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An overview of the Northern Irish educational system

Northern Ireland
Understand more about the curriculum used in Northern Ireland and how students are assessed with this brief guide.

Education in Northern Ireland is similar to the structure set up in England, with a few key differences.

For instance, the age of a child on 1 July determines when they need to start school, whereas in England and Wales it is 1 September. Also, all Northern Irish schools follow the Northern Ireland Curriculum, which is based on the National Curriculum used in England and Wales. This became statutory across all key stages during the 2009/2010 academic year.

Primary school students do not take Key Stage 1 or Key Stage 2 National Curriculum Tests (Standard Attainment Tests, or SATs). Students in secondary school do take General Certificate of Secondary Education exams (GCSEs) during year 12, and have the choice to continue on to years 13 and 14 to take A-levels, or the more vocationally-centred Advanced Level exams.

In Northern Ireland, children are assessed every year through teacher assessment and planned tasks and activities. Skills are often assessed using Levels of Progression (LoP) at the end of KS1, KS2 and KS3. Formal results, in the form of levels, are reported to parents at the end of Years 4 and 7. Teachers assign levels to students at the end of Key Stage 1 (year 4) and Key Stage 2 (year 7) based on how they perform in the LoPs. These match the National Curriculum levels in that students should be at Level 2 by the end of Key Stage 1, and at level 4 by the end of Key Stage 2.

Age during school yearEngland and Wales:
National Curriculum (plus Foundation Phase in Wales)
Northern Ireland:
Northern Ireland Curriculum
Curriculum for Excellence
4-5ReceptionYear 1(Nursery)
5-6Year 1Year 2P1
6-7Year 2Year 3P2
7-8Year 3Year 4P3
8-9Year 4Year 5P4
9-10Year 5Year 6P5
10-11Year 6Year 7P6
11-12Year 7Year 8P7
12-13Year 8Year 9S1
13-14Year 9Year 10S2
14-15Year 10Year 11S3
15-16Year 11Year 12S4
                         A-Levels and SCE Highers – not compulsory
16-17Year 12Year 13S5
17-18Year 13Year 14S6
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