fees.

It can be difficult to gain entry to a private school, as they are able to set their own admission policies and are usually academically selective. That said, there are many advantages to attending. For instance, private schools have more freedom in their curriculum and teaching style than state schools. This flexibility may suit some expat families. Because there is a high demand for spaces, it’s best to apply well in advance of the move.