Choosing a primary school


Children starting school can attend national schools, which are State-aided and do not charge fees, or they can attend one of a small number of private primary schools, which do not get any State funding and which charge fees. The vast majority of children attend the State-aided primary or national schools.

The rules about school attendance apply from age 6. In practice, nearly all 5-year-olds are at school. Children may not be enrolled at primary school before the age of 4. To enrol your child in primary school, you should check the list of primary schools in your area.

There are different types of early education or pre-school facilities available. There is a system of regulation for pre-schools. The State also funds free pre-schooling under the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Scheme.

Types of primary school

National schools/primary schools

The national school system was established in 1831. The national schools were originally meant to be mixed-religion (or multi-denominational as we would describe them today). In practice, that did not happen and the majority of national schools are under the management of one church. However, there are now many multi-denominational national schools.

When the national schools were originally set up, there was no legislation governing how they were to be run. Circulars and rules issued from the relevant department instead. The Rules for National Schools reflect the fact that they are largely denominational schools.

The Education Act 1998 does not use the term national school and instead uses primary school. The name is not particularly significant except that national school clearly indicates that the school is State-aided while a primary school can be private or State-aided. The following initials are frequently used to describe schools:

NS - National School

GNS - Girls' National School

BNS - Boys' National School

SN - Scoil Naisiúnta (appears before the name rather than after it)

Some schools use the Irish form of their name but that does not necessarily mean that they teach through the medium of Irish. Gaelscoileanna are schools that teach through Irish and they usually, but not invariably, include the word Gaelscoil in their title. Multi-denominational schools sometimes include that description in their title.

Some primary schools are run by religious orders - they are sometimes called convent or monastery schools. They operate under the same rules as other primary schools.

The Department of Education and Skills lists schools geographically under Find a School.

There are several special schools - including residential care units and schools for children with disabilities, young offenders, children at risk, children with specific learning disabilities and emotionally disturbed children.

The ownership of primary schools is quite complex. In general, they are privately owned and State-funded. While the school ethos is decided by the owners, the operating rules are largely set by the State.

A Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector was set up in 2011 to consider how primary school patronage structures might be adapted to reflect changes in society. Its report was published on 10 April 2012.

Private primary schools

Private primary schools receive no State support, nor are they subject to State control in relation to curriculum, school day, school year, etc. There is a limited element of State assessment of private schools because the State is required to ensure that children receive a certain minimum education.

Teachers in private primary schools are not paid by the State and there are no requirements about their qualifications.

Many private primary schools do provide the basic curriculum as set out for national schools but they are not obliged to do so.

Choosing a school

Parents have a constitutional right to choose the kind of school to which they want to send their children and have a right to educate them at home if they wish.

Schools are required to publish their admissions policy.

Schools are subject to equal status legislation and to the constitutional requirements on religion.

Admissions policy

All primary schools are obliged to publish a school plan that describes their ethos, admissions policy and objectives.

The admissions policy of most primary schools is fairly straightforward - they give priority to children from their local area, which, for denominational schools, is usually the local parish. Admissions problems can arise in expanding areas where the school cannot cope with extra numbers. Where there is an accommodation problem, the school must give priority on the basis of its admissions policy, sometimes called an enrolment policy. This is drawn up by the board of management and should be available to you on request.

The admissions policy must comply with section 7 of the Equal Status Act 2000.

If a school refuses to enrol your child you may appeal the decision to the school’s board of management. If this does not succeed you may appeal the decision to the Department of Education and Skills. More information about this is in Circular 22/02 Appeals Procedures under Section 29 of the Education Act 1998 and in the Department's document on appeals procedures.

New legislation

The Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018, among other things, provides for the following:

  • Where a school is not over-subscribed it must admit all pupils applying
  • A ban on fees relating to admission in schools that do not charge fees
  • A ban on waiting lists
  • Where a child (including a child with special needs) cannot find a school place, the National Council for Special Education or Tusla can designate a school place for the child
  • Irish medium schools to give priority to Irish speaking children
  • Remove the role of religion in school admission for most schools. However, the Act will ensure that an individual of a minority religion can find a place in a school that is aligned with their religious beliefs.

It is expected that the provisions in the Act relating to the role of religion in school admissions and requiring a school to open a special class for children with special educational needs will apply to children entering school in September 2019. The provision relating to the Irish language will be in effect once the Act is fully commenced.

Page edited: 25 July 2018