Enrolling your child in secondary school


Secondary school in Ireland is similar to ‘high school’ in other countries. In general, children start secondary school when they are 12 or 13.

Depending on your child’s age when you return to Ireland, they will start secondary school in one of 6 years. See the table below for the general age range of students in each school year:

Secondary school year Student age range
First year 12-13
Second year 13-14
Third year 14-15
Fourth year 15-16
Fifth year 16-17
Sixth year 17-18

All children in Ireland are entitled to free secondary school education. Most children attend public secondary schools that are funded by the State.

Private secondary school and home-schooling

While most children attend public secondary schools, you can choose to send your child to private school or educate them at home.

Private school

There are a small number of private secondary schools around the country. Private schools are not free so you must pay annual tuition fees. Check with the school directly for details of their fees and curriculum.

Private secondary schools are also called ‘independent schools’ and ‘non-recognised schools’. If you send your child to an independent school, you must register with the Alternative Education Assessment & Registration Service (AEARS) in Tusla. The AEARS regulates education outside of recognised schools.


You have a right to educate your child at home, rather than send them to school. Depending on your child’s age, you may need to apply for registration to home school from the Alternative Education Assessment & Registration Service (AEARS) in Tusla, before you begin home-schooling. The AEARS regulates education outside of recognised schools.

You do not need a formal teaching qualification to home-school your child and you don’t need to follow the national curriculum. However, you must give your child a ‘certain minimum education’. See our page ‘Teaching your child at home’ for more information.

Step 1: Choose a school type

Depending on where your family settles in Ireland, you may have a choice of secondary schools nearby. The schools may be public (funded by the state) or private (fee-paying).

Each school’s board of management or patron decides how it is run. For example, a school can have a particular:

  • Religious ethos (for example, Catholic or multi-denominational)
  • Language of instruction (English or Irish)
  • Gender (all girls, all boys, or mixed)

Other differences

All State-funded secondary schools must follow the national curriculum for:

But, secondary schools can vary in the subjects they provide. For example, some schools offer a wider choice of international languages, while others offer a wider range of practical subjects, like engineering and construction studies.

Some schools give students the option to skip Transition Year (fourth year), by going directly from third year to fifth year. In other schools, Transition Year is compulsory, and in some schools it’s not offered at all.

While all schools must teach to the Leaving Certificate (also called the Established Leaving Certificate), some secondary schools also offer:

Step 2: Find schools in your area

You can search for secondary schools in your area using the Government’s online directory. You can filter your search results by religious ethos, language of instruction, and gender. You can then click into each individual school for their enrolment numbers, contact details and inspection reports.

Most schools also have a website with information about their ethos, policies, curriculum, and extra-curricular activities. If you can’t find the information online, you can contact the school directly.

Step 3: Check if there is a place available

Contact the school directly to see if there is a place available for your child. Every school has specific admission dates during which you can apply, but schools can also accept students later in the year, if there are places available.

If the school does not have enough places, it will give priority according to its admissions policy.

Visit the school

When you find a school with a place available, you might want to arrange a visit. Most schools can arrange a visit on a typical school day, to make sure you and your child like it.

Step 4: Apply to the school

Always apply for a school place in writing. Check if the school has an application form. If not, write a letter of application and address it to: The Secretary, Board of Management, name and address of school. Remember to write the date on your application.

Schools may ask for additional documents, such as previous school reports, a birth certificate, and an educational assessment. Schools cannot ask for a baptismal certificate as part of your application (as set out under the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018).

Keep a copy of your completed application form or letter, and copies of any documents you submit with the application.

If you apply to a school mid-year or after the admissions period has passed, the school should accept your child if they have a place available.

Step 5: Accept an offer

The school must reply to you in writing, to let you know whether your child has been accepted or placed on a waiting list.

If you get an offer from the school, you must formally accept it. Schools usually have a deadline by which you must accept their offer.

After you accept a place for your child, you must sign a declaration to state that you accept the school’s behaviour policy and that you will do your best to ensure your child complies with the policy.

If the school refuses your application to enrol your child, see ‘how to appeal the decision’ below.

Step 6: Give additional documents to the school

The school might request documents from you to determine what class to put your child in, or what level of support they need. They may ask for:

  • Copies of report cards
  • Relevant assessments and reports of special educational needs
  • A list of current textbooks and course outlines
  • Results of standardised tests
  • Examples or copies of your child’s latest classroom work

The school also might request your child's immunisation records. This is so your child can be included in the School Immunisation Programme.

Exemption from learning Irish

Depending on how long your child has lived abroad, they may not have to study Irish in school. You must apply to the school’s principal for the exemption from Irish and include proof of your child's age and previous schooling.

How to appeal a decision

If a school refuses to enrol your child because they are over-subscribed, you can ask the school’s board of management to review the decision. If the board reviews the decision but your child still does not get a place, then you can formally appeal the decision.

You can also appeal to the Department of Education if a school refuses to admit your child for a reason other than the school being oversubscribed.

I can’t find a school place

If a school tells you that your child is on a waiting list, ask where they are on the waiting list and how you will be informed of any changes to their place on the list.

If you cannot find a school place for your child, contact Tusla’s Educational Welfare Office in your area.

More information

Read about the length of school terms and the dates of mid-term breaks.

Supports for secondary school students

If you live more than 3.2 km from your local secondary school, you may be eligible for the Secondary school transport scheme.

If you need help with the cost of school uniforms and footwear for your children, you can apply for the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance.

You can also visit spunout.ie – a website for teenagers in Ireland, covering school and other related topics.

Tusla - Child and Family Agency

Brunel Building
Heuston South Quarter
Dublin 8

Tel: (01) 771 8500
Page edited: 19 October 2023