Moving your children to secondary school


The Irish secondary (also known as post-primary) school cycle is generally 5 or 6 years long. Children begin their secondary school studies around the age of 12 and leave around the age of 17 or 18, having taken 2 State exams in that period. The minimum school leaving age is 16 years or the completion of 3 years of post-primary education, whichever is the later.

Most schools offer students the option of a Transition Year after they have completed the first 3 years of secondary education. This allows students to explore non-academic interests, whether they are social, creative or linked to the world of business.

At the end of the first 3 years students sit the Junior Certificate examination and after that they may choose from 3 different Leaving Certificate programmes. They can take the traditional (established) Leaving Certificate or they can choose from the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme or the Leaving Certificate Applied Programme, both of which focus on a student's more practical and technical abilities.

More information on secondary education is in our document, Starting post-primary school.

The school year

The Irish secondary school year stretches from the first week in September to the first week in June. If your child is going into a Junior Certificate Class or a Leaving Certificate class, however, they will not finish until later in June, as they will be taking their exams at that time.

Types of secondary school

The post-primary school system includes secondary schools, vocational schools, community or comprehensive schools and fee-paying secondary schools. The majority of Irish children go to secondary schools, which are privately owned and managed, and often run by religious orders, although the teachers in these schools are generally lay staff. The majority of secondary schools are free, but there are also fee-paying schools.

Vocational schools and community or comprehensive schools are all free. These schools tend to provide both academic and technical education and they often provide additional further education opportunities for school-leavers and adults in the local community.

There are a small number of private international schools in Ireland including a French school, a Japanese school and a German school.

Choosing a school

You can get a list of Irish schools on a county-by-county basis from the Department of Education and Skills.

You should gather as much information as possible about the schools in which you are interested. Schools can vary quite considerably in the ways in which they operate and the emphasis they put on areas such as exams, sports, the arts, personal development, religion, social affairs, European languages and practical skills acquisition.

Talk to teachers and, if possible, to other parents in order to see whether the school is likely to meet the needs of your particular child.

Some schools will have a waiting list. You will need to investigate the enrolment policy of the school in which you are interested and you should plan the enrolment of your child well in advance.

If you are planning to remain abroad and to send your child to an Irish school as an overseas student, you can choose from a range of fee-paying secondary schools (such as a boarding school or a day secondary school) that arrange accommodation and guardianship, as appropriate.

The points system

If your child wishes to go to university or another third-level institution, they will need to score enough points in their Leaving Certificate exams. They will receive points for the 6 best grades they receive with the highest points going to an H1 in a paper at Honours level. Most students take 7 subjects in the Leaving Certificate.

The points they need for third-level courses will depend on the subject they wish to study. More information on going to third-level education is in our document, Application procedures and entry requirements.

Cost of secondary school

Education in State-funded second-level schools is free.

The costs of fee-paying secondary schools can vary considerably. You will need to check with each individual school.

Whatever school you choose, you will need to pay for school books and, where appropriate, school uniforms. Usually, you will also have to pay for extra-curricular activities.

How to apply

Apply directly to the school in which you are interested, as early as possible and ask about their enrolment policy. Some schools may ask your child to sit an entrance exam, for which they will charge a fee.

Page edited: 3 June 2022