Types of School

Find out more about the types of schools in Northern Ireland.

Overview of Schools

There are a number of different school types and phases within Northern Ireland.

School Type

Controlled

Schools are managed and funded by the Education Authority through Boards of Governors (BoG). Primary and post-primary school BoGs consist of representatives of transferors - mainly the Protestant churches - along with representatives of parents, teachers and the Education Authority.

Catholic Maintained

Catholic Maintained schools are managed by Boards of Governors (BoGs) nominated by trustees - mainly Roman Catholic - along with parents, teachers and Education Authority representatives. The Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) is responsible for the effective management of the Catholic Maintained sector and is the employing authority for teachers in Catholic Maintained schools. The Catholic schools trustee service is funded by Department of Education (DE) to provide support and advice to trustees on area planning.

Voluntary

Self-governing schools, generally of long standing, originally established to provide an academic education at post primary level on a fee paying basis. Now funded by the Department of Education (DE) and managed by Boards of Governors (BoGs). The BoGs are constituted in accordance with each school's scheme of management - usually representatives of foundation governors, parents, teachers and in most cases, DE or Education Authority representatives. The BoGs is the employing authority and is responsible for the employment of all staff in its school.

Integrated

These schools invite Protestant and Catholic to come together with other traditions to improve their understanding of one another, their own cultures, religions, and values. They are open to all pupils regardless of background or ability.  Department of Education (DE) and the Education Authority (EA) have a duty to encourage, facilitate and support integrated education.  With funding from DE, the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NICIE) promotes the strategic development of Integrated schools and provides advice and guidance to all Integrated schools, both Controlled Integrated and Grant Maintained Integrated.

  1. Controlled Integrated

Nursery, primary and post primary Integrated schools which are managed and funded by the Education Authority through Boards of Governors.  The majority of Controlled Integrated schools have acquired Integrated status through the process of ‘Transformation’.  The Board of Governors consists of representatives from both the Protestant and Catholic traditions along with representatives of parents, teachers and the EA.

  1. Grant Maintained Integrated

Self-governing schools which have Integrated status and were opened by groups of parents.  They are funded directly by the Department of Education and managed by Boards of Governors. The BoGs are constituted in accordance with each school’s scheme of management and include representatives of foundation governors, parents, teachers and DE.  The BOG is the employing authority and responsible for employing staff.

Irish Medium

Irish-Medium education is education provided in an Irish speaking school or unit. Department of Education (DE) has a duty to encourage and facilitate in the development of Irish-Medium education. Comhairle na Gaelscolaíochta (CnaG) was established by DE and its remit is to promote, facilitate and encourage Irish-Medium education and Irish-Medium schools.

There are Controlled and Maintained Irish-Medium schools and units.  The majority of Irish-Medium schools are Maintained schools.

Other types of schools

Independent school

An independent school is a school at which full-time education is provided for pupils aged from four to 16 and is not grant aided. These schools set their own curriculum and admissions policies and are funded by fees paid by parents and income from investments. Each independent school must be registered with Department of Education and is inspected regularly by ETI.

School Phase

Pre-School Providers (2-4 years)

Pre-school education is not compulsory but it helps prepare your child for primary school by providing a rich variety of challenging play-based learning activities and other experiences in a stimulating environment.

Within pre-school there are nursery schools, nursery units within primary schools and voluntary and private settings that participate in the Pre-School Education Programme.  Voluntary and private settings can only admit children to funded provision who have reached the age of 3 years old by 1 July.

 All pre-school education providers follow the same curricular guidance and are regularly inspected by the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI). 

Primary (4-11 years)

Education is compulsory for all children who have reached the age of 4 on or before 1 July except where a parent/guardian wishes to defer their child starting primary school by one year (see Deferral of School Starting Age) for details on Deferral of School Starting Age.

In Northern Ireland children normally start school in the September of the school year after their fourth birthday.  If your child's birthday is between 2 July and 31 August, they don't start school until the following September.

In the first two years of primary school your child will experience the same sort of learning and activities they were used to in their early years - this is called the Foundation Stage. The next two years are called Key Stage 1 (P3 and P4) and the next three years are known as Key Stage 2 (P5, P6 and P7). On completion of seven years of primary education, children transfer to post primary schools at the age of 11.

There are a small number of schools which cater solely for Year 1-3 or Year 4-7 age ranges.

Children in primary school must follow the curriculum.

Post-Primary (11-16+ years)

Education is compulsory for all children until they reach 16 years old.

If your child turns 16 between 1 September and 1 July, they can leave school on 30 June of that year. If your child becomes 16 between 2 July and 31 August, they can't leave school until 30 June of the following year.

At post-primary level, Key Stage 3 covers Years 8, 9 and 10 and Key Stage 4 covers Years 11 and 12. Pupils may continue education for a further two years (Key Stage 5), after they become 16, although this is not compulsory.

Within post primary there are grammar and secondary schools.  Some schools are selective i.e. pupils are admitted on the basis of academic ability, others are non-selective. In the Craigavon area some schools cater solely for pupils age 11-14, 14-16+.

Children in post primary school must follow the curriculum.

Special Schools

A special school is a controlled, maintained or voluntary school which is specially organised to provide education for pupils with special educational needs and is recognised by the Department of Education as a special school. Pupils are placed in Special Schools by the Education Authority according to their assessed need.

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Last updated: 23/05/2023