A Basic Guide to the Irish School System

IA building in Ireland.

Having been in Ireland for about five months and going to school here for just as long, I feel I now have an idea of how the school system works. So, I have decided to create a little guide for those of you who intend to study in Ireland, or for those of you back home who like to understand what I’m talking about half the time.

First of all, the Levels in an Irish School System.

I’m a little embarrassed to say it wasn’t until this week that I actually got this all figured out, and I needed two people to explain it to me! However, it’s really not that complicated.

Have a look at this chart for level differences between the USA and Ireland:

USA Age Ireland Age
Preschool 4-5 years Junior Infants 4-5 years
Kindergarten 5-6 years Senior Infants 5-6 years
1st grade 6-7 years 1st class 6-7 years
2nd grade 7-8 years 2nd class 7-8 years
3rd grade 8-9 years 3rd class 8-9 years
4th grade 9-10 years 4th class 9-10 years
5th grade 10-11 years 5th class 10-11 years
6th grade 11-12 years 6th class 11-12 years
7th grade 12-13 years 1st year 12-13 years
8th grade 13-14 years 2nd year 13-14 years
Freshman (9th grade) 14-15 years 3rd year 14-15 years
Sophomore (10th grade) 15-16 years 4th year (transition year/optional)
Junior (11th grade) 16-17 years 5th year 16-17 years
Senior (12th grade) 17-18 years 6th year 17-18 years
A school sign in Ireland.

Presentation Secondary School sign in Ireland. Photo by Kayla Trowbridge.

While in the US most school systems have elementary school, middle school (or junior high), and high school, in Ireland its primary school (1st class through 6th class), and then Secondary school. In Ireland, the primary school you go to does not determine the secondary school you will attend. In this town, you have the option of going to an all boys school, an all girls school, a mixed school, or there is the option of going to an all Irish school.

There are two major tests an Irish student has to take during secondary school, in addition to exams and normal tests. These are the Junior Cert and the Leaving Cert. The Junior Cert is taken at the end of 3rd year, and they get their results at the beginning of either 4th year (if they chose to take that level) or 5th year. Then, at the end of 6th year they take the Leaving Cert. They must earn a certain number of points depending on the major they want in college.

A school in Ireland.

Kayla’s school in Ireland.

The Irish Grading System Explained.

When I got my exam results back at first, I didn’t realize that the percentages were different as well as the letter grade. This led to quite a bit of confusion and distress! Luckily, I found this handy little guide on the Internet! If you’re an American student abroad, there are a lot of online charts and calculators that will help you get a better idea of what your grade will transfer to.

Here’s an Irish to American grade comparison:

Grade Scale U.S. Grade
H1 90-100 A
H2 80-89 A-
H3 70-79 B
H4 60-69 B-
H5 50-59 C
H6 40-49 D
H7 30-39 F
H8 0-29 F

So there you have it! An extremely simple guide to give you an idea of what the Irish school system is like!

 

Kayla Trowbridge is 16 years old and lives in Zionsville, Indiana. Her goal during her study abroad program is to “create relationships that will continue throughout my life and develop a new understanding of the Irish culture.” Follow Kayla’s adventure in Ireland on her blog post updates throughout her program.

What do you think your grade would be if you attended school in Ireland?

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69 thoughts on "A Basic Guide to the Irish School System"

  1. Neasa says:

    Primary school is for Junior Infants through to 6th class – i.e. it starts earlier & not at 1st class as listed above. We also have playschool/ Montessori which is a preschool for 3-4 year olds.

    The general order of education in Ireland is:-

    – Playschool/ Montessori
    – Primary School (sometimes referred to as National School)
    – Secondary School (some secondary schools are also referred to as college e.g. Loreto College, St. Michaels College etc)
    – Third level i.e. College/ University

  2. bookie says:

    Hello, can anyone kindly please provide advice as to what the equivalent in Ireland would be for year 8 in UK? The child has October birthday and he is currently year 8. Thank you!

  3. Theresa says:

    Ok everyone here has been kind to try and explain the Irish system and compare it to American grades. But it wasn’t helpful. I’m more confused now then before. A break at 4 th year? How long is high school? 4 years or 6 years? The US has high school runs from 9 th, 10 th, 11 th, & 12 th grade. Then the kids go to college. What years are high school in Ireland?

    1. Yazzz says:

      In Ireland, there are 6 years in high school (Secondary School). Before that is Primary school which is also 6 years long, lasting from 1st to 6th grade (1st class to 6th class).

    2. Yaz says:

      In Ireland, there are 6 years in high school (Secondary School). Before that is Primary school which is also 6 years long, lasting from 1st to 6th grade (1st class to 6th class).

