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Background Notes

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Purpose of survey

The Educational Attainment Thematic Report is generated from data in the Labour Force Survey (LFS). The LFS replaced the Quarterly National Household Survey (QNHS) at the beginning of Q3 2017. The survey meets the requirements of Council Regulation (EC) No. 577/98, adopted in March 1998, which requires the introduction of quarterly labour force surveys in EU member states.

The primary purpose of the LFS is the production of quarterly labour force estimates. Questions on educational attainment are included in the core LFS questionnaire each quarter. This report is based on those questions.

Updated data

Since the publication of the Educational Attainment Thematic Report 2017, the LFS dataset has been adjusted to mitigate the effect of the introduction of the LFS on the coherence of the historic data series. Scaling factors for regions, occupation groups and highest level of education completed were created and applied to the previously published LFS data. 

You can find greater detail in the following information notes: 

Information Notice - Labour Force Survey Quarter 3 2017

Information Notice - Labour Force Survey Quarter 1 2018

This report is based on both rounds of back-casted QNHS data which was also adjusted for the 2016 Census data.

Reference period

For this release, educational attainment results are presented for each year using data from Quarter 2 (i.e. April-June).

Data Collection

The LFS is conducted using mixed mode data collection with the introduction of Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing (CATI). As with the QNHS, information is collected from each sample household over five successive quarters or Waves. However, in the LFS, the first interview is conducted by a team of face-to-face interviewers using Computer Assisted Personal Interviewing (CAPI). The four follow-up interviews are conducted using CATI from a dedicated call centre, where householders have agreed to conduct a telephone interview, and are conducted using face-to-face interviews where householders have not agreed to conduct a telephone interview.

Users should note that, as referenced in our Press Statement of 20 March 2020, the CSO had to suspend direct face-to-face interviews for the LFS (and other household surveys) due to the social distancing measures introduced in Ireland because of COVID-19. Consequently, all interviews for the LFS since then have been carried out using CATI.

Sample Design

 A new sample based on the 2016 Census of Population was introduced on a phased basis (over five quarters) from Q2 2019 and will be fully operational in Q2 2020. As with the expiring sample below, the new sample is stratified using administrative county and the Pobal HP (Hasse and Pratschke) Deprivation Index and consists of 32,500 households per quarter.

The previous sample was based on the 2011 Census of Population and was introduced incrementally from Q1 2016 and expired in Q1 2019. The sample was stratified using administrative county and the Pobal HP (Haase and Pratschke) Deprivation Index. A two-stage sample design was used. In the first stage 1,300 blocks were selected using Probability Proportional to Size (PPS) sampling. In the second stage households were selected using Simple Random Sampling (SRS). This ensured each household in the sample frame had an equal probability of selection.

To account for the additional attrition resulting from the introduction of mixed mode data collection, the LFS sample up to Q1 2019 was increased incrementally from Q3 2017. An additional 1,300 households were included in Wave 1 for each quarter up to Q3 2018 and this has resulted in a total sample of 32,500 from Q3 2018 onwards. The actual achieved sample varies over time depending on the level of response.

The number of valid responding households for the LFS in Q2 2021 was 10,644.

Households are asked to take part in the survey for five consecutive quarters and are then replaced by other households in the same block. Thus, one fifth of the households in the survey are replaced each quarter and the QNHS/LFS sample involves an overlap of 80% between consecutive quarters and 20% between the same quarter in consecutive years. It is important to note that there is no overlap in sample between the QNHS and the LFS.

The survey results are weighted to agree with population estimates broken down by age, sex and region (the regions have changed from Q1 2018 – see below) and are also calibrated to nationality control totals. The LFS results also contain a non-response adjustment to make the results from the achieved sample representative of the target sample and the population. The population estimates for April of each year are published in a separate release.

New samples, both based on the 2011 Census of Population, were introduced incrementally for the QNHS in Q4 2012 and in Q3 2016. The former was stratified using administrative county and population density while the latter was stratified using administrative county and the Pobal HP (Haase and Pratschke) Deprivation Index. The quarterly sample in each case was 26,000 households. The actual achieved sample varied over time depending on the level of response.

