How is the education system organised?

In Ireland, children must attend school from the ages of 6 to 16 or until second-level students have completed 3 years of education. The Irish education system includes primary, second, third-level and further education. This education is funded by the government at all levels with private education also available.

Children can enter primary education no earlier than the September following their fourth birthday. Irish is a mandatory subject although some children who come to live in Ireland may be exempt. Primary education is provided in primary schools.

Children attend secondary level education in Ireland between the ages of 12 and 18. This cycle last 5 years and comprises of two state exams:

Junior Certificate (end of Year 3) and Leaving Certificate (end of year 5).

Third-level education is provided by higher education universities such as:

  • Universities
  • Institutes of Technology
  • Private third-level colleges; and
  • Colleges of education

For students leaving secondary school, access to third-level courses is based on the results of their Leaving Certificate. Applications for third-level courses are handled through the Central Applications Office (CAO). If you are 23 or over, you can apply to attend third-level as a mature student.

Education rights for TCNs

Child & youth

All children who are granted international protection have the right to primary and secondary education in Ireland. Children between the ages of 6 and 16 must attend school. Free pre-school services are available to children from the age of 2 years and 8 months until they begin primary school under the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Scheme. Children over 16 years who have left school can complete their secondary school education through Further Education Institutes. Children with disabilities will be assessed on the level of their condition. Based on this assessment, they will receive education in one of the following settings:

  •          A special needs school
  •          In special classes attached to mainstream education
  •          In mainstream education


Adults who have been granted international protection have the same access to education as Irish citizens. If you are an adult who has not completed secondary school, you can attend Further Education Institutes which have many suitable educational courses.

Some universities offer a number of scholarships which include free fees and financial support to refugees and asylum seekers. You may also be entitled to receive education grants from the Student Universal Support Scheme (SUSI). This grant will be awarded based on a financial means test.

How can I access education for myself or my children?

If you wish to enrol a child of school going age to a primary or secondary school, you should be able to enrol your child in any school of your choice. However, there are issues which limit these options such as lack of choice of schools in your area. State funded primary schools tend to give priority to people living in the area. Secondary schools have their own criteria for admission which can be obtained by request.

Generally, the typical school year runs between September and June. If you enrol your children in autumn/winter, your child can start school immediately. However, if you enrol in spring/summer, you will have to wait until the start of the next school year in most cases.

Adults who wish to enrol in further education or attend university/college, should contact the facility directly to find out more about enrolling.