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Education in Ireland

A Comprehensive Guide about the Education System and International Schools

Curious about the quality of education and international schools in Ireland? Expats moving to the island nation will be happy to know that in Ireland, education is of such a high quality that there is little difference between public and private schools other than cost.

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There are many reasons to want to know about the best schools and higher education options in Ireland. Maybe you are moving with children or planning to start a family there. Perhaps you are a student yourself and are interested in attending one of the countries many, quality universities.

Whatever your reason for wanting to know about the education system in Ireland, this guide will provide an overview of what you need to know. We include information about what the school systems are like in Ireland, whether or not kindergarten is mandatory in the country, higher education, and more. We even take a look at language schools in the country, should you feel the need to improve your skills in either English or Irish.

The Education System in Ireland

The Irish education system offers a variety of schooling options. Choices for parents and students range from public to private schools, religious institutions, and even same-sex facilities.

Education Facts in Ireland

  • If you are thinking of enrolling your child in a religious school, know that Catholic and Protestant institutions may give precedence to students who can prove they were baptized.
  • Schooling levels in Ireland are referred to by “class” or “year” rather than “grade.” For example, the school year termed First Grade in the US is called First Class in Ireland.
  • The majority of schools in the country, both public and private, require students to wear school uniforms. Parents should be prepared to spend close to 250 EUR (270 USD) per year on this.

What is the Education System Like in Ireland?

Expats interested in what the school systems are like in Ireland will find them fairly standard to other school systems worldwide, especially in Europe and North America. For the most part, compulsory schooling starts when a child is six and goes until they are 16 (or until they have completed three years of secondary schooling). Children can take part in a form of pre-school from the time they reach two years and eight months. You can read more about this in our Daycare and Kindergarten section below.

School Hours and School Year in Ireland

What is the school year like in Ireland? While the exact date will vary slightly from school to school, the academic year in Ireland typically begins in September and ends in June. On the whole, schools operate on a two-semester system, and close for week-long mid-term breaks, Easter, Christmas, and July and August for summer. It is common for Easter breaks to last two weeks.

School hours vary slightly by school level and each specific school. The chart below shows the general school hours across the country by grade level.

School Year Hours
Junior and Senior Infants Class 9:00 – 13:30
Primary School 9:00 – 14:30
Secondary School 9:00 – 16:00

It is possible for secondary schools to offer half-days on Wednesdays.

School Ages in Ireland

When looking at Irish schooling years and the corresponding age of the student, keep in mind that Ireland typically uses the terms “class” and “year” to refer to grade level. The chart below only takes into account primary and secondary school. Read on for information regarding daycare, pre-school, or kindergarten.

Primary School
School Year Age
Junior Infant Class 4—6
Senior Infant Class 5—7
First Class 6—8
Second Class 7—9
Third Class 8—10
Fourth Class 9—11
Fifth Class 10—12
Sixth Class 11—13

 

Secondary School (Junior Cycle) 
School Year Age
First Year 12—14
Second Year 13—15
Third Year 14—16

 

Secondary School (Senior Cycle)
School Year Age
Fourth Year* 15—17
Fifth Year 16—18
Sixth Year 17—19

*Fourth Year is sometimes referred to as a Transition Year, which prepares students to move from Junior to Senior secondary school. The Transition Year is not compulsory within Irish education and it is up to each individual school whether they offer it. Even if a school offers the Transition Year, it may not be mandatory, and students can skip straight from Third Year to Fifth Year.

The Grading System in Ireland

The Irish grading system uses both percentages and letter grades, but they may be different than what you are used to in your home country. Below is a look at Irish grades and their US equivalent.

Number Scale Description US Equivalent
70—100 First Class Honors A
65—69 Upper Second Class Honors A-
60—64 Upper Second Class Honors B+
50—59 Lower Second Class Honors B
45—49 Class 3 Honors/Pass B-
40—44 Class 3 Honors/Pass C
0—39 Fail F

The Difference between Public and Private Schools

When enrolling your students in school in a new country, many expat parents choose private education over public in hopes that the level of schooling is higher. In Ireland, the teaching quality between public and private institutions is very similar. The country has high education standards, and these are enforced whether your child attends a government, private, or religious institution.

