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27% of the Irish populace is currently engaged in full time education. The quality of Irish education is quite high.

Discipline problems are not yet severely plaguing the system, though particularly in inner city Dublin schools, unruly behavior is becoming more common. Bullying has been a topic of radio and TV talk shows and increased teacher training. School uniforms are standard throughout the system.

A national exam system is the key method of assessing students and the curriculum and style of teaching are all built around the need of passing these exams. The key exams occur at the end of high school and determine placement in universities and technical institutes. Even some college exams are national.

These exams, while putting a damper on innovative teaching, do keep everyone honest. Students must thoroughly know their subject to graduate with decent marks.

So How Good Are They?

I am continually sent questions about the schools. How good are they? Is there a rating system? What about city versus rural schools?

They're good! I can't think of a local elementary school within a 20 mile radius where I'd have any worries about sending my own kids. They are uniformly well thought of. The high schools are found in the towns and there's an open house night at each where parents and prospective students are invited to come take a look and ask questions. If you don't like one, you pick another. It's open enrollment at all schools. Of course, school buses only operate within a given catchment area, so if your child is attending school in a distant town, you'll have to make your own transportation arrangements.

There is no system of ratings. But, all schools are teaching to the same core curriculum and the testing at the end of the junior certificate (junior high) and leaving certificate (high school) keeps everyone focused. I know many nieces and nephews, friends and colleagues whose children have gone through urban, rural, small town and special needs schools. I have never heard of anyone who is dissatisfied with the school their child attends. They might dislike parts of the curriculum (particularly the mandatory Irish courses) or the occasional teacher, but all speak well of their local schools.

The major exams at the end of the Junior Certificate/Jr. High and Leaving Certificate/Senior High and at the end of every college year are all national. Everyone in the nation takes the same exam. There are no multiple choice answers in anything. You have to prove a deep understanding of the subject to even get a pass. This system, with all its pressures, keeps everyone honest. There is no grade inflation, because grades during the year have to honestly reflect how a student is doing. Otherwise, parents will be yelling bloody murder when a child who has gotten A's suddenly scores a D on the national exam. And school grades are merely a guide - they don't count toward college or anything else.

The quality of a school always depends on three things - the principal, the teachers, and the socio-economic level of the students. The principals and teachers will be roughly the same overall whether you're in an inner city school or a suburban or rural area. It's the socio-economic level of the students which changes.

This economic effect only comes into play at a couple of dozen Dublin, Limerick and Cork schools. Even here, plenty of kids do excellently - in fact the majority. But, obviously, it plays havoc if you have a high percentage of classmates dropping out and doing heroin.

Another advantage of the Irish school system is the stability of the society. Almost all students who start at a school finish their education at that same school. The revolving doors of an American educational institution are, thankfully, not an issue here.

Special Needs and Disabilities

School and Health services are discussed on the Special Needs and Disabilities page.

School Year

This depends on the age group.

Primary - Sept 1st to June 30th

Secondary/high school - All secondary schools operate on a unified national calendar. All high schools now open in the last few days in August. They all finish about the end of the first week in June. Third year students (in the US. this is 9th grade) and 6th year students (US 12th grade) attend for another 3 weeks of exams.

Third level/University - The starting date varies widely with the Technical Institutes usually opening earlier and closing later - mid-September to early June. The University Colleges usually begin around the first week in October and finish around the end of May. After a short "study" break there is a several week round of exams for all students.

Of course, each year is slightly different depending on where weekends and Xmas holidays fall. But, in general, these dates hold.

The School Day

J. reminded me that the school day varies from school to school but generally runs from around 9am to 3pm for primary schools and 9am to 4pm for secondary schools. The schedule in secondary schools is fixed, and in general there are eight or nine 30-40 minute lessons in a full school day. Many schools allow the kids to go home for lunch, as freshly cooked school dinners are not provided over here. The first two primary classes (Junior Infants and Senior Infants, affectionately known as "Babies") usually gets out an hour earlier, or around 2pm in the afternoon. Another headache for parents, who frequently rely on child care for this hour.


Children are entitled to enroll in Irish schools - primary through high school - whatever their nationality or the residency status of their parents. That said, if the parents are deported, the kids go with them, school or no. But, while here in Ireland, the children can enjoy the benefits of the Irish educational system.

Religion in the Schools

The Catholic Church's direct influence over the schools has declined tremendously from the days when nearly all the teachers were nuns or brothers. Now, the church's influence can be seen in the fact that schools are where communion and confirmation are religious instruction are taught. Right through high school students regularly attend Masses for special events, Christmas and end of year. Religion classes are mandatory through Junior Certificate / Jr. High School level. These are usually taught by members of the religious orders - most high schools have two or three still on staff. At the high school level, these classes are really about values and citizenship. At the elementary level, they involve learning the liturgy.

That said, what sounds like huge intrusions from an American point of view boil down to a couple of hours a week where the kids are mostly bored and rebellious minded about the message they're taught. The schools are simply reflecting the fact that Ireland is a Catholic nation (92 percent) and that for centuries it was the church which alone carried on any teaching in Ireland.

There are, however, Jewish, Muslim and a growing number of non-denominational schools. For more on this topic, click here.


The curriculum, aside from the religious classes, is totally out of the hands of the church. That includes science where there are no bogus debates about evolution. It's taught properly, unlike many American school systems where religious groups have forced creationism onto the curriculum.

The Department of Education is responsible for setting curriculum. This is done, usually, by committees of teachers, textbook publishers and Department Inspectors who themselves were teachers for many years. In a few controversial cases like a withdrawn "values education" course, outside firms are hired to devise a curriculum which is then inspected by the appropriate committee.

There's loads more in the Full Site. Topics include single sex schools, placement of your child, choosing a school, costs to be expected for such items as school uniforms, class size, home schooling, finding schools, school holidays, vaccinations, and more.


Overview | American | Child Care | Enrollment Procedures | Exams | High School | Primary | Private | Religion | Third Level

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