Starting post-primary school


The post-primary or second-level education is for students aged 12 to 18 years. Attendance at school is compulsory for students aged under 16.

Most children start post-primary school at the age of 12 or 13. They must be at least 12 years of age on 1 January in the year they start post-primary school.

There are different types of post-primary school.

Choosing a post-primary school

When choosing a school, you can consider factors such as:

  • The admissions policy: This should be described in the school plan, which the school must publish
  • The curriculum: the range of subjects offered by the school
  • School discipline: Under the Education (Welfare) Act 2000 (pdf) the board of management must draw up a code of behaviour for students
  • Programmes and subjects offered: Junior Cycle programme, Junior Certificate School Programme, Transition Year, established Leaving Certificate, Leaving Certificate Applied, the Leaving Certificate Vocational and other programmes to support personal and social development
  • Streaming of students: Streaming students means dividing them into different classes for all subjects from the time they start secondary school, based on the school's assessment of their ability.
  • Assessment of students' progress and feedback to parents and students: Checking students' progress, feedback to parents, arrangements for parent-teacher meetings
  • Facilities: What student facilities are provided, for example, a library, access to computers, a language laboratory and facilities for lunch, PE and recreation.
  • Support services: guidance counsellor, remedial support for students, pastoral care
  • Extra-curricular activities: such as sports, clubs or debating
  • Other factors include the school ethos (details should be in the school plan); student and parental involvement in the life of the school; whether it has a student council or a parents' association.

Enrolling your child at post-primary school

You can send your child to the post-primary school of your choice, provided there is a place available. Where there is shortage of space, the school must give priority based on the admissions policy. This is drawn up by the board of management and should be available to you on request.

To enrol your child, check the list of post-primary schools in your area. Contact the school of your choice to see if there is a place available. The school of your choice may place your child on a waiting list or you may need to contact other schools to find a place.

You can find out more about admissions to school.

Your child in post-primary school

School books and uniforms

Many post-primary schools do not charge fees. However, students must pay for books and examination fees. In addition, there are other costs, such as school uniforms. There are schemes to help low-income families meet the costs of schooling.

While students do not have to wear a uniform at primary school, many schools (in consultation with parents) have introduced school uniforms. Check with your school about their policy. The Department has published recommendations on school uniforms and the weight of schoolbags.

Exams in post-primary

Secondary-level education consists of a three-year Junior Cycle, followed by a two-year or three-year Senior Cycle.

The Junior Cycle Profile of Achievement examination is taken at the end of the Junior Cycle.

In the Senior Cycle, there is an optional one-year Transition Year programme followed by a choice of three Leaving Certificate programmes. Each of the 3 Leaving Certificate programmes lasts for 2 years.

Further information on post-primary

Page edited: 4 December 2023