Enrol your child in primary school when you return to Ireland


If you are returning to Ireland with young children, you may want to enrol them in primary school. Primary school is like ‘elementary school’ in other countries. To enrol, your child must be at least 4 years old at the start of the school year (September).

Generally, children start primary school in junior infants when they are 4 or 5. They continue in primary school for 8 years, and then move onto post-primary school (also called 'secondary school').

Primary school class

Average starting age range

Junior infants


Senior infants


First class


Second class


Third class


Fourth class


Fifth class


Sixth class



All children in Ireland are entitled to free primary education. Most children attend public schools that are funded by the State.

You may be able to access pre-school education through the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Scheme.

Private school and home-schooling

While most children in Ireland attend public primary schools, you can choose to send your child to a private school or educate them at home.

Private school

There are a small number of private schools around the country. Private schools are not free. Check with the school directly for details of their fees and curriculum.

Private schools are also called independent schools. If you send your child to an independent school, you must register with the Alternative Education Assessment & Registration Service (AEARS) in Tusla. The AEARS regulates education outside of public schools.


You have a right to educate your child at home, rather than send them to school. If you choose home-schooling and your child is 6 or older, you must apply for registration from the Alternative Education Assessment & Registration Service (AEARS) in Tusla. The AEARS regulates education outside of public schools.

You do not need a formal teaching qualification to home-school your child and you don’t need to follow the national curriculum. However, you must give your child a ‘certain minimum education’.

See our page ‘Teaching your child at home’ for more information.

Step 1: Choose a school type

Depending on where your family settles in Ireland, you may have a choice of primary schools nearby. The schools may be public (funded by the State) or private (fee-paying).

While all State-funded schools must follow the national curriculum, each school’s board of management or patron decides how it is run. A school can have a particular:

  • Religious ethos (for example, Catholic or multi-denominational)
  • Language of instruction (English or Irish)
  • Gender (all girls, all boys, or mixed)

Other differences can include:

  • Whether students must wear a uniform
  • The availability of extra-curricular activities

Children with special educational needs

Education for children with special needs may be provided in:

  • Mainstream classes in mainstream schools
  • Special classes in mainstream schools
  • Special schools.

Most children with special educational needs attend their local primary school, in a mainstream class with additional support.

The local Special Educational Needs Organisers (SENO) can advise you on the resources available to assist your child and identify possible school placements for your child.

Step 2: Find schools in your area

You can search for primary schools in your area using the Government’s online directory. You can filter your search results by religious ethos, language of instruction, and gender.

You can then click into each individual school for their enrolment numbers and contact details. You can also access a school’s inspection reports.

Most schools also have a website with information about their ethos, policies, curriculum, and extra-curricular activities. If you can’t find the information online, you can contact the school directly.

Step 3: Check if there is a place available

Contact the school directly to see if there is a place available for your child. Every school has specific admission dates during which you can apply, but schools can also accept students later in the year, if there are places available.

If the school does not have enough places, it will give priority according to its admissions policy. You can ask for the admissions policy of any school you are interested in.

Visit the school

When you find a school with a place available, you might want to arrange a visit. Most schools can arrange a visit on a typical school day, to make sure you and your child like it.

Step 4: Apply to the school

Always apply for a school place in writing. Check if the school has an application form.

Schools may ask for additional documents, such as previous school reports, a birth certificate, and an educational assessment. Schools cannot ask for a baptismal certificate as part of your application (as set out under the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018).

Keep a copy of your completed application form or letter, and copies of any documents you submit with the application.

If you apply to a school mid-year or after the admissions period has passed, the school should accept your child if they have a place available.

Step 5: Accept an offer

The school must reply to you in writing, to let you know whether your child has been accepted or placed on a waiting list.

If you get an offer from the school, you must formally accept it. Schools usually have a deadline by which you must accept their offer.

After you accept a place for your child, you may be asked to sign a declaration to state that you accept the school’s behaviour policy, and that you will ensure your child complies with the policy.

If the school refuses your application to enrol your child, see ‘how to appeal the decision’ below.

Step 6: Give additional documents to the school

The school might request documents from you to determine what class to put your child in, or what level of support they need. They may ask for:

  • Copies of report cards
  • Relevant assessments and reports of special educational needs
  • A list of current textbooks and course outlines
  • Results of standardised tests
  • Examples or copies of your child’s latest classroom work

The school also might request your child's immunisation records. This is so your child can be included in the School Immunisation Programme.

Exemption from learning Irish

Depending on how long your child has lived abroad, they may not have to study Irish in school. You must apply to the school’s principal for the exemption from Irish and include proof of your child's age and previous schooling.

How to appeal a decision

I can't find a school place for my child

If a school tells you that your child is on a waiting list, ask where they are on the waiting list and how you will be informed of any changes to their place on the list.

If you cannot find a school place for your child, contact Tusla’s Educational Welfare Office in your area.

More information

Read about the length of school terms and mid-term break dates in primary schools.

If you are living more 3.2 km from your local primary school you may be eligible for the Primary school transport scheme.

If you need help with the cost of uniforms and footwear for your children, you may be eligible for the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance.

Educational Welfare Services

Child and Family Agency (TUSLA)

Tusla Educational Support Service,
Child and Family Agency,
4th Floor, Brunel Building,
Heuston South Quarter,
Dublin 8

Tel: 01-7718586

National Council for Special Education

1-2 Mill Street

Tel: (046) 948 6400
Fax: (046) 948 6404
Page edited: 9 November 2023