If you have an infant in Ireland coming up to primary (elementary) school age, or anticipate that you soon will, it’s a good idea to learn about primary school in Ireland. The knowledge you gather now and the decisions you make regarding your child’s primary education in Ireland can help make the process of settling into a new country easier, both for you and your child(ren).
Similarly, if you are moving to Ireland with a child under the age of 13, this page will help you become acquainted with primary education in Ireland.
Primary school in Ireland is compulsory. Legally, children in Ireland do not have to attend primary school in Ireland until they reach the age of six. However, the vast majority of primary school students commence their educations journey in Ireland at either four or five years of age.
Generally, primary school in Ireland, often also referred to as national school, are privately-owned by religious communities or boards of governors, but are still state-funded. Currently, the vast majority of primary schools in Ireland, approximately 90%, have a Catholic doctrine, while there are also schools with a Protestant doctrine, as well as other religious-oriented schools.
In addition, recent decades have seen an increasing number of multi-denominational schools, primarily operating under the patronage of the education NGO Educate Together, open up in town and cities across Ireland. A smaller number of non-denominational and non-state-aided private primary schools are also available.
You will find a primary school in almost every city, town and village in Ireland, with many others located in more isolated rural areas, including a number on some of Ireland’s many islands.
Enrolment process for primary schools in Ireland
Given the competitive nature for school places in certain parts of Ireland, often urban and suburban areas, it is important that you begin the school enrollment process well in advance — this is particularly true if you are living abroad with the intention of moving to Ireland.
Whether you are based in Ireland or are looking at primary school options in Ireland from abroad, you can look for a school for your son or daughter right here. Primaryschools.ie provides a very useful online one-stop shop to help parents with the enrolment process for their sons or daughters.
Each primary school operates an admissions policy, which they must make available on request. State-funded primary schools tend to give priority to children living in the immediate area, but problems can arise if their classes are already full and they have a waiting list. Multi-denominational schools and Gaelscoileanna (see below) each decide their own admissions policy.
Classes and Holidays
Primary school in Ireland consists of eight different age-graded classes. Students commence in junior infants, typically for four or five year olds, and finish their primary school education in sixth class where students are usually either 12 or 13. The length of the primary school day is five hours and 40 minutes, including lunch breaks, roll-call and assembly time, with the school day typically running from 9.20 a.m. to 3 p.m. Primary schools also have the discretion to reduce the school day to four hours and 40 minutes for the first two classes (junior and senior infants).
The primary school year runs from September to the third week in June before a nine-week break during July and August. Primary school students also receive a two-week break at Christmas and shorter mid-term breaks in October, February and often one-and-a-half weeks at Easter.
Curriculum of primary schools in Ireland
Since 1999, a revised primary school curriculum was introduced in Ireland. The curriculum consists of six specific curriculum areas that are divided into 11 subjects. They are:
Languages: Irish and English
Social, Environmental and Scientific Education: History, Geography and Science
Arts Education: Music, Visual Arts, Drama
Physical Education: Physical Education
Social, Personal and Health Education: Social, Personal and Health Education
The majority of schools in Ireland are taught through English. However, there are a considerable number of Gaelscoileanna where Irish is the primary language. Certain children who come to Ireland, especially those aged 11 or older, may be exempt from learning Irish in school. At present, the Department of Education and Skills is awaiting a review that will assess the fairness of certain Irish exemptions, including those from returning emigrants with children born abroad.
In addition, students from abroad who have no understanding of English, when enrolled, would only be required to study one language, either English or Irish.