Choosing a post-primary school


There are a number of different types of post-primary school in the Irish education system, which allow a measure of choice to parents. The second-level sector comprises voluntary secondary schools, community schools and comprehensive schools, which are generally denominational (for example, Roman Catholic or Protestant). Vocational schools and community colleges are non-denominational.

Voluntary secondary schools

Voluntary secondary schools are privately owned and managed. They are under the trusteeship of religious communities, boards of governors or individuals. The Education Act 1998 requires secondary schools to have boards of management that include parent and teacher representatives. The national organisation representing the boards of management of these schools is the Joint Managerial Body. Voluntary secondary schools may be fee-paying or non-fee-paying. Fee-paying schools are not eligible for Government funding to assist with running costs. Non-fee-paying schools that participate in the free education scheme get a range of grants and subsidies from the State. In the past, voluntary secondary schools provided a more academic education but increasingly, they provide a range of academic, practical and vocational subjects.

Vocational schools and community colleges

Vocational schools and community colleges are owned by the local Education and Training Board (ETB). The boards of management for these schools are sub-committees of the ETB. Membership of the boards include ETB representatives and parent, teacher and community representatives. Vocational schools and community colleges are largely funded by the Department of Education. Initially, these schools were orientated towards providing a technical education and developing manual skills. Today, they generally provide a wide range of both academic and practical subjects. Vocational schools are also the main providers of adult education and community education courses. The national representative body for the Education and Training Boards is the Education and Training Boards Ireland.

Community and comprehensive schools

Community and comprehensive schools were established in the 1960s in order to provide a broad curriculum for all the young people in a community. Many of these schools were established as the result of the amalgamation of voluntary secondary and vocational schools. They offer a wide range of both academic and vocational subjects. They are managed by boards of management which are representative of local interests. The schools are financed entirely by the Department of Education. The representative body for these schools is the Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools.


The Education Act 1998 makes certain requirements of each secondary school’s board of management:

Admissions policy

The board of management of each school must devise its own admissions policy and make this information available to parents. The admissions policy must comply with section 7 of the Equal Status Act 2000 and the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018. You can read more about admissions policies in primary and secondary schools.

School plan

The board of management must produce a school plan. This sets out the long-term vision of the school, its goals and action plans, and its policies and procedures. It includes information on the school’s curriculum, resources and facilities, and opportunities for students and others to participate in the school community. It should also contain the school’s objectives relating to equality of access, participation in the school and provision for students with disabilities or who have other special educational needs.

Code of behaviour

Almost all schools will have a written code of discipline or student behaviour and a set of rules with which pupils are expected to comply.


Non-fee-paying schools
The majority of post-primary schools in Ireland do not charge fees. Non-fee-paying voluntary secondary schools receive grants from the Department of Education and Skills to assist with their running costs. Grants are based on the number of pupils attending the school. Schools rated as disadvantaged receive an additional grant per pupil. Some voluntary secondary schools are fee-paying but the majority participate in the free education scheme. This means they benefit from additional state allowances and capitation grants. Community and comprehensive schools and vocational schools are all funded on the basis of an annual budget.

Fee-paying schools
There are a number of fee-paying secondary schools. Fee-paying schools do not receive any state grants towards their running costs although the State pays the salaries of all teachers working in recognised schools. Fees are set each year by the board of management of the school, subject to approval by the governing body.

School costs
Even students attending non-fee-paying schools must pay for books and examination fees. In addition, there are other costs, such as school uniform. There are various schemes to help low-income families meet the costs of schooling.

How to apply

For further information on admission and enrolment policies for post-primary schools in your area, check the list of post-primary schools in your area available on the website of the Department of Education and Skills. Then you should contact the post-primary school of your choice.

Where to apply

Further information on types of post-primary schools is available from:

Department of Education

Marlborough Street
Dublin 1

Tel: (01) 889 6400
Page edited: 17 September 2019