Choosing a primary school


Children usually start primary school when they are 5 years of age. They start in September - the beginning of the school year.

However, you can start your child at primary school from the age of 4.

You can also choose to teach your child at home.

However you choose to educate your child, at home or at school, you must ensure that your child gets a certain minimum education from the age of 6 to the age of 16.

Types of primary school

There are 2 types of primary school:

  • National primary schools – often called national schools – they are funded by the State and do not charge fees
  • Private primary schools – charge fees.

The majority of children in Ireland go to a State funded national primary school.

National primary schools

Many national primary schools are owned and supported by the different churches. The Department of Education is supporting the setting up of more multidenominational schools, and non-denominational such as Educate Together schools.

National schools are funded by the State and you do not pay a fee.

They often use the initial letters below with the school’s name to describe them as a national school:

NS - National School

GNS - Girls' National School

BNS - Boys' National School

SN - Scoil Naisiúnta

Some schools use the Irish form of their name, such as Scoil Bhríde NS. However, a school with an Irish name does not mean they teach through Irish.


Gaelscoileanna are schools that teach through Irish. Gaelscoileanna are state funded. They often have the word Gaelscoil in their title.

Special schools

Most children with special educational needs attend their local primary school in a mainstream class with other children and with additional support. They may also attend a special class within a mainstream school.

There are also several special schools - including residential care units and schools for children with disabilities, young offenders, children at risk and children with specific learning disabilities.

Private primary schools

Private primary schools have the freedom to choose the curriculum, school day, school year. In practice, many private primary schools provide the same basic curriculum set out for national schools, but they do not have to follow it.

Finding a school

To find a school you can search primary schools by type and area using the Department of Education’s Find a School tool.

You can filter your search results by ethos, language of instruction, and gender. You will be presented with a map showing the schools that meet your selection.

Most schools have a website with information about their ethos, policies, curriculum and extra-curricular activities on offer.

Applying to a school

You should apply to the school in writing. If they have an application form, complete the form or apply by letter.

All primary schools must publish an admissions notice and an admissions policy.

The admissions notice tells you:

  • When the school will start accepting applications for the year (when to apply)
  • When you will get the decision on your application
  • When you must accept a place

The admissions policy describes the rules the school will follow for selecting students and how they make their decisions. It also states what happens if the school is over-subscribed.


Schools cannot discriminate if your child has a disability, is of a different race or a member of the Traveller community. They 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 that religion or belief.

You can read more about admissions policies in schools.

Page edited: 11 April 2022