Children in Ireland typically begin attending school in the September following their 4th birthday, though they are not required to until the age of six. The school year runs from September 1 to June 30 (approximately), and the primary school cycle generally consists of 2 years of infant classes (pre-schooling) followed by class 1 through class 6. Home-schooling is a legal option but is not common. The goals of first level education in state-funded primary schools are:
- to enable the child to live a full life as a child and to realize his or her potential as a unique individual
- to enable the child to develop as a social being through living and co-operating with others and so contribute to the good of society
- to prepare the child for a continuum of learning.
The curriculum is divided into the following key areas: language; mathematics; social, environmental and scientific education; arts education, including visual arts, music and drama; physical education; social, personal and health education.
Most Irish primary schools are under the management of a religious denomination, the majority being Roman Catholic, but there is an increasing number of multi-denominational schools available. Schools catering to a single religion are not exclusive and do not require children to attend religion classes. Single-sex schools are available, as well as Irish language schools (Gaelscoileanna) and special needs schools.
You should, in theory, be able to send your child to the school of your choice. However, when it comes to enrolling your child, you may find that there is little or no choice in the area in which you live. Each school operates an admissions policy, which they must make available on request. It is important to ask for the admissions policy of any school in which you are interested. State-funded primary schools tend to give priority to children living in the immediate area, but problems can arise if their classes are already full and they have a waiting list. Multi-denominational schools, non-denominational schools and Gaelscoileanna each decide their own admissions policy. Some secondary schools give priority to students coming from particular primary schools so it may be useful to plan ahead when choosing a primary school for your child.
The majority of primary schools are state-funded. This means that you will not have to pay annual fees for your child’s education. In practice, however, schools often need to raise extra funds for additional resources such as computers, sports equipment or improved facilities. You may be asked to make a contribution or to take part in fund-raising for the school, but your participation in these activities must always be voluntary. State-funded schools cannot require you to make contributions.
Private primary schools receive no state support nor are they subject to state control in relation to curriculum, school day, school year, etc. There is a limited element of state assessment of private schools because of the requirement that the state ensure that children receive a certain minimum education.
Teachers in private primary schools are not paid by the state and there are no requirements about their qualifications. Many private primary schools do provide the basic curriculum as set out for national schools but they are not obliged to do so.