In general, the main difference between public and private schools are cost and class size. Public education is free in Ireland, and parents only pay for school uniforms, lunches, and school materials. Whereas private education comes with all of these costs plus yearly tuition fees. Class sizes in private schools will also generally be smaller, which may be ideal for students who need more specialized attention.

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Daycare and Kindergarten

There are many childcare options in Ireland that accommodate children of pre-school or kindergarten age. Ireland’s Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) scheme provides state funded childcare and educational opportunities for children and working parents. This scheme accepts students from the time they are two years and eight months old until they are five or six, when they must enroll in primary school.

Expat parents should note that the terms “pre-school” or “kindergarten” are not common in Ireland. Below is a look at the different childcare options you will see throughout Ireland. The educational approach of each schooling type will vary slightly, but the majority focus on basic developmental and social skills, as well as providing a safe environment for children to spend the day while their parents work.

Childcare Options in Ireland

  • Nurseries and crèches: These schools provide meals, sleeping arrangements, and interactive playtime for students. They typically operate five hours a day and can serve as after-school options.
  • Montessori schools: These schools provide individualized education, which typical focuses on building social and developmental skills.
  • Playschools: Schools that are focused on playtime that helps children learn developmental skills such as sharing, taking turns, and listening during class.
  • Naíonraí: An Irish-speaking nursery or playschool.
  • Early Start Programme: A one-year program offered in disadvantaged areas.

Other popular childcare options in Ireland are nannies, childminders, and au pairs. Au pairs and nannies will typically come to your home, whereas childminders typically work out of their own home.

Are Pre-School or Kindergarten Mandatory in Ireland?

No schooling before primary school is mandatory in Ireland. Primary schools often have Junior and Senior Infant Classes (similar to junior and senior kindergarten), but neither of these are mandatory.

What Age do you Start Kindergarten in Ireland?

As Junior and Senior Infant Classes are the closest equivalent Ireland has to kindergarten, students can enroll in these classes when they turn four years old. They can attend for two years (one year in the junior class and one year in the senior) before starting their compulsory First Class education at age six.

What are the Fees for Daycare, Kindergarten, or Other Childcare Services?

Your cost for childcare services will depend on the type you choose. Nannies, au pairs, and childminders will all come with a higher price tag, and their fees will increase based on experience and the length of time you require them each day. Programs under the ECCE will not come with a school cost.

Primary and Secondary Schools

Schools throughout Ireland are of high quality, but some of the best primary and secondary schools for expats will be in the larger cities such as Dublin and Galway. Limerick, too, consistently ranks as having some of the best schools in the country. Keep in mind that schools may be referred to as “colleges,” but are for kids ages 4—18.

Top-Rated Schools in Ireland

Some schools on the list are single-sex, while others are mixed.

  • Laurel Hill Coláiste FCJ (Limerick);
  • Scoil Mhuire (Cork);
  • Gonzaga College (Dublin);
  • Coláiste na Coiribe (Galway);
  • Conleth’s College (Dublin).

Primary School (Elementary School)

Primary school in Ireland lasts for eight years, but only six of these years are compulsory (First Class to Sixth Class). Students must enroll in primary school by the time they are six years old. They can enroll as young as four in a Junior Infant Class. This is not mandatory, but is a common practice in Ireland.

Unlike some countries, where you reside does not necessarily mandate where your child can go to school. As long as there is space available in a school, your child will be allowed enroll anywhere they like. If there is a shortage of space, it is up to the discretion of the school how they will determine who is let in and who is not. All schools are required to make public their admission policy, which can typically be found on the school’s website.

The majority of Irish residents send their kids to government schools, which do not have school costs other than paying for school materials, lunches, and uniforms. Teachers in public schools must meet certain requirements and qualifications in order to teach there, while private school educators only need to meet the requirements and qualifications set down by their specific school.

Secondary School (High School)

There are different types of secondary schools for you and your child(ren) to choose from. Like with primary schools, students may choose to attend any secondary school of their choice as long as there is space and they meet the school’s individual admission requirements.

The types of secondary schools can be narrowed down to three:

  • voluntary: privately owned and managed, and deemed more academically challenging;
  • vocational and community colleges: public and generally geared towards teaching specific trade skills or general academic subjects;
  • community and comprehensive schools: public and offer a wide range of vocational and general academic subjects.

