Most children in Ireland start their first-level education in primary schools (also called national schools) at the age of 4 or 5 years of age. Legally, children can be enrolled at primary school from the age of 4 upwards and must have started their formal education by the age of 6 years. The primary school cycle is 8 years long. Schools generally have 2 years of infant classes, followed by class 1 to class 6.
The primary education sector is made up of different types of primary school including denominational schools, multi-denominational schools, Irish-speaking schools (called Gaelscoileanna), special schools and non-State-aided private primary schools. Education in State primary schools is free of charge. The current and capital costs of primary schools, including teachers’ salaries, are funded mainly by the Government and supplemented by local contributions.
COVID-19 and school
On 12 March 2020, all schools, colleges and childcare facilities closed.
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’. 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:
- Increased hand washing and sanitising
- Enhanced cleaning regimes
- Staggered breaks and lunch times
- New rules for children using school transport
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 of primary schools and special 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.
Enrolling your child at primary school
You can send your child to the primary 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 or enrolment policy. This is drawn up by the board of management and should be available to you on request. You can find out more about different types of primary schools and their admissions policies.
To enrol your child in primary school, you should first check the list of 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.
Children with special educational needs are generally educated in mainstream schools.
Your child in school
The length of the school day in primary school is 5 hours and 40 minutes. This includes assembly time, roll-call and breaks which are usually around 11am and 12.30pm. Primary schools may reduce the school day by an hour for children in their first 2 years at primary school (commonly called junior infants and senior infants) and in their third year at primary school (commonly called first class). You can read the Department of Education and Skills (DES) Circular 11/95 Time in School (Primary) (pdf).
Overall, primary schools must be open for a minimum of 183 days in each school year. All schools must close for the months of July and August. Christmas, Easter and mid-term breaks are standardised in both primary and post-primary schools.
While students do not have to wear a uniform at primary school, many schools (in consultation with parents) have introduced school uniforms. Check with your school about their policy. There is an agreed set of recommendations on school uniform policy. There is also a DES Circular on the weight of schoolbags.
The principal is responsible for running the school. Each class has a class teacher who teaches all subjects to their class. In some smaller schools the teacher has more than one class. There may be other teachers in the school such as a language support teacher to help learn English or a learning support teacher to help children who are having difficulty with the curriculum. Schools set their own policy in relation to homework.
Children starting school for the first time will be in junior infants class. If your child has attended school before, the principal, you and the class teacher will decide together which class your child will be in. Children are only allowed to repeat a year for educational reasons and in special situations. You can get more information in the DES Primary Circular 32/03 Retention of Pupils in Same Grade in Primary Schools (pdf).
Under the Education Act 1998 the school must provide reports for each child and the school must allow parents to have access to their child’s school record. Schools usually hold a parent/teacher meeting during the year. If you are concerned about your child’s progress at any stage during the year, you can speak to the class teacher.
If your child has a problem that you cannot sort out, you can arrange to speak to the class teacher. If this doesn’t resolve the problem you can speak to the school principal.
If you have a complaint about a teacher or about the school, the first step is usually to speak to the class teacher. Then, if the complaint is not resolved, speak to the school principal. The next step is to approach the chairperson of the school’s board of management.
If you have exhausted the school’s complaints procedure and are still not satisfied, you can appeal to the Ombudsman for Children.
If your complaint is about a teacher’s fitness to teach, you should first use the school’s complaints procedure. If you have exhausted this procedure and are not satisfied with the outcome, you can make a complaint to the Teaching Council.
The Department of Education and Skills has no legal powers to investigate individual complaints about schools or to instruct schools to follow a particular course of direction with regard to individual complaints. The Department provides information on the complaints procedure in primary school.
Absence and leaving school
If your child cannot attend school you must tell the school the reason for the absence. Write a short note to the school to explain why your child was out and send it in with your child when they go back to school.
If you are changing school you should tell the school that your child is leaving and will not be returning. You can ask the principal to give you a report on your child’s progress which can be given to the new school when you are enrolling your child.
You can find documents on our website about preschool education, teaching your child at home, admissions policies in schools, the curriculum in primary schools, the ownership of primary schools, school discipline, bullying, school attendance, help with costs of books and uniform and school health screenings. You can also find out more about programmes that address educational disadvantage such as tackling disadvantage in primary schools, the Early Start Programme and special educational arrangements for Travellers. There is a range of websites and organisations which you may find helpful if your child is starting primary education for the first time.