- Ireland's Online Resource for Parents & Teachers

Parenting & Education in Ireland - Ireland's Online Resource for Parents & Teachers

Parenting & Education

× Home Parents Associations About Us
Log in Register Forgot password? ×

Types of Primary School

National Schools/Primary Schools

The national school system was established in 1831. The national schools were originally meant to be mixed religion or multi-denominational as we would describe them today. In practice, that did not happen and virtually all national schools are under the management of one church.

There was no legislation governing how they were to be run. Circulars and rules issued from the relevant department instead. The Rules for National Schools reflect the fact that they are largely denominational schools.

The Education Act, 1998 does not use the term "national school" and instead uses "primary" school. The name is not particularly significant except that national school clearly denotes that the school is state aided while a primary school can be private or state aided. Most relevant schools actually describe themselves as "national" schools. The following initials are frequently used to describe schools

NS - National School
GNS - Girls National School
BNS - Boys National School
SN - Scoil Naisiunta (appears before the name rather than after it)

Some schools use the Irish form of their name but that does not necessarily mean that they teach through the medium of Irish. Gaelscoileanna are national schools that do teach through Irish and they usually, but not invariably, include Gaelscoil in their title. There are about 183 Gaelscoils around Ireland.


Schools sometimes include that description in their title. Many also have the description of 'Educate Together' in their title. The Educate Together schools are operated by the member associations of Educate Together and are fully recognised by the Irish Department of Education and Science and work under the same regulations and funding structures as other national schools. There are around 68 Educate Together schools, approximately half of which are in Dublin. Find out more about Educate Together Schools.

Some national schools are run by religious orders - they are sometimes called convent or monasteryschools. They operate under the same rules as other national schools except for some special rules relating to the appointment of principals and the choice of teacher representatives on the Board of Management.

There are currently 11 Community National Schools in Dublin, Wicklow, Meath, Kildare and Cork.  Community National Schools are a relatively new model of state-operated primary school. They are multidenominational, inclusive schools that welcome all children from the local communities they serve. They are under the patronage of the Education and Training Board (ETB). Find out more about Community National Schools here.

There is a number of special schools - including residential care units and schools for children with disabilities, young offenders, children at risk, children with specific learning disabilities and emotionally disturbed children.

Private Primary Schools

Private primary schools receive no state support nor are they subject to state control in relation to curriculum, school day, school year, etc. There is a limited element of state assessment of private schools because of the requirement that the state ensure that children receive a certain minimum education. There are around 45 such schools in Ireland.

Teachers in private primary schools are not paid by the state and there are no requirements about their qualifications. Many private primary schools do provide the basic curriculum as set out for national schools but they are not obliged to do so.

Choosing a School

Parents have a constitutional right to choose the kind of school to which they want to send their children and have a right to educate them at home if they wish. There is no absolute requirement on schools to admit any particular student. Schools are required to publish their admissions policy. Schools are subject to equal status legislation and to the constitutional requirements on religion.

Admissions Policy

All national schools are obliged to publish a school plan that describes their ethos, admissions policy and objectives. The admissions policy of most national schools is fairly straightforward - they give priority to children from their local area, which, for denominational schools, is usually the local parish. Admissions problems can arise in expanding areas where the school cannot cope with extra numbers. Schools run by the minority religions usually give priority to their co-religionists. The admissions policy for multi-denominational schools and gaelscoileanna is decided by each school. If a school refuses to enrol your child you may appeal the decision to the school’s board of management. If this does not succeed you may appeal the decision to the Department of Education and Science (DES).... further information

When choosing a primary school, parents may also need to know about the admissions policies of secondary schools. Some secondary schools give priority to the students from certain primary schools.