Secondary schools are typically split into two levels: a three-year junior cycle, optional transitional year, and a two- or three-year senior cycle. To move from the junior cycle to the senior cycle, students will need to pass a Junior Certificate test. In their final two years of the senior cycle, students will prepare for their mandatory exit exams: the Leaving Certificate. Testing for these certificates takes place over a two-week period in June.

International Schools

Although Irish public and private schools are of high educational quality, some expat families may still be more interested in learning about the best international schools in the country. Expat families should note that international schools are not as common in Ireland as they are in other countries. In fact, the majority of them are in Dublin, and even the amount found there is not as many as in other European capitals.

Why Choose an International School?

International schools are often preferred by international families. Not only do the schools typically have high teaching and educational standards, but they also allow students to socialize with other transplanted expats. Being with other peers who are new to the country and from a different culture can go a long way to making your child feel happier and more comfortable in their new Irish home.

Schools in Ireland for International Students

The primary language of instruction at Irish schools, even in international ones, is English. It is possible to find schools with optional Irish classes, but this will not be a required subject in international schools, nor is it a requirement of living in Ireland unless your child plans to work for the Irish government someday (then fluency in Irish is mandatory).

Depending on the country that you are coming from, it may be possible to find an international school in Ireland that follows a curriculum that is different than the standard Irish one. These types of schools will mostly be found in the larger Irish cities. Are you moving to the Irish countryside, but want your child to attend an international school? Do not fret. Several schools in Ireland come with boarding options, so that your student can still attend the school of their choice.

Types of International Schools Available in Ireland

International schools in Ireland range from general international (meaning the teaching language is English and they most likely teach a standard Irish curriculum) to French schools, German schools, and American schools. Because of the country’s close proximity and ties to the UK, there are British schools to choose from as well. Catholic and other religious schools in the country will largely be just private institutions rather than international schools.

Nearly all of these are co-educational. Many international schools also teach an International Baccalaureate curriculum, which can be easier for students to use when transferring to other international schools in the future.

International School Admission Requirements

Requirements to enroll at an international school will vary from school to school. If there is an international school that you know of and you and your child are interested in, the best way to start your search is by looking at the school’s individual website. All schools must post their admissions requirements.

If you do not know where to begin and feel overwhelmed, contact the relocation experts at InterNations GO! We will connect you with local experts who will not only assist you in choosing an international school to apply to, but will also help coordinate interviews with the school as well as all the paperwork you must submit.

In general, the admission requirements for an international school in Ireland include:

  • a certain level of knowledge of the language of instruction;
  • student’s passport;
  • student’s birth certificate;
  • passport-sized photograph of the student;
  • school transcript from the previous year;
  • parents’ contact information.

If you have more than one child, it is common to submit separate applications for both. You may also be able to fill your application out online rather than applying in-person.

International School Tuition Fees

Just like with admissions requirements to international schools, fees will also be dependent on each individual school. Additionally, fees will vary depending on the age of your child. Prices may even be slightly different when comparing the fall and spring term.

International schools are a more expensive option than public schools or general private ones in Ireland. However, they are not as insanely expensive as they are in other countries such as the UK.

Average annual school costs for international schools in Ireland will be about 10,000 EUR (11,000 USD). Some schools can be as low as 7,000 EUR (7,600 USD) per year.

Top International Schools in Ireland

  • Andrew’s College
  • International School of Dublin
  • Nord Anglia International School
  • Rathdown School
  • Blackrock College

French School

  • Lycée Français D’Irlande

German School

  • Kilian’s Deutsche Schule Dublin

Japanese School

  • Japanese School of Ireland

Higher Education

Interested in attending one of the top universities in Ireland? Many students choose to come to the Emerald Isle to pursue a higher degree, following in the footsteps of many esteemed Irish scholars such as Oscar Wilde, Ernest Shackleton, and Samuel Beckett. In recent years, Irish universities have ranked consistently in the top 20 out of lists of the 50 best countries for higher education worldwide. In a ranking of the top universities in the world, Irish universities have secured nine spots, with Trinity College in Dublin ranking the highest.

Types of Higher Education Available in Ireland

Higher education schools are often referred to as third-level schools in Ireland. These typically fall into one of two categories: state-funded or private. If a university is state-funded, it will qualify as one of the three types of schools: technical colleges, educational colleges, and general universities.

