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Education in Ireland

Living in Ireland as an expat has undergone an unprecedented boom in the past decade. Even after the global crisis of 2008/2009, Ireland remains a popular expat destination. The InterNations Expat Guide on Ireland provides you with info on education, healthcare, and daily life.
Ireland has a very good education system with some top universities.

The Role of the Irish Language in Education

Firstly, you need not worry about your children struggling with the language at school in Ireland. While Irish and English are both official languages of the country, the main language of instruction in schools is usually English. Furthermore, although Gaeilge is a part of the national curriculum, some pupils may be exempt from studying it, for example those who have spent considerable time abroad or are dyslexic.

A Strong Education System

Education in Ireland is compulsory from the age of six until sixteen, with state-funded education available at all levels. Irish schools are of excellent quality and expats can send their children to these institutions with perfect peace of mind, knowing that they will receive more than adequate instruction.


A free Pre-School Year scheme, introduced in 2010, is open to all children aged three to four years old in the year before they start primary school. While this scheme is optional, it has proved very popular, with almost all eligible children attending. There is also early childhood care available outside the formal education system from a range of private, community, and voluntary services.

Primary Education

Primary schools in Ireland come in three different forms: state-funded primary schools, special schools, and private primary schools. Although it is not compulsory for children to attend primary school until the age of six, most children start school in the September following their fourth birthday.

Primary education lasts for eight years, covering junior infants, senior infants, and years one to six. The curriculum covers a range of subjects such as Irish and English language, mathematics, physical education, and social, environment and scientific education.

Secondary Education

As with primary education, there are various institutes in Ireland that offer secondary education. You can choose from vocational schools, community schools, comprehensive schools, and secondary schools, which are actually the private schools in Ireland. Secondary education comes in two stages: the Junior Cycle and the Senior Cycle. The Junior Cycle usually starts at the age of twelve and lasts for three years, at the end of which the students take a Junior Certificate exam.

After the Junior Cycle, students progress to the Senior Cycle. This lasts for either two or three years depending on whether they take the Transition Year between Junior and Senior Cycle. The Transition Year acts as a bridge between the two cycles with a large range of topics, including work experience. This year may be optional or mandatory, depending on the school your child attends.

In the Senior Cycle, teens are able to choose between three different programs, leading to different state examinations:

  • The Leaving Certificate is considered the traditional route and has 30 different subjects to choose from, which can be studied at ordinary or higher level. Students are required to take at least five subjects, with the most common amount taken being six or seven.
  • The Leaving Certificate Vocational Program (LCVP) is a combination of the academic strengths of the traditional Leaving Certificate Program and modules with a more vocational focus on enterprise and the community.
  • The Learning Certificate Applied Program (LCA) is aimed at students who either do not intend to continue to higher education or whose aptitudes are not covered by the other two programs. This program is cross-curricular and focuses on work in a practical and learner-centered nature.

Higher Education

There are many different institutions offering higher education in Ireland, including seven different universities. Places on university courses are offered based on the Common Points Scale, which has recently been revised due to changes in the secondary education marking system, which will come into effect in 2017. Applications for university are processed through the independent Central Applications Office.

International Schools

International schools are few and far between in Ireland, not least of all due to the high quality of state education in Ireland. However, if you’d rather send your child to an international school, your chances of finding an institution are best in Dublin. Here is a list of the international schools available in Ireland:


We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete. 

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