Choosing a primary school

Primary school in Ireland

Children usually start primary school when they are 5 years of age. They start in September, which is the beginning of the school year.

However, you can start your child at primary school from the age of 4.

You can also choose to teach your child at home (homeschooling).

No matter how you choose to educate your child, you must ensure they get a certain minimum education from the age of 6 to the age of 16.

Types of primary school

There are 2 types of primary school in Ireland:

  1. National primary schools (often called ‘national schools’) are funded by the State and do not charge fees
  2. Private primary schools, which charge fees.

Most children in Ireland go to a State-funded national primary school.

National primary schools

Many national primary schools are owned and supported by different churches.

National schools are funded by the State, so you don’t pay a fee.

They often use the initial letters below, along with the school’s name, to describe themselves as a national school:

  • NS: National School
  • GNS: Girls' National School
  • BNS: Boys' National School
  • SN: Scoil Naisiúnta

Some schools use the Irish form of their name, such as ‘Scoil Bhríde NS’. However, a school with an Irish name does not mean they teach through Irish.


Gaelscoileanna are schools that teach through Irish. Gaelscoileanna are State-funded. They often have the word Gaelscoil in their title.

Special schools

Most children with special educational needs attend their local primary school in a mainstream class with other children, and with additional support. They may also attend a special class within a mainstream school.

There are also several special schools, including:

  • Residential care units and schools for children with disabilities
  • Schools for children at risk and children with specific learning disabilities

Detention of children

Children who are sentenced to a period of detention are sent to the Oberstown Children Detention Campus.

Multi-denominational and inter-denominational schools

Many schools in Ireland are denominational (religious), focusing on one faith, such as Roman Catholic or Protestant.

However, the Department of Education also supports multi-denominational and inter-denominational schools (pdf). These schools are funded by the State and do not charge fees.

The difference between these schools is that:

  • Multi-denominational schools teach children about different religious views and belief systems equally
  • Inter-denominational schools have a combined Catholic and Protestant ethos

Multi-denominational and inter-denominational schools follow the national Primary School Curriculum. Children still learn the Irish language in these schools.

Community National Schools (CNS)

Community National Schools (CNS) are multi-denominational schools that are managed by the Education and Training Boards (ETBs).

Children attending Community National Schools learn about different faiths and belief systems (including atheist and humanist perspectives). They use a multi-beliefs and values based curriculum called ‘Goodness Me, Goodness You!’

Educate Together schools

Educate Together schools are multi-denominational schools.

Educate Together is a school patron, which means it sets up schools and manages them. It approves the Board of Management and appoints the principal, teachers and SNAs. There are primary and post-primary Educate Together schools.

Children attending Educate Together schools learn about different faiths and belief systems equally (including atheist, agnostic, and humanist perspectives). These schools use an ethical education curriculum called ‘Learn Together’.

An Foras Pátrúnachta

An Foras Pátrúnachta schools teach and conduct all internal communication through Irish. The ethos of these schools can be:

  • Catholic
  • Multi-denominational
  • Inter-denominational
  • Intra-denominational (focusing on one religion).

There are primary and post-primary An Foras Pátrúnachta schools.

Private primary schools

Private primary schools have the freedom to choose the curriculum, school day, school year.

In practice, many private primary schools provide the same basic curriculum set out for national schools, but they do not have to follow it.

Finding a school

To find a school, you can search primary schools by type and area using the Department of Education’s Find a School tool.

You can filter your search results by ethos, language of instruction, and gender. You will see a map showing schools that meet your selection.

Most schools have a website with information about their ethos, policies, curriculum, and extra-curricular activities on offer. You can also contact a school directly for more information.

Applying to a school

You should apply to the school in writing. If they don’t have an application form, you can apply by letter or email.

All primary schools must publish an admissions notice and an admissions policy.

The admissions notice tells you:

  • When the school will start accepting applications for the year (when to apply)
  • When you will get the decision on your application
  • When you must accept a place

The admissions policy describes the rules the school will follow for selecting students and how they make their decisions. It also states what happens if the school is over-subscribed.


Schools cannot discriminate if your child:

  • Has a disability
  • Is of a different race
  • Is a member of the Traveller community.

They also cannot discriminate because of a child’s:

  • Family status
  • Sexual orientation
  • Marital status
  • Gender
  • Religion.

However, in some circumstances, a school can prioritise a student of a minority religion if the family wants a school providing religious instruction similar to that religion or belief.

You can read more about admissions policies in schools.

Page edited: 15 April 2024