  • Technical colleges/universities: These schools offer degrees in specific areas that are meant to land people jobs in particular fields. Areas of study include engineering, business, science, linguistics, and music.
  • Colleges of Education: These colleges primarily provide training for primary school teachers. People wishing to teach at other levels can receive their training at other third-level institutions.
  • General universities: A general university is exactly how it sounds—a university that provides degrees in a variety of areas such as art, math, economics, philosophy, etc.

In addition to these, there are also private universities with varying degree and diploma options.

How Much does it Cost for International Students to Study in Ireland?

If you are an EU, EEA, or Swiss citizen, you can attend a public Irish university tuition free. Their tuition fees will be paid for by the Irish Higher Education Authority (HEA). These students will only need to pay for certain student fees, living arrangements, and course materials. Undergraduate student fees are typically around 3,000 EUR (3,250 USD) yearly. Graduate courses will be higher and range between 4,000 to 10,000 EUR (4,300 to 10,800 USD) depending on your area of study. Medicine and business graduate degrees may cost up to 20,000 EUR (21,700 USD).

If you originally moved to Ireland as a non-EU/EEA resident, you will be considered a resident after five years of living in the country (or if one of your parents is an Irish/EU/EEA national). For more, see our section on Visas and Work Permits in Ireland.

Keep in mind, this fee waiver is only applicable to state-funded schools. Private institutions will require that you pay tuition or receive scholarships.

If you are a non-EU/EEA resident, and do not have five years to establish residency, you will need to pay tuition at an Irish university. University tuition fees will fluctuate based on your chosen institution and field of study, but on average the yearly tuition for an undergraduate course will be anywhere from about 10,000 to 20,000 EUR (10,800 to 21,700 USD). Medical degrees can be close to 55,000 EUR (60,000 USD).

Top Faculties in Ireland

Students interested in studying in Ireland will find a variety of degree and diploma opportunities among the universities. Unlike other countries, students can come to Ireland and find many top programs in a wide range of fields. Some top faculties at Irish universities include:

  • arts and humanities;
  • social sciences;
  • engineering;
  • health sciences;
  • science and mathematics.

Best Universities for International Students in Ireland

  • Trinity College Dublin
  • National University of Ireland (Galway)
  • University College Cork
  • Dublin City University
  • University College Dublin

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Language Schools

Whether you want to brush up on your English skills, learn Irish, or try something completely different, Ireland has plenty of language schools for expats to choose from.

Do I Need to Know Irish in Ireland?

Ireland has two official languages: Irish and English. Given the heavy prevalence of English in the country, it may surprise you to know that Irish still maintains a strong presence, especially in the coastal areas. Out of Ireland’s nearly 5 million residents, it is estimated that about 70,000 speak Irish on a daily basis.

As an expat, you will not need to know Irish to live in Ireland. There are a few words and phrases that you may encounter and are useful to know (such as An Lár, which means to go downtown, or garda, which means “police”), but in general you do not need to know any Irish to live, work, and socialize in the country.

Do I Need to Know English in Ireland?

English, on the other hand, is crucial. As a resident of Ireland, you will encounter English in everyday life. Expats moving for work will especially need to make use of English.

If your English language skills are rusty, or if you have a desire to try your hand at Irish, there are language schools all throughout Ireland where you can learn. You can easily find a school that offers group classes or even private tutors. InterNations GO! can help set you up with the best school for you. We know that learning the local language of your new home makes relocation significantly easier.  We get you started with experts who will help you speak like a native in no time.

Language School Fees

Language school fees in Ireland will vary depending on whether you prefer a group class, one-on-one tutoring, or maybe a private course for you and your family. Some general prices are listed in the chart below.

Class Type EUR USD
12 Week Intensive Course 340 370
12 Week General Course 240 250
25 Week Morning Course 250 260
Private Tutor (Hourly) 20—30 20—30

 

Do you want to relocate? If you have never moved abroad, the process will be overwhelming, and if you have, you know the burden that lies ahead. Whatever stage you are at, InterNations GO! can help you with a complete set of relocation services, such as home finding, school search, visa solutions, and even pet relocation. Our expert expat team is ready to get your relocation going, so why not jump-start your move abroad and contact us today? Best to start early!

Updated on: August 17, 2020
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