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Education and Schools

Ireland - Education and Schools

In Ireland, all children between the ages of six and sixteen are required to attend school, from primary level to the end of junior secondary level education. This is possible for everyone since the state provides free education.

There are three formal levels of school in Ireland:

Primary (first-level) – this initial level is attended by children between the ages of 6 and 12. It has six levels and lasts for six years. Many primary schools in Ireland are run by religious institutions or a board of management but funded by the state. There are also private primary schools in which parents pay for their children’s education.

Second-level – this level consists of three types of post-primary schools: secondary, vocational and community, and comprehensive schools. Secondary schools prepare students to study different fields in higher education institutions, vocational schools equip students with technical skills in specific fields while community, and comprehensive schools give students a more generalized education about society. This level is also divided into two cycles: junior and senior.

Junior cycle takes three years, after which students sit an examination and are awarded a Junior Certificate. The senior cycle usually takes two years. It may take three years if a student decides to take a transition year after completion of the junior cycle. At the end of senior cycle, a student is awarded a certificate based on the school they attended. Secondary school students get an Established Leaving Certificate, vocational school students get a Leaving Certificate Vocational Program, and community and comprehensive school students get a Leaving Certificate Applied Program.

Third-level – this level comprises universities, technological institutions, colleges, and other institutions of higher learning. Universities are self-governing and offer varied general courses leading to bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degrees. Institutes of Technology aim at teaching fields like business, engineering, science, arts, and linguistics with a specific purpose. Colleges of education are tasked with training teachers. Application to the various institutions is done through the Central Applications Office.

Apart from the above levels of schools, there are special schools to address specific needs.

• Junior and senior infants – these provide two years of early childhood care and education in preparation for primary schools. They are privately owned. Children can attend these starting the September following their 4th birthday. However, enrolment is optional.
• Early start program – these schools help disadvantaged children to start learning early so that they can try to be on par with the rest of the children.
• Special needs schools – people with disabilities and other special needs attend these schools. Learning in these schools is designed to fit their needs.
• Adult education – adults who need to learn can access adult education offered at primary schools during evening hours.

Types of schools

The schools in Ireland are grouped into national schools and private schools. National schools are owned by the state but run by religious institutions or boards of management. Private schools are owned and run by individuals. Parents of students attending private schools pay for all the services offered. National schools are further grouped into eight categories based on the religious institution that runs them. These are:

• Multi-denominational
• Inter-denominational
• Roman Catholic
• Jewish
• Muslim
• Anglican (church of Ireland)
• Presbyterian
• Methodist
• Quaker


Primary school syllabi focus on language, mathematics, social skills, religion, environment, and arts. The aim is to prepare students for further learning, teach them how to live with one another in society, and help them discover and understand themselves as well as realize their potential.

Junior cycle aims at equipping students with literacy, numeracy and other key skills that are important in their lives. Senior cycle prepares students for the world through the three programs mentioned earlier. The established leaving certificate program gives a broad and general education to prepare them to venture into various fields in higher institutions of learning.

The leaving certificate vocational program prepares students for work. The leaving certificate applied program trains students to be good and reliable people in society from a general point of view. From here, they can go on to acquire technical skills in a field of their choosing. Students enrolled in this program are sometimes at a bit of a disadvantage in the job market and therefore require some mentoring, counseling, and modeling before they can start working.


Primary school qualifications allow students to join a secondary school, a vocational school, or a community or comprehensive education school based on their performance. They usually reflect a student’s capabilities and hence indicate the second-level school they should attend.

The Junior Certificate is a determinant of which program a student will enter, which could either be the established leaving certificate program, the leaving certificate vocational program or the leaving certificate applied program. The various certificates and grades that students score are used to calculate points that determine which third-level institution a student can attend and the courses they can pursue.

Quality of education

The quality of education in Ireland is quite high. In 2016, it was ranked the sixth best in the world by World Economic Forum. Pearson group and Edudemic ranked it as ninth best. In the last ten years, the country’s education system has always featured among the top 20 in the world.

Students in Ireland take more subjects and have more lessons in a day than in the UK or US. They are only tested twice, for the Junior Certificate and the Leaving Certificate, as opposed to testing throughout the school year. However, the academic years and length of school semesters are more or less the same. The quality of Ireland’s education is said to be better than that of both the UK and US. However, some rankings have placed the UK education system ahead of Ireland’s.

How to enroll

For primary and second-level schools, parents and students should contact the school of their choice and make the application. For third-level, applications are made through the Central Application Office.

School hours and holidays

Learning starts at 9 a.m. and ends around 3 or 4 p.m. The academic year starts in September and ends in June or July. Holidays run from July to August.

Extra-curricular activities

A range of sports and other extra-curricular activities are offered in different schools. Sports activities include soccer, rugby, and rowing. Other activities include art and music, although these are also integrated into the main curriculum.

Read more about this country

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