Note on tables

Percentage breakdowns exclude cases where the interviewee did not state their educational attainment.

The sum of row or column percentages in the tables in this report may not add up to 100 due to rounding.

Note on age ranges

Many international statistical organisations use the 15-64 years age range as a standard working age population. However, the majority of persons aged 15-24 years old are students and this cohort has been steadily increasing as most continue their studies into tertiary education. Data presented in this report will mainly focus on the educational attainment of the 25-64 year age group, unless otherwise specified.

Early school leavers

Early school leavers are defined as persons aged 18 to 24 whose highest level of education attained is lower secondary or below and have not received education (either formal or non-formal) in the four weeks prior to the survey.

Highest level of education attained

This classification is derived from a single question and refers to educational standards that have been attained and can be compared in some measurable way. The question is included in the core LFS questionnaire on an ongoing basis and is phrased as follows: “What is the highest level of education or training you have ever successfully completed?”.

There are two methods of presenting results for educational attainment; the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) and the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ).


UNESCO developed the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) to facilitate comparisons of education statistics and indicators across countries on the basis of uniform and internationally agreed definitions. The current revision of ISCED used in this release is ISCED 2011 (ISCED11).

For information on the ISCED11 classification, see:

International Standard of Education (ISCED)


The NFQ was launched in 2003 and it is now the single structure mechanism for recognising all education and training in Ireland. All framework awards now have an NFQ Level, numbered from 1 to 10, which tells you about the standard of learning and an NFQ Award-Type which tells you about the purpose, volume and progression opportunities associated with a particular award. Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) has responsibility to develop, promote and maintain the Irish NFQ.

In this release educational attainment results are presented using a descriptive name and the corresponding NFQ levels.

For information on the NFQ see:

National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ)

In previous educational attainment releases the educational attainment variable was presented using ISCED 1997 while, in this release, the response levels are grouped together into educational attainment levels using the NFQ. The table below gives education qualifications alongside the corresponding ISCED level, NFQ level and the educational attainment level reported in this release.

Table A1 Educational qualifications and corresponding ISCED 11 level, NFQ level and Educational attainment level

Education Qualification ISCED11 Level NFQ Level Educational Attainment Level
No formal education or training 0   Primary or below
Pre-primary education/Primary education (or FETAC Certificate at NFQ level 1 or 2) 100 1/2 Primary or below
Lower Secondary Junior Certificate 200 3 Lower secondary
Intermediate Certificate 200 3
Group Certificate 200 3
FÁS Introductory Skills Certificate 200 3
NCVA Foundation Certificate 200 3
FETAC Certificate at NFQ level 3 200 3
Equivalent Qualification at NFQ level 3 200 3
Transition Year 200   Lower secondary
Higher Secondary Leaving Certificate (Traditional) 304 4/5 Higher secondary
Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) 303 4/5
Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) 303 4/5
Equivalent Qualification at NFQ level 4/5 300 4/5
Technical or Vocational Secretarial 400 4/5 Post leaving cert 
Certificate in Hotel Operations  400 4/5
PLC (Post Leaving Certificate Course) 400 4/5
FÁS National Skills Certificate 400 4/5
FÁS Specific Skills Certificate 400 4/5
FETAC level Certificate at NFQ level 4 400 4
FETAC level Certificate at NFQ level 5 400 5
Equivalent qualification at NFQ level 4/5 400 4/5
Advance Certificate Completed apprenticeships 400 6 Post leaving cert 
Teagasc farming or horticulture Certificate/Diploma 400 6
National Craft Certificate 400 6
FETAC advanced Certificate at NFQ level 6 400 6
Equivalent Qualification at NFQ level 6 400 6
Higher Certificate National Certificate (NCEA/DIT/IOT) 500 6 Higher certificate and equivalent
Cadetship (army, air corps or naval service) 500 6
HETAC/DIT Higher Certificate at NFQ level 6 500 6
Equivalent qualification at NFQ level 6 500 6
Diploma National Diploma (HETAC/NCEA e.g. 3 year diploma) 500 7 Ordinary degree or equivalent
Bachelor Degree (DIT) 500 7
Equivalent qualification at NFQ level 7 600 7
Ordinary Bachelor Degree at NFQ level 7 600 7 Ordinary degree or equivalent
Honours Bachelor Degree, Graduate Diploma or Higher Diploma at NFQ level 8 600 8 Honours bachelor degree or equivalent
Professional (Honours Bachelor Degree equivalent or higher) 600 8 Honours bachelor degree or equivalent
Post-Graduate (e.g. Post Graduate Diploma or Masters degree at NFQ level 9) 700 9 Postgraduate qualification
Doctorate or higher (e.g. Doctoral Degree/higher Doctorate at NFQ level 10) 800 10 Postgraduate qualification

