There are a number of different types of post-primary school in the Irish education system, which allow a measure of choice to parents. The second-level sector comprises voluntary secondary schools, community schools and comprehensive schools, which are generally denominational (for example, Roman Catholic or Protestant). Vocational schools and community colleges are non-denominational. There are approximately 730 post primary schools in total.
Voluntary secondary schools are privately owned and managed. They are under the trusteeship of religious communities, boards of governors, Educate Together or individuals. The Education Act 1998 requires secondary schools to have boards of management that include parent and teacher representatives. The national organisation representing the boards of management of these schools is the Joint Managerial Body. Voluntary secondary schools may be fee-paying or non-fee-paying. Fee-paying schools are not eligible for Government funding to assist with running costs. Non-fee-paying schools that participate in the free education scheme get a range of grants and subsidies from the State. In the past, voluntary secondary schools provided a more academic education but increasingly, they provide a range of academic, practical and vocational subjects.
Vocational schools and community colleges are owned by the local Education and Training Board (ETB). The boards of management for these schools are sub-committees of the ETB. Membership of the boards include ETB representatives and parent, teacher and community representatives. Vocational schools and community colleges are largely funded by the Department of Education and Skills. Initially, these schools were orientated towards providing a technical education and developing manual skills. Today, they generally provide a wide range of both academic and practical subjects. Vocational schools are also the main providers of adult education and community education courses. The national representative body for the Education and Training Boards is the Education and Training Boards Ireland.
Education is provided free of charge at community schools, comprehensive schools, vocational schools and community colleges. Education is free in most secondary schools although a small number of secondary schools (approx 52), mostly in Dublin, are fee-paying schools.
Most children starting second-level (called "post-primary") education in Ireland begin school at the age of 12 or 13 years. Attendance at post-primary school is compulsory for students who are under 15 years.
You can send your child to the post-primary school of your choice, provided there is a place available for them. Where there is an accommodation problem, the school must give priority on the basis of their enrolment policy. This is drawn up by the Board of Management and should be available to you on request. Admission policies to secondary schools are currently under review - read more here
While most post-primary schools are in a position to enrol all children who apply, there is no automatic guarantee of a place in the local school.
In order to enrol your child, you should first check the list of post-primary schools in your area. Then, you should contact the school of your choice to see if there is a place available.
The school of your choice may place your child on a waiting list or you may need to contact other schools to find a place. If you have difficulty securing a school place for your child, you should contact the Educational Wefare Service for advice and support, contact details here
Second-level education in Ireland consists of a three-year Junior Cycle, followed by a two or three-year Senior Cycle. The Junior Certificate Programme examination is taken after three years. In the Senior Cycle, there is an optional one-year Transition Year programme followed by a choice of three Leaving Certificate programmes. Each of these three Leaving Certificate programmes - the Established Leaving Certificate, the Leaving Certificate Applied and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme - is a two-year programme. Certain students are provided with an exemption from Irish.
The vast majority of post-primary schools in Ireland do not charge school fees. However, students must pay for books and examination fees. In addition, there are other costs, such as school uniforms. There are schemes to help low-income families meet the costs of schooling.
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