The academic year is being shortened by a day for all schools on foot of the new St Brigid’s public holiday which takes place from next February.
A Department of Education circular confirms that the number of days schools are required to open for has fallen from 167 to 166 days at second level, while at primary level it is down from 183 to 182 days.
The first St Brigid’s public holiday will take place on Monday, February 6th, next year.
In future years, the holiday will take place on the first Monday in February, unless the first day of February happens to fall on a Friday, in which case that day will be a public holiday.
The change consolidates Ireland’s position as having one of the shortest school years at second level in Europe.
A European Commission analysis on school time in 2021/22 found that only EU member states Greece (160 days) and Malta (165 days) had a shorter school year at senior cycle or “upper secondary” level. By contrast, Italy and Denmark had the longest school years (200 days), followed by the Czech Republic (195 days) and Norway (190 days).
Teachers’ unions, however, say these figures are misleading and that secondary students in Ireland have much longer instruction time compared to most EU member states.
A recent OECD report, for example, found teaching time at senior cycle in Ireland was relatively high (700 hours) compared to the EU average (642 hours).
Michael Gillespie, general secretary of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland, said teachers in Irish second-level schools spend more time in the classroom due partly to the higher number of subjects that students study.
“In other jurisdictions they tend to have fewer subjects or skills preparation in vocational schools,” Mr Gillespie said. “Our concern is that teachers are dealing with ever-expanding workloads, bureaucracy and large class sizes ... The nature of teachers’ work continues to drift from actual teaching.”
The number of days students in Ireland at primary level spend at school is much closer to the European norm. Italy and Denmark have the longest school years at primary (200 days), while Ireland is close to the average (182 days) and the shortest school year is in France (162 days).
Under the terms of the latest department circular, the duration of school breaks are being standardised for Christmas, Easter and midterm until 2025/26.
The circular emphasises the need to provide for contingency arrangements to deal with extensive or prolonged unforeseen school closures, such as due to bad weather, in order to provide education for the required number of days. It adds that lost teaching time should be made up for by prioritising tuition over other non-tuition activities, reducing where possible the length of mock/house exams and cancelling school tours.
In the case of second-level schools, another option is ensuring exam years attend all classes to the end of May.
In some cases, the midterm or Easter break may be shortened to make up for lost teaching time.
The circular states that contingency arrangements within the standardised school year to deal with unforeseen school closures “do not provide for remote teaching and learning”. In other words, remote learning which might take place, for example, during an extreme weather event, will not count towards lost school days.