Starting post-primary school


The post-primary or second-level education caters for students aged 12 to 18 years. Attendance at school is compulsory for students aged under 16. Most children start in post-primary school at the age of 12 or 13. They must be at least 12 years of age on 1 January in the year they start second-level education in order to be registered in a post-primary school. There are different types of post-primary school.

COVID-19 and school

On 12 March 2020, all schools, colleges and childcare facilities closed.

The Government plans to reopen schools at the start of the new school year - end August/September 2020. Under the plans, students will keep their physical distance from one another outside of the classroom and work within the classroom in designated groupings or ‘bubbles’. Blended learning which mixes learning at school and online-learning at home will be part of the school programme so that schools can respond quickly if public health circumstances change. There will be lot of flexibility to allow schools to maximise school spaces including the use of PE halls as classrooms.

There will also be:

Schools will have the discretion to manage and redistribute their teaching support resources in order to best meet the learning needs of students with complex medical needs who may not be able to return to school at the end of August because public health guidelines indicate they are at “very high risk”.

You can find out more about the reopening post-primary schools.

Schools will be resourced to implement the necessary changes so that children can return to school. Detailed guidance and supports for schools is contained in the Reopening our schools: The roadmap for the full return to school.

Read our document about school during the COVID-19 public health emergency.

Choosing a post-primary school

In most rural and provincial areas, there is generally one school that is attended by all the students in that area. However, some parents and students, especially in large population centres, may have a choice of schools. The factors to consider when choosing a school include:

  • The admissions policy: This should be described in the school plan, which the school is obliged to publish
  • The curriculum: the range of subjects offered by the school
  • School discipline: Under the Education (Welfare) Act 2000 (pdf) the board of management is obliged to draw up a code of behaviour for students
  • Programmes offered: Junior Certificate and Junior Certificate School Programme, Transition Year, established Leaving Certificate, Leaving Certificate Applied, the Leaving Certificate Vocational and other programmes to support personal and social development
  • Streaming of students: Streaming students means dividing them into different classes for all subjects from the time they start secondary school, based on the school's assessment of their ability.
  • Assessment of students' progress and feedback to parents and students: Checking of students' progress, feedback to parents, arrangements for parent-teacher meetings
  • Facilities: What student facilities are provided, for example a library, access to computers, a language laboratory and facilities for lunch, PE and recreation.
  • Support services: guidance counsellor, remedial support for students, pastoral care
  • Extra-curricular activities: sports, clubs, debating etc.
  • Other factors including the school ethos (details should be in the school plan); student and parental involvement in life of school - whether it has a student council and/or a parents' association

Enrolling your child at post-primary school

You can send your child to the post-primary school of your choice, provided there is a place available. Where there is an accommodation problem, the school must give priority on the basis of its enrolment policy. This is drawn up by the board of management and should be available to you on request. While most post-primary schools are in a position to enrol all children who apply, there is no automatic guarantee of a place in the school you choose.

In order to enrol your child, you should first check the list of post-primary schools in your area. Then, you should contact the school of your choice to see if there is a place available. The school of your choice may place your child on a waiting list or you may need to contact other schools to find a place.

The Department of Education held a consultation on the options for the regulation of school enrolment.

Starting post-primary education

The vast majority of post-primary schools do not charge fees. However, students must pay for books and examination fees. In addition, there are other costs, such as school uniform. There are schemes to help low-income families meet the costs of schooling. The Department of Education has published a circular on the weight of schoolbags.

Second-level education consists of a three-year Junior Cycle, followed by a two-year or three-year Senior Cycle. The Junior Certificate Programme examination is taken at the end of the Junior Cycle. In the Senior Cycle, there is an optional one-year Transition Year programme followed by a choice of three Leaving Certificate programmes. Each of these 3 Leaving Certificate programmes - the Established Leaving Certificate, the Leaving Certificate Applied and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme - is a two-year programme.

Other aspects of post-primary education include:
• Education for students with special educational needs
Assistive technology grant for students with disabilities
Examination arrangements for students with disabilities
School transport for post-primary students
Special educational arrangements for Travellers
Measures to address educational disadvantage
Resources for non-English speakers.
• Your options when leaving school

Page edited: 19 February 2021