Entitlement Framework

The Entitlement Framework sets out the minimum number and range of courses a school should offer at Key Stage 4 and Post-16. These courses should be economically relevant and individually engaging with clear progression pathways. Information about what this means for parents and pupils is contained below.

What is the Entitlement Framework?

The Entitlement Framework (EF) is the Post-14 curriculum which puts the needs of pupils first. It aims to provide access for pupils to a broad and balanced curriculum to enable them to reach their full potential no matter which school they attend or where they live.

It will guarantee that all pupils have access to a minimum number of courses at Key Stage 4 and Post-16, of which at least one third must be general and one third applied. The Department will specify the number of courses and is responsible for designating courses as general or applied, based on its published definitions contained in general and applied courses circular.

Statutory Position

The Education (NI) Order 2006 (articles 18-22) gives Statutory effect to the EF and requires schools to offer access to at least the specified number of courses at KS4 and Post-16; of which at least one third must be general and one third applied. In order to meet the statutory requirements, from September 2017 the EF requires all post-primary schools to provide pupils with access to a minimum of 21 courses at both phases.

The minimum number of qualifying courses post-primary schools must provide access to for pupils in Key Stage 4 and for pupils over compulsory school age are set out through written directions.

What does it mean for pupils?

We will best meet the needs of young people and the economy by offering them access to a broad and balanced range of courses that are relevant to their needs, aptitudes, interests and their future career aspirations, regardless of where they live or which school they attend. 

Schools are encouraged to make use of up to date labour market information and take note of DfE’s priority skills areas in offering access to a coherent and economically relevant choice of courses for pupils. This means that all pupils will have access to at least the number of courses set out above.  Pupils can then choose the courses which provide the best progression for them.  

Progression can be to continue in education, including further and higher education, or to move into training or employment.  Every pupil is different and choices should reflect each young person’s interests and aspirations. There may be occasions where a school’s timetabling makes it difficult to facilitate course choices, but parents and pupils should discuss this with the school.  

Area Learning Communities

Every post-primary school in Northern Ireland is a member of an Area Learning Community (ALC).  ALCs provide a mechanism within which schools come together to plan the curriculum they offer on an area basis. 

Schools work together in collaboration with other schools, further education colleges and other training providers to deliver access to the Entitlement Framework, thus enabling them to offer a broad and balanced, economically-relevant curriculum to meet the needs and aspirations of all pupils. 

There are currently 27 ALCs, which are commonly made up of between six and ten schools.  The Chair of each ALC, which can change annually, is one of the principals from a participating member school.

ALC membership table

Current ALC Chair details can be found on the Entitlement Framework Audit webpage

The Entitlement Framework in special schools and learning support centres

The Department commissioned the regulatory side of the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) to conduct a two year development project with schools and learning support centres (LSCs) in the special educational needs sector. The directions specifying minimum course numbers do not apply to special schools or LSCs. The purpose of this work was therefore to inform how the entitlement framework should apply in practice to this sector.

The focus is on schools providing relevant and achievable courses (or units) that offer recognisable and transferable progression for each individual learner. The project concluded that all special schools and LSCs should aim to identify learning programmes for their learners covering the three curriculum areas of literacy/numeracy, Learning for Life and Work and a vocationally related element. A short guidance document and associated case studies have been issued to all post-primary special schools and LSCs.

In addition a qualifications guide has been launched which provides an overview of those regulated qualifications at entry level and level 1 which recognise and reward the achievement of pupils within special schools and LSCs.

Entitlement Framework support arrangements 2023/24

Support for collaborative arrangements between schools, and/or between schools and FE colleges and other providers is provided through a programme co-ordinated on an area basis. Guidance circulars are issued on an annual basis setting out the implementation of the Entitlement Framework, including the financial support arrangements for schools.

The most recent circular 2023/18 - Delivering the Entitlement Framework: Guidance to Schools 2023/24:

Together Towards Entitlement

A report was produced by groups tasked with testing the concept of area based planning in the post primary sector that was related to the efficient and effective delivery of the Entitlement Framework.

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