Most children enter primary education at the age of four although it’s not compulsory until age six. Having completed primary education at the age of twelve, children then move on to post-primary. Here’s an overview of both levels:


The primary education sector includes state-funded primary schools, special schools and private primary schools. The state funded schools include religious schools, non-denominational schools, multi-denominational schools and Gaelscoileanna (Irish-medium schools).

Primary education consists of an eight year cycle: junior infants, senior infants, and first to sixth classes. Pupils then normally transfer to post-primary education at the age of twelve.

The curriculum is designed to nurture the child in all dimensions of his or her lives and is divided into the following areas:

  • Language: Irish and English
  • Mathematics
  • Social, Environment and Scientific Education
  • Arts Education, including Visual Arts, Music and Drama
  • Physical Education
  • Social, Personal and Health Education


Post-primary education consists of a three-year Junior Cycle (lower secondary), followed by a two or three year Senior Cycle (upper secondary), depending on whether the optional Transition Year (TY) is taken. The Junior Cycle begins at age 12 with The Junior Certificate examination conducted after three years. The main objective with each student is to complete a broad and balanced curriculum, and to develop the knowledge and skills that will enable them to proceed to Senior Cycle education.

The Senior Cycle caters for students in the age group of 15 to 18. It includes an optional Transition Year (TY), which follows immediately after the Junior Cycle. Transition Year provides an opportunity for students to experience a wide range of educational inputs, including work experience, over the course of a year.

During the final two years of Senior Cycle students take one of three programmes, each leading to a State Examination: the traditional Leaving Certificate, the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) or the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA). Students who have taken the Senior Cycle state examinations are allocated points for their results and can apply to colleges and universities via the Central Applications Office (CAO). The level of points required for each course within the college/university is determined by demand.

For more info

Department of Education and Skills

The Department of Education and Skills is a department of the Irish state with responsibility for education and training. The mission of the Department is to facilitate individuals through learning, to achieve their full potential and contribute to Ireland's social, cultural and economic development.


Find a school

You can search for a Primary, Post Primary or Special Education school by level, geographic area, ethos, language of instruction and gender.


Central Applications Office (CAO)

The Central Applications Office processes applications for undergraduate courses in Irish Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). Decisions on admissions to undergraduate courses are made by the HEIs who instruct CAO to make offers to successful candidates.