ILO labour force classification

The primary classification used for the QNHS results is the ILO (International Labour Office) Labour Force classification. The ILO classification distinguishes the following main subgroups of the population aged 15 and over:

In Employment: Persons who worked in the week before the survey for one hour or more for payment or profit, including work on the family farm or business and all persons who had a job but were not at work because of illness, holidays etc. in the week.

Unemployed: Persons who, in the week before the survey, were without work and available for work within the next two weeks, and had taken specific steps, in the preceding four weeks, to find work.

Inactive Population (not in labour force): All other persons.

The rates given in this release are based on the ILO classification.

  • The Labour Force Participation Rate is the number of persons in the labour force expressed as a percentage of the total population.
  • The Employment Rate is the number of employed persons as a percentage of the total population.
  • The Unemployment Rate is the number of unemployed persons expressed as a percentage of the total labour force.

Principal economic status classification

The Principal Economic Status (PES) classification is based on a single question in which respondents are asked what is their usual situation with regard to employment and given the following response categories:

  • At work
  • Unemployed
  • Student
  • Engaged on home duties
  • Retired
  • Other


The regional classifications in this release are based on the NUTS (Nomenclature of Territorial Units) classification used by Eurostat. Until Q4 2017, the NUTS3 regions corresponded to the eight Regional Authorities established under the Local Government Act, 1991 (Regional Authorities) (Establishment) Order, 1993, which came into operation on 1 January 1994, while the NUTS2 regions, which were proposed by Government and agreed by Eurostat in 1999, were groupings of those historic NUTS3 regions.

However, the NUTS3 boundaries were amended on 21st of November 2016 under Regulation (EC) No. 2066/2016 and have come into force from Q1 2018. These new groupings are reflected in the LFS results from Q1 2018 onwards. The changes resulting from the amendment are that County Louth has moved from the Border to the Mid-East and what was formerly South Tipperary has moved from the South-East to the Mid-West, resulting in the new NUTS2 and NUTS3 regions:

Northern & Western
NUTS2 Region
NUTS2 Region
Eastern & Midland
NUTS2 Region
Border Cavan Mid-West Clare Dublin Dublin City
  Donegal   Limerick City & County    Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown
  Leitrim   Tipperary    Fingal
  Monaghan       South Dublin 
  Sligo South-East Carlow    
      Kilkenny  Mid-East Kildare
West Galway City    Waterford City & County   Meath
  Galway County   Wexford    Wicklow
  Mayo       Louth
  Roscommon  South-West Cork City    
      Cork County Midland Laois
      Kerry    Longford

European countries

The EU formerly included the United Kingdom, who left the EU with effect from 1 February 2020. The EU-27 comprises the following 27 countries:

Austria Germany Poland
Belgium Greece Portugal
Bulgaria Hungry Romania
Croatia Ireland Slovak Republic
Cyprus Italy Slovenia
Czechia Latvia Spain
Denmark Lithuania Sweden
Estonia Luxembourg  
Finland Malta  
France Netherlands  

The EU-14 is a subset of the EU-27 and includes the following 14 countries:

Austria Germany Netherlands
Belgium Greece Portugal
Denmark Ireland Spain
Finland Italy Sweden
France Luxembourg  

Non-response adjustment

Non-response occurs when households that are sampled, and that are eligible for the survey, do not provide the requested information. This can lead to biased survey estimates if specific groups within the population are over- or under-represented and if these groups behave differently with respect to the survey variables (i.e. labour market outcomes). To correct for this, the CSO has introduced a non-response adjustment into the weighting procedure for the LFS.

