Ownership of primary schools


The majority of primary schools in Ireland are privately owned and supported by the different churches. The State pays the bulk of the building and running costs and a local contribution is made towards the running costs.

In the case of Catholic and Church of Ireland schools, the owners are usually the diocesan trustees. Other denominational schools usually have a board of trustees nominated by the church authorities. Multi-denominational schools are usually owned by a limited company or board of trustees. Gaelscoileanna may be denominational and come under the same patronage as Catholic schools but some have their own limited company. You can get more information in our document about different types of primary schools.

Ownership of different types of schools

The majority of primary schools are owned by the religious denominations. There are deeds of trust signed by the owners, which ensure that the school will continue to be used as such.

There are 9 'model schools', which are owned by the State. There are several special schools owned by the State. The special schools have a range of different owners - some are owned by the Department of Education, some by the Commissioners of Public Works, some by the Health Service Executive and some by religious orders.

The Education Act 1998 clarifies and restates the fact that the board of management does not acquire any right over or interest in the land or buildings of the school for which it has responsibility.

The patron

The Education Act 1998 gives a statutory basis to the role of the patron and sets out the rules for determining who the patron is. The patron may manage the school personally or may appoint a board of management to act as manager. Under the Act the patron has the power to remove the board and take over managing the school or appoint another board. A register of patrons is kept by the Department of Education so it is possible for anyone to check exactly who the patron of any national school is.

In general, the patron of a school is a representative of the owners and can be an individual or a group. In practice, the Catholic and Church of Ireland bishops are the patrons of the schools within the diocese, with the parish priest usually carrying out the functions on behalf of the bishop. The patron of a multi-denominational school is usually the board of trustees or the limited company Educate Together. Gaelscoileanna may be under the patronage of the church authorities but may opt to be under the patronage of Foras Pátrúnachta na Scoileanna Lán-Ghaeilge, which is a limited company set up for the purpose. A new model of primary school patronage was introduced on a pilot basis in 2007.

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.

Funding of schools

Traditionally, the site for national schools was provided locally - either directly by the patron or as a result of local fundraising. There was also a local contribution to the building costs and the running costs. Changes were made over the years as multi-denominational schools and Gaelscoileanna were being built and did not have a 'local' funding base. New arrangements were introduced in 1999.

Private primary schools get no State funding.

Cost of site - new national schools

The State pays the full cost of the site. The patron still has the choice of funding the site cost. If the State pays, then the State owns the school building and leases it to the patron under a lease or a deed of trust.

If the patron pays, the patron owns the school. If the State pays, it does not change who the patron is.


The funding for new Gaelscoileanna is now on the same basis as other new schools. The previous arrangement continues for Gaelscoileanna that have either permanent or provisional recognition from the Department of Education and Skills. The previous arrangement for Gaelscoileanna meant that the Department bought the site and paid the full building cost. In practice, a significant number of Gaelscoileanna are in rented accommodation and the state pays the rent.

Gaelscoileanna Teo is a voluntary body (supported by An Foras Teanga), which is the co-ordinating body for Irish language schools and helps parents to set up new Gaelscoileanna.

Running costs of schools

The State pays a direct capitation grant per student to each primary school. The State pays the teachers' salaries. Enhanced capitation grants are paid for children with special educational needs in special schools or who attend special classes in mainstream schools. Capitation grants are used for the day-to-day running of schools and for teaching materials and resources.

Primary schools also receive a grant for caretaking and secretarial services (called the Ancillary Services Grant Scheme). A local contribution was formerly required but has now been abolished.

Each school also receives a book grant. This is €21 per pupil for DEIS schools and €11 per pupil for non- DEIS schools.

Each school gets a grant towards the cost of minor works.

Some schools qualify for enhanced funding under various schemes for tackling disadvantage in primary schools such as DEIS and Early Start.

Page edited: 22 October 2018