Admissions policies in primary and secondary schools

Introduction

In Ireland, students usually attend their local school but you can apply for your child to attend any school in the country.

You can send your child to the school of your choice, provided there is a place available for them.

Where there is a shortage of places, the school must give priority based on their admissions policy and Annual Admission Notice. These must be approved by the school’s board of management. They should be published on the school’s website and available in writing to you when you ask for them.

The law around school admissions

The Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018 aims to make the rules around admissions to schools more structured, fair and transparent.

Fees and contributions

Schools cannot charge fees or ask for contributions as a condition for admission or continued admission, with the exception of fee-charging secondary schools, boarding schools and admission to post leaving certificate or further education courses run by post-primary schools.

Religion

Primary schools cannot use religion as a basis for admission and cannot prioritise students based on their religious beliefs. However, there are some exceptions to this:

  • A school that provides religious instruction or education in a minority religion can prioritise a student of that religion who is looking for admission to a school that provides religious instruction or education consistent with, or similar to, their religious beliefs
  • A school that aims to promote certain religious values can refuse to admit a student who is not of that religious denomination if it can prove that the refusal is essential to maintain the ethos of the school

Admittance based on the date of application

Schools cannot use the time and date on which they get an application as a basis for admission. This means that applications cannot be allocated on a first-come first-served basis.

Schools must admit pupils based on their admissions policy and admission notice.

Admission notice

A school’s board of management must publish an annual admission notice before accepting any applications for a given year. The notice must be published on the school’s website and be available to you on written request.

The admission notice must tell you

  • How to get a copy of the school’s admission policy
  • How to get an application form for admission
  • The date when the school will start to accept applications for the year
  • The deadline for receiving applications
  • The date the school will inform you of their decision
  • The date by which you must accept a place

If a school is not over-subscribed, the school should continue to accept all applicants even after that deadline has passed.

The admission policy must state that the school will accommodate the admission of children with a disability or other special educational needs. It must co-operate with the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) in providing special needs education.

Waiting lists

Schools must phase out existing waiting lists by 31 January 2025. In the future, a school can keep a list of students who were unsuccessful because the school was over-subscribed. The school must use this list to fill any vacancies that arise during the school year.

Reasons a school cannot use for selection

A school cannot take the following reasons into account when selecting students:

  • A student’s attendance at a pre-school (although they may consider attendance at an early-intervention class or early-start pre-school)
  • A student’s academic ability, skills or aptitude (although these may be considered in applications for post-leaving certificate courses or further education courses or certain circumstances in special education (see below)
  • The occupation, financial status, academic ability, skills or aptitudes of a student’s parents
  • Attendance by the student or their parents at an interview or open day (although an interview may be taken into account for admission to the residential element of a boarding school)
  • The date and time the application was received by the school as long as it is submitted during the period set in the admission notice)

Withdrawal of applications

A school may withdraw its offer of acceptance if:

  • You have given wrong or misleading information in the application
  • You fail to confirm acceptance of the offer by the date set by the school in its annual admission notice
  • You fail to confirm in writing that you accept the school’s behaviour policy and that you will make all reasonable efforts to ensure compliance with the policy when required to do so by the school
  • You do not tell the school about any offers from other schools

How schools select and prioritise students who apply

In general, schools must accept all students who apply to them unless they get more applications than there are places (in other words, if the school is over-subscribed).

All schools must have an admissions policy. This outlines the rules that are applied if the school is over-subscribed. These selection rules help the school decide which students to accept and in what order.

Schools cannot discriminate on any of the following grounds:

  • Gender
  • Civil status
  • Family status
  • Sexual orientation
  • Religion
  • Disability
  • Race
  • Membership of the Traveller community
  • Special educational needs

There are some exceptions to these rules:

Gender

If a school admits only students of one gender (such as an all-girls or all-boys school), it does not have to accept a student of a different gender.

Religious ethos

Many schools in Ireland promote certain religious values. These schools are not allowed to discriminate by admitting students of a particular religion in preference to others, except in the following circumstances:

  • If a school aims to promote certain religious values, it can refuse to admit a student who is not of that religious denomination if it can prove that the refusal is essential to maintain the ethos of the school.
  • If a school provides religious instruction or education in a minority religion, it can prioritise a student of that religion who wants to attend a school that provides religious instruction or education consistent with, or similar to, their religious beliefs

Students have the right to attend a religious school without getting any religious instruction.