The adjustment involves estimating response rates or propensities to respond as functions of characteristics available for responding and non-responding households, as well as characteristics of the areas where the households are located. Basically, the design weights have to be inflated by the inverse of the response propensities in order to compensate for the loss of units in the sample.

Linking the LFS sample with the Census of Population at household level provides a set of auxiliary variables which are available for both responding and non-responding LFS households. These include a mix of personal characteristics as well as characteristics of the dwelling and location (e.g. gender, age, marital status, education, personal employment status, dwelling type, area etc.). This allows the CSO to compare responding and non-responding households with respect to the characteristics available from the Census. This auxiliary information allows the use of “response propensities” to model non-response and adjust the grossing factors to compensate for non-response.

The response propensities are calculated using a logistic regression model where the dependent variable (Y) is an indicator variable corresponding to response (if the household responded then Y=1 and if the household did not respond then Y=0) and the independent variables are the set of auxiliary variables available from the Census. The estimated response propensities are then used to form adjustment cells or strata which are made up of respondents and non-respondents with similar estimated response propensities. Respondents within each cell/stratum are then weighted by the inverse of the observed response rate in that cell. This non-response adjusted weight is then used to inflate the original survey design weight to account for non-response. This approach is referred to as response propensity classification.

Back-casting methodology

The introduction of the LFS in Q3 2017 constituted a break in series for the labour market estimates published by the CSO. In an effort to mitigate the effect of the introduction of the LFS on the coherence of the historic data series, a back-casting exercise was carried out to link the QNHS and the LFS. The result of this is that the published QNHS series from Q1 1998 to Q2 2017 has been revised.

As part of the roll-out of the LFS, a parallel run of the two surveys was carried out. This allowed the estimation of the effect of the introduction of the new survey on the various labour market estimates. Quarter 1 of 2017 was used as the reference period to calculate scaling factors which were used to link the results from the two surveys. Labour market estimates were calculated from both surveys for a range of cohorts (age, sex, ILO status etc.) and the ratio of the two estimates provided a scaling factor which was applied to the historic QNHS series to create a back-cast series. 

In Q3 2017, separate scaling factors were calculated for ILO status by age and sex together with the fifteen economic sector categories (Table 2 of this release) by sex:

  • ILO status (Employed, Unemployed, Inactive) by sex (Male and Female) and by age (15-24 years and 25+ years)
  • NACE Rev. 2 groups (table 2 of this release) by sex (Male and Female)

In Q1 2018, additional scaling factors were calculated for the eight NUTS3 regions by Labour Force ILO status, occupation categories (Table 4 of this release) and highest level of education completed (supplementary table 8 of this release) by sex:

  • NUTS3 Regions (pre-Q1 2018 groupings) by Labour Force ILO status (Employed and Unemployed)
  • Occupation groups (Table 4 of this release)
  • Highest level of education completed (supplementary Table 8 of this release) by sex (Male and Female)

Therefore, adjustments have been made to this historic data to enable comparability with the new LFS for these indicators. However, as a result of changes to the questionnaire, the interview mode, the introduction of a new sample, data processing changes and other methodological enhancements there are changes in the levels of some series from Q3 2017 onwards.  Consequently, the series before and after the introduction of the new survey may not be directly comparable and users should therefore note this when examining annual and quarterly changes.         

Please refer to the following information notes for further details:

Information Notice - Labour Force Survey Quarter 3 2017.

Information Notice - Labour Force Survey Quarter 1 2018

IESS Regulation -
A new framework regulation governing the production of European Statistics on persons and households (Integration European Social Statistics framework regulation – IESS FR) came into force on 01 January 2021. This has led to some minor changes to the previously published series on the publication of Labour Force Survey from Q1 2021. For this release it has a small effect on the employment variables relating to educational attainment. For more details see here -


Participating households

The Central Statistics Office wishes to thank the participating households for their co-operation in agreeing to take part in the survey and for facilitating the collection of the relevant data.

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