How we teach our children: Comparing Ireland's schooling stats to other developed nations

Irish students spend more time in school than those in most other developed countries.

Those 8,300-plus hours only cover the class time up to the end of third-year, as it is no longer compulsory to be in education after the age of 16. This is just one comparative statistic from a growing range of annual international education studies.


Ireland is one of just four European countries to significantly increase the amount of time devoted across primary and second-level education to reading in the past five years.

However, even with the revised focus under the 2011 national literacy and numeracy strategy, the 12% of primary teaching time allocated to reading, writing and literature (in English, or in Irish in gaelscoils) is almost the lowest when compared with dozens of other developed countries.

Only four other European countries also increased minimum time for maths by at least 10%, according to the Eurydice network comparisons across Europe.

At primary level, the 4% of teaching time set aside for natural sciences (including general science, but also technology in Ireland) is the joint-lowest in Europe. The average proportion of time given to the subject area is 8% for primary schools in 37 European countries, but as high as 13% in Austria, Croatia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Time at school

Ireland is one of just three European countries where second-level students have longer summer holidays than children at primary school. The same is true in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iceland. In most European countries, second-level students have a longer school year than younger children. But here, secondary classes stop for 12 to 13 weeks in summer, compared to eight or nine weeks for primary schools.

Summer holidays begin in mid-June in most European countries, but outside of that, the year ends between the end of May and the second half of July. The length of the summer break ranges from six weeks — in England, Scotland, Wales, the Netherlands, parts of Germany, and Liechtenstein — to 15 weeks for Bulgarian primary pupils and 14 weeks in Italy. Students in Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal, and Bosnia-Herzegovina have 13 weeks of holidays. Countries with shorter summer breaks tend to have longer holidays during the school year.

Number of school days

In Ireland, primary pupils must be taught 183 days a year, and second-level students for 167 days. Elsewhere in Europe, the number of school days varies between 162 days in France (except in upper secondary education) and 200 days in Denmark and Italy.

In around half the countries, it is between 170 and 180 days; in 15 countries, the number varies between 181 and 190 days. In a few countries, pupils have more than 191 school days per year.

In general, the number of school days is the same in primary and secondary but Ireland is one of the exceptions. Only in Greece, Cyprus, the Netherlands and Poland is the second-level school year also shorter than for primary schools.

Teaching hours

Only Denmark, Luxembourg and the Netherlands have a longer primary school year than Ireland’s 915 hours for children from first to sixth class here. The 935 hours a year of second-level for four years until the compulsory education age of 16 is higher than most, although students have longer school time in 10 other countries.

Teachers’ pay

The issue of pay levels for new entrants to teaching is highlighted in EU figures on teachers’ pay issued last year, showing that only in Ireland and Greece have the minimum salaries of teachers fallen below 80% of 2010 levels. The data is based on the purchasing power of pay levels

By contrast, the pay values have risen by over 20% in Estonia and Slovakia, two of the seven European countries where starting salaries have increased.

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