Choosing a post-primary school


Children usually start post-primary school when they are 12 or 13 years of age.

Most post-primary schools (also called secondary schools) are funded by the State and do not charge a fee. Most children attend these schools

What to consider when choosing a school

When choosing a school for your child, you need to know is the school:

  • Fee paying or non-fee paying
  • Single sex or co-educational
  • Religious or non-denominational
  • Providing language of instruction in English or Irish
  • Providing extracurricular activities such as sports, arts or music

Religious denominational schools are generally Roman Catholic or Protestant. Non-denomination are not religious run.

Types of post-primary schools

There are 3 types of post-primary or secondary schools:

  • Voluntary secondary schools
  • Community colleges
  • Community schools

Each school type has a different ownership and management. School management boards must include parents and teacher representatives. In the past, the type of school usually determined whether the school focus was on academic or vocational achievements.

Schools must deliver the curriculum set by the Minister of Education. Every school must have a fair policy for handling admissions and make this information available to parents.

Voluntary secondary schools are privately owned and managed post-primary schools, usually under the patronage of an individual body such as a religious community, a charitable trust or a private charitable company. The national representative body for the boards of management of voluntary secondary schools is the Joint Managerial Body.

Community colleges are established by the local Education and Training Board (ETB). The ETB is the sole patron of the school. The national representative body for the Education and Training Boards is the Education and Training Boards Ireland.

Community schools are established either by one or more private or religious patrons coming together with an ETB patron or as the result of the amalgamation of voluntary secondary and ETB schools. The representative body for the schools is the Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools.


Gaelcholáiste are secondary schools that teach through Irish. Gaelcholaiste are state funded. They may have the word Gaelcholaiste in their title.

Fees for school

Non-fee-paying schools
The majority of post-primary schools in Ireland do not charge fees.

Non-fee-paying voluntary secondary schools, community colleges and community schools are all funded on an annual budget by the Department of Education. They get grants from the Department to help with their running costs. The grants are based on the number of pupils attending the school. If the school is rated as disadvantaged, it gets an additional grant per pupil.

Additional school costs
If your child attends a non-fee-paying school, they must still pay for books and examination fees. In addition, they may have other costs, such as school uniforms. There are various schemes to help low-income families meet the costs of schooling.

Fee-paying schools
Fee-paying schools do not get any State grants towards their running costs. However, the State pays the salaries of all teachers working in recognised voluntary schools. Fees are set each year by the school.

Finding a school

To find a school in your area you can use the Department of Education’s Find a School tool . You can search the school list by ethos, gender and language of instruction (English or Irish).

You can find out more about a school from:

Applying to a post-primary school

To apply to a school, you should contact the post-primary school of your choice.

All schools must publish an admissions policy and admissions notice.

The admissions policy describes the rules the school follows for selecting students, how they make their decisions and what happens if the school is over-subscribed.

The admissions notice tells you:

  • The date when you can apply
  • The deadline for applications
  • The date when you get the decision on your application
  • The date by which you must accept a place


Schools cannot discriminate if your child has a disability, is of a different race or is a member of the Traveller community. Schools cannot discriminate because of a child’s family status, sexual orientation, marital status, gender or religion.

However, in some circumstances a school can prioritise a student of a minority religion who wants a school providing religious instruction similar to their religion or belief.

You can read more about admissions policies in schools.

Further information

Department of Education

Marlborough Street
Dublin 1
D01 RC96

Tel: (01) 889 6400
Page edited: 13 November 2023