Enrolling your child in secondary school


This document provides a step-by-step guide to enrolling your child in a secondary school when you return to Ireland after living abroad.

In Ireland, all children are entitled to free secondary education. Most secondary schools are funded by the State and most children attend these schools. There are a small number of private secondary schools – called non-recognised schools. Children who attend non-recognised schools must be registered with the Educational Welfare Service of the Child and Family Agency by their parents. This is a legal requirement. If you decide to send your child to a private school, you also pay fees every year.

In general, Irish children start secondary school when they are 12 or 13.

The age range of students at the start of each year in a typical secondary school is likely to be as follows:

Year 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

Step 1: Choose your preferred school type

Although all State-funded schools must follow the national curriculum for Junior Cycle and Senior Cycle, each school’s board of management or patron decides how it is run.

Schools vary in religious ethos, language of instruction (for example English or Irish), gender (all girls, all boys or mixed). Schools can vary in the subjects they provide. The availability of senior cycle programmes can also differ between schools. All schools must teach to the Leaving Certificate (also called the Established Leaving Certificate) but they also may or may not offer:

You can send your child to the secondary school of your choice, provided there is a place available for them. Where there is a shortage of places, the school must give priority on the basis of their admissions policy .

Step 2: Search for schools in your area

You can search secondary schools by type and area using the Department of Education and Skills’ Find a School tool. You can filter your search results by ethos, language of instruction, and gender. You will be presented with a map showing the schools that meet your selection. You can select an individual school or view the full list. You can view details about each school including total enrolment, contact details and individual school inspection reports.

You can also access a spreadsheet which lists all secondary schools and includes contact details for individual schools.

Most schools also have a website with information about their ethos, policies, curriculum and extra-curricular activities on offer. If the information is not available online, you can contact the school directly and ask for the information you need.

Step 3: Check if there is a place available

You should contact the school directly to find out if there is a place available for your child. Every school sets the dates during which you can make an application, but they can accept students who apply later if there are places available.

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

See ‘Having difficulty finding a school place’ below for information on what to do if you cannot find a school place for your child.

Step 4: Visit the school

If there is a place for your child in the school you have chosen, you might want to visit the school on a typical school day to make sure you and your child like it. Most schools can arrange this for you.

Step 5: Apply to the school

You should always apply in writing to a school for a school place. If the school has an application form, you should apply using this form. If not, write a letter of application and address it to: The Secretary, Board of Management, name and address of school. Remember to date the application form or letter of application.

Schools may ask for additional documents such as school reports, a birth certificate and an educational assessment. However, schools are no longer allowed to ask for a baptismal certificate as part of an enrolment application under the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018.

You should keep a copy of your completed application form or letter and any documents you submitted 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 6: Receive and accept an offer

The school must reply to you within 21 days in writing to let you know whether your child has been accepted or whether they have been placed on a waiting list.

If you receive an offer from the school, you need to formally accept it. See Step 8 if the school has refused your application and you want to appeal the decision.

Schools usually have a deadline by which you need to have accepted their offer.

After you accept a place for your child, you will need to 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.

Step 7: Give additional information to the school

Once you have accepted the place, the school might ask to see the following to determine what class to put your child in or what level of support they need:

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

The school also might require you to provide your child's immunisation and recent medical records.

Depending on how long they have lived abroad, your child may be exempted from studying Irish in school. You may need documentation to prove they qualify for this exemption.

Step 8: Appeal a decision to refuse enrolment

If a school refuses to enrol your child, you can appeal the decision. More information about this is set out in DE Circular 0069/2020. You can read FAQs for parents if your child is refused admission because the school is oversubscribed (pdf) and FAQs for parents if your child is refused admission for another reason (pdf).

Having difficulty finding a school place

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

The Educational Welfare Services (EWS) of the Child and Family Agency (Tusla) can help you if you are having difficulty in finding a school place for your child. You can contact the EWS on (01) 7718500.

Further information

You have the right to educate your children at home if you wish.

You may want to know the length of school terms and mid-term break dates in secondary schools.

If you are living more 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 uniforms and footwear for your children, you can apply for the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance.

You and your child can also visit spunout.ie – a website for adolescents in Ireland about school and other related topics.

Page edited: 22 December 2020