The Irish school system explained.

In this article, we will explain how the Irish school system is structured.

Do Irish schools have grades?


In America, the terms “kindergarten” and “grades” are often used. However, in Ireland, we refer to them as “classes” and “years”.

Also, we do not have elementary school, middle school and high school. Instead, our education system is split up into primary school and secondary school.

Primary school is for children between the ages of 4 and 13, whereas secondary school is for students that are 12 years old or older.


Playschool is not a part of the official school system. Instead, it is an optional “pre-school” that prepares children for life in primary school.

During playschool, children will partake in play time, arts and crafts, and singalongs.

Throughout the day, they will be given meals as well as naps.

Typically-speaking, Irish children will attend playschool between the ages of 3 and 4.

Primary School.

Primary school is the first school that Irish children will attend. Children usually enter the Irish education system between the ages of four and six.

By law, a child in Ireland must start school by the age of six.

The different “grades” are structured like so:

Junior Infants.

This is the first “grade” that an Irish child will enter. During Junior Infants, children will learn the alphabet, basic mathematics, and partake in arts and crafts. Physical Education (PE) might also be a part of the curriculum.

At this stage, students are beginning to learn some basic numeracy and literacy skills.

They are also learning how to adapt to a new life in which they must cope without their parents and interact with other children.

Senior Infants.

“Senior Infants” is the second “grade” that a student will enter.

However, it is mostly just a continuation of “Junior Infants.”

It is important to note that both “Junior Infants” and “Senior Infants” are grouped together as “Level 1” of primary school education.

1st-6th class.

After Senior Infants, the remaining primary school “grades” will be referred to as “classes.”

This means that primary school is ordered like so:

  • Junior Infants
  • Senior Infants
  • 1st Class
  • 2nd Class
  • 3rd Class
  • 4th Class
  • 5th Class
  • 6th Class

During the school year, students will take part in Christmas and summer exams, which will be prepared and graded by the teacher.

Primary school students do not have a timetable. Instead, they are assigned to one teacher who will teach them multiple subjects. This means that they will often remain in the same classroom throughout the course of the school year.

Subjects in primary school include English, Mathematics, Irish, Geography, Physical Education, Arts and Crafts, Science, and History.

Religion will be taught in religious-oriented schools (of which there are many).

The summer break for primary schools in Ireland is typically two months long, spanning July and August.

6th class is the last year of primary school. After 6th class has been completed, the student will transition into secondary school.

More often than not, this involves moving to a new school.

Secondary School.

After completing sixth class, the student will enter secondary school.

Although secondary schools will sometimes hold “entrance exams” for new students, these exams do not prevent the student from entering second level education.

In reality, these exams are used for assessment and statistical purposes only.

Secondary school students get three months off during the summer months (between June and August).

Typically speaking, the school day will be somewhere between 8.30 am and 4.30 pm. For example, when I was in secondary school, we started at 9am and finished at 4pm. On a Friday, we finished at 3.15pm.

When a student enters second-level education, they will have to adapt to a new life of timetables, lockers, and multiple teachers teaching multiple subjects.

Each subject is typically 40 to 45 minutes long.

In Secondary School, the term “year” is used instead of “class”. In other words, there is no such thing as 7th class.

Instead, it is ordered like so:

  • 1st Year
  • 2nd Year
  • 3rd Year
  • 4th Year / Transition Year
  • 5th Year
  • 6th Year

Junior Cycle.

The first three years of secondary school are considered to be a part of the “Junior Cycle”.

Throughout 1st, 2nd and 3rd year, students will study for a state examination called “the Junior Certificate.”

Although this is a state examination, it does not hold much importance. This is because colleges, universities, and employers will not ask you for your Junior Cert results.

The purpose of the Junior Cert is to prepare students for the Leaving Certificate, which is held at the end of 6th year.

Note that the Junior Certificate is not a single examination. Instead, it consists of multiple examinations for multiple subjects, all of which will take place over the course of 3-4 weeks.

Transition Year.

4th year is an optional year that is commonly referred to as “Transition Year” or “TY”.

It does not have any bearing on 5th or 6th year, or the Leaving Certificate in general.

Transition Year is a year for “maturity and personal development.”

If a student does not do Transition Year, they will have to skip 4th year and go straight into 5th year.

For example, a student cannot refuse to participate in a Transition Year and then take a year off from school.

It is worth noting that some secondary schools have made Transition Year compulsory. However, this is the school’s own policy. It is not the policy of the Department of Education.

5th and 6th Year.

During 5th and 6th year, students will study for an important state-held examination called the Leaving Certificate.

Like the Junior Cert, this examination consists of multiple examinations for multiple subjects, all of which will take place over the course of 3-4 weeks.

The results of these examinations are “counted up” and summed up into a singular numerical figure, called “points”. The number of points that you get in the Leaving Certificate will determine what university courses you will be able to take.

Most university courses will have a minimum points requirement.

For example, Architecture in UCD required 487 points in 2018. Medicine required 731 points.

University courses might also require that you receive a minimum grade in a specific subject. For instance, a physics course may require that you achieve at least a B3 in Honors Physics.

School uniforms.

In general, most schools in Ireland require their students to wear school uniforms. However, this is a hotly contested topic of debate.

People who are against school uniforms say that they are costly and prevent students from expressing themselves.

On average, Irish parents spend €229 per child on uniforms and shoes. In a lot of cases, schools will require that their uniforms be purchased from a specific shop. This decreases competition and pushes the price up.

Others say that uniforms reduce competition between students to wear “branded” clothes and logos and that they force “modesty”.

A summary of the Irish school system.

The Irish school system is ordered like so:

  • Junior Infants
  • Senior Infants
  • 1st Class
  • 2nd Class
  • 3rd Class
  • 4th Class
  • 5th Class
  • 6th Class
  • 1st Year: The student has now entered second level education.
  • 2nd Year
  • 3rd Year: Junior Certificate.
  • 4th Year: This is optional in most schools.
  • 5th Year
  • 6th Year: Leaving Certificate.

This means that an Irish student can spend between 13-14 years in school.

It is worth noting that school attendance is only compulsory up until the age of 16, which is the age that students can decide to leave school.

A student can also leave school after completing 3rd year.

For example, a 15-year-old can leave school provided they have taken their Junior Certificate exam.

This article was posted in Ireland on August 27, 2014.