Selection criteria for Irish language schools

Irish language schools can give priority to students who have a reasonable, age-appropriate level of oral fluency in the Irish language and the school is satisfied that student's fluency would regress if they were not admitted to the Irish language school.

An Irish language post-primary school may give priority to students who have attended an Irish language primary school.

Admission of students with a disability or with special educational needs

Schools cannot discriminate based on a child having a disability or a special educational need. In theory, this means that you should be able to apply to any school and that school should be able to accommodate your child. However, in practice, some schools do not have the facilities to accept students with severe special needs.

If you prefer your child to attend a special school or a special class in a school that caters for specific types of disabilities the selection criteria above apply.

If the school you are applying to is a ‘special school’, it can refuse to admit your child if they do not have the specified category of special need concerned. The school must state this in its admission notice.

If you are applying for your child to enter a ‘special class’ in a school that was established to provide exclusively for students with certain categories of special needs, the school can refuse to admit your child to that class if they do not have the specified category of special need concerned. The school must state this in its admission notice.

What if I can’t find an appropriate school for my child with special needs?

Some schools do not have the facilities to accept students with severe special needs. If there is no school in your area with facilities for your child, the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) or Tusla – the Child and Family Agency can help you. They can designate a school in your area for your child and that school must make additional provisions for your child to attend.

The Education (Provision in Respect of Children with Special Educational Needs) Act 2022 makes additional provision for children with special educational needs. The Department of Education has published information for schools about providing for children with special education needs.

Applying to more than one school

You can apply to more than one school but you cannot accept more than one place.

If you accept an offer from one school and you have applied to one or more other schools, you must tell the school that you are accepting the offer from about any offers you have or are expecting from the other schools you have applied to.

You should check the schools admission policy for the rules around how you should notify the school.

Under the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018, school boards of management can share information with each other about applications received, offers made and offers accepted.

What happens if my child is not accepted into a school?

If your child is not accepted into a school you have applied to, the school should write to you and give you the reason or reasons for the refusal. It should also give you information about your child’s place on the waiting list and explain your child’s ranking against the school’s selection criteria.

The school may recommend another suitable school for you to apply to if they cannot accept your child.

If you have difficulty finding a place for your child in a local school, contact the Educational Welfare Service of Tusla – the Child and Family Agency on 01-7718500.

How do I appeal if a school decides not to accept my child?

You can appeal a school’s decision not to enrol your child.

If a school refuses to enrol your child because it is oversubscribed, you must first request the school’s board of management to review this decision. You must make your request for a review using the Board of Management Request Form (BOMR1). The board of management must notify you of the outcome of your request for a review within 42 days from the date of the decision to refuse admission to the school.

You can make a Section 29 appeal to the Department of Education, when you have received the outcome of the review by the board or 42 days after the decision to refuse admission is made - whichever of these is earliest. However, you must make your Section 29 appeal to the Department of Education no later than 63 days after the school's original decision to refuse admission. You make your appeal using a Section 29 appeal application form. The Department has Frequently Asked Questions about Section 29 appeals when a school is oversubscribed.

If a school refuses to admit your child for a reason other than the school being oversubscribed, you can make your appeal to the Department of Education using a Section 29 appeal application form.

Before making a Section 29 appeal, you can request a review of the board of management's decision not to admit your child. To get a review, you use the Review by the Board of Management Request Form (BOMR1). If you request a review, the board of management must notify you of the outcome within 42 days from the date of the decision to refuse admission to the school.

If you don’t want a review, you can immediately apply for an independent Section 29 appeal.

Your Section 29 appeal must be made no later than 63 days following the original decision by the school to refuse admission.

The Department has Frequently Asked Questions about Section 29 appeals for reasons other than a school being oversubscribed.

Department of Education

Section 29 Appeals Administration Unit
Department of Education
Friar’s Mill Road
Mullingar
Co Westmeath
N91 H30Y

Page edited: 6 December 2022