The OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) takes a survey of the world’s education systems every three years. Over half a million 15-year-old students in 72 countries and territories take part in an internationally-agreed two-hour test that measures their attainment in science, maths, reading, collaborative problem solving and financial literacy.

Ireland consistently excels in these tests. The most recent results indicate that Irish students perform better than the OECD average in science, maths and reading. Interestingly, immigrant students in Ireland perform much better than immigrant students in other OECD countries.

Ireland’s school system

The credit for this success is due to Ireland’s education system. Education in Ireland is compulsory for all children between the ages of 6 and 16, or until students have completed three years of secondary education. State-funded education is available to everyone at all levels, or you can choose to send your child to a private institution.

There are three levels of education: primary education for students from the age of six, secondary education for teenagers, and tertiary education for university and technical college students. There are also international schools, offering the International Baccalaureate, French, Spanish and German curriculums.

The school year for primary school pupils runs from September to June, with a summer holiday in July and August. At secondary schools, summer holidays last for 3 months: June, July, August. At most 3rd level institutions, they are 4 months long, from early/mid-May to early/mid-September.

Pre-school education is available at private facilities, although the government’s Early Childhood Care and Education Scheme offers some free early childhood education.

It’s compulsory for all students in Ireland’s schools to learn the Irish language, although there are exceptions for students born outside the republic.

Primary school

You don’t have to send your child to school until they’re six, but they are allowed to begin in the September following their fourth birthday. There are 11 subjects in the curriculum: Gaeilge (Irish language), English, Mathematics, History, Geography, Science, Music, Visual Arts, Drama, Physical Education, Social, Personal and Health Education.

schoolkids running

It’s designed to provide children with learning opportunities that “recognise and celebrate their uniqueness, and develop their full potential”. It stresses greater attention for students with special needs and emphasises functional literacy and numeracy.

Secondary school

Secondary schools (or post-primary schools, as they are often known) come in three main varieties:

Voluntary secondary schools

These privately owned and run schools operate under the trusteeship of religious communities, boards of governors or individuals. Some are fee-paying and are not eligible for state funding. Others offer free or subsidised tuition and receive government funds. Nevertheless, the state meets most of these school’s salary costs. Traditionally, these schools offered a purely academic education, but they increasingly provide practical and vocational subjects too. These are the most common and popular schools – almost 60% of students attend them.

Vocational schools and community colleges

Vocational schools and community colleges are own and run by Ireland’s Education and Training Boards. They deliver the national curriculum but emphasises practical skills and vocational training. Almost a third of school-age students attend these schools, and they also provide courses for adult and community education.

Community and comprehensive schools

Community and comprehensive schools are entirely financed by the Department of Education and Skills and run by local boards of management. They are represented at a national level by the Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools. They offer both academic and vocational courses. Around 15% of students attend these schools.

Secondary school curriculum

The secondary school curriculum is broken into two ‘cycles’ – the junior cycle and the senior cycle.

Private Schools

There are more than 30 private, fee-paying schools in Dublin. Most of them have primary and secondary schools, although a few are primary-only (Willow Park Junior school in Blackrock is an example) or secondary-only – like Sandford Park School in Ranelagh.

Although there are exceptions, the majority of private schools in Dublin are owned and run by religious orders. Annual day fees vary between €4,000 and €8,000; fees for 7 day boarding for an international pupil at a prestigious school might reach €20,000. (Although it’s worth noting that fees at a top-ranking boarding school in the UK could be twice this.)

It has been found that a slightly higher percentage of pupils from fee-paying schools go on to third-level education than those from non-fee schools. The ratio of pupils from fee-paying schools who go on to universities in Ireland is also higher.

Another distinguishing characteristic of private schools in Dublin – boys’ schools, that is – is their devotion to rugby. Several compete against each other in the Leinster Schools cup: the final in March is always a hotly contested fight.

St. Kilian's German School Dublin

St Kilian’s Deutsche Schule Dublin

International Schools

There are several international schools operating in Dublin or nearby, making the national teaching programmes of France, Spain and Germany available in the capital – as well as the programme for the International Baccalaureate (IB). All of these schools are co-educational and non-denominational.

Tertiary education

Dublin’s higher education offering is among the best in Europe. Three big institutions stand out – Trinity College Dublin, established in 1592, University College Dublin, Ireland’s largest university, and Dublin City University, it’s youngest. Learn more about Dublin’s tertiary education offering in our dedicated guide.

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