    3. Erin says:

      High school is 6 years in total in Ireland! Irish high schools (or secondary schools as we call them here) run from 1st year to 6th year or in US grades, from Seventh Grade to Twelfth Grade! The fourth year of secondary school or 10th grade is optional in some schools in Ireland! hope this helps 🙂

    4. Catherine says:

      High school in Ireland is 1st year to 6th year but most people just call that lc (leaving cert ) where u graduate at the same age as American students do and you go to college so yes it’s 6 years long but you have an option to do 4th year and if you do that year it’s 6 years but if you don’t then it’s 5 years

    5. Mimi says:

      We don’t have highschool..7th grade to 12th grade is secondary school (1st year to 6th year). 3rd year is basically 9th grade but you don’t switch schools.. you still stay at the same school

    6. Naomi says:

      So Im gonna try and explain…
      High school starts at 9th grade correct? Which is equivalent to 3rd year. Now technically that would be your start to high school. So high school would be 3 or 4 years depending if you do 4th year or not (which I am going to get into)but we don’t have ‘high school'( Explanation next.). America splits their school years to elementary, middle and high school correct? We in Ireland split it into Primary and secondary school. Primary from junior infants (kindegarten) – 6th class (6th grade). And secondary school from (7th grade)1st year- 6th year(senior). If that’s confusing basically 6th grade and down is primary school 7th grade and up is secondary school. 4th year: It’s not really a break you still go to school and do like English, maths, irish( you won’t have to do Irish if you move here at age like 13 and up) you travel to countries and places, work, learn life skills, organise fundraisers stuff like that in school and outside school. As for the learning part you would still learn the same curriculum by 6th yr whether you do TY or not. The only thing I can’t really answer is how we can do 1 less school year than America and still learn the same however it’s not rushed. I hope this answers your questions. Also if you didn’t TY (transition yr/4th yr) you would graduate a year early like 17 a few even 16 because they were born in like July which again does depend on the month you were born in the school year. Last bit is (in my secondary school at least) there are only 60 places in TY and about 210 people in each year group (yep my school is big lol) so you would have to be quick to register to secure your place. Hope it helps! Any questions please contact me!

    7. Nina says:

      7th grade to 12th grade are secondary/high school in Ireland, so 6 years. As an Irish person, I find the American system confusing, so I’m sure you feel the same way!!

    8. Mary Cosgrove says:

      Secondary school (high school) here is either 5 or 6 years.
      All students do three years (1st year, 2nd year and 3rd year) before sitting the Junior Certificate exams. Then most schools have an optional 4th year (called Transition year) which is generally not academically focused. Students will do work experience, various trips, project work etc.
      Then after 4th year (or directly after 3rd year if a student does not choose to do 4th year) they go into the “senior cycle” which is 5th and 6th year where they study for the Leaving Certificate. Most students will take 7 exam subjects and they sit the exam in the June just as they finish 6th year.

    9. Shauna Bingham says:

      After Junior cert (exams at the end of 3rd year).. you don’t have a break at fourth year.. but you do have the option to skip 4th year and go straight Into 5th year to start preparing for the leaving cert (which you do at the end of 6th year)

      Fourth year is not focused on exams and more hands on and interpersonal learning.. I.e.. work experience.. drama.. arts.. ecdl training etc..

      You would normally start First year at 12/13 and graduate 6th year 16/17 or even 18 depending on weather you skipped transition year (4th year) or not..

      I skipped transition year and sat my leaving cert exams (end of 6th year) at 16 years old. I started college at 17.

      The length of Secondary school (high school) is 5/6 years… again depending on weather you skip transition year or not.

      Hope this helps

    10. Shauna Bingham says:

      Secondary school = 5/6 years

      First year (12/13 years old)
      Second Year (13/14 years old)
      Third Year (14/15 years old)

      Sit Junior Cert state exams end of third year

      Fourth Year (15/16 years old) not compulsory… choice of skipping and going straight into Fifth Year

      Fifth Year (15/16) or (16/17) years old

      Sixth Year (16/17) or (17/18) years old

      Sit Leaving Cert state exams and graduate secondary school (high school) at completion of Sixth Year

    11. Aaron says:

      Hi,

      As someone born and living in ireland I can try and explain it as best I can.
      In the American School system there are 3 stages which are
      Elementary School,Middle School then High School.

      The Irish school system follows 2 stages: Primary School and Secondary School.

      The closest comparison to American High school is Irish Secondary School (3rd year to 6th year)

      Because Irish schools have 2 stages instead of 3, its tough to make direct comparisons.

      4th year, now thats a whole other thing, but the best way to describe it is a gap year (that used to be optional but now is a requirement). Many people use this as a way to unwind and have a less stressful year, as the year before (3rd year) was all about exams to determine what subjects to take going forward.

      Students will do things like Charity Work, trips away and abroad, work experience with business’ that they wish to work in at a future date.

      Hope this answers some questions for you

    12. laura Grendon says:

      Secondary school is for 6 years, in every secondary school there is a 1st,2nd,3rd,4th,5th and 6th year but in some school they allow the student to decide themselves if they want to do 4th year, in 4th year you dont do the normal work, you go on trips abroad and around the county and you do work experience too.

    13. Fergus says:

      4th year or transition year an optional year that is really a break after you do your Junior Cert. For the most part the year is designed around giving students life skills, incorporating a work experience program. There are also many trips available to the students, foreign and local, aimed at giving a more hands on aspect to learning.
      Secondary school is 5 or 6 years if you do 4th year. It’s from 1st to 6th year.

    14. ash says:

      So 4th Year (or Transition Year) is kind of like an optional gap year, except you’re still in school. You still have classes, but you also do work experience one day a week, go on lots more trips, and have tons of opportunities for independent learning and similar. Rather than “high school”, we have secondary school, which is First Year to Sixth Year, and is either five or six years long (depending on if you take TY). You start First Year usually as a 12 year old, and most finish Sixth Year as an 18 year old. At the end of Sixth Year you take a series of exams covering seven subjects known as the Leaving Certificate. Your points are calculated based on your best six subjects. If you’re going to college or university, these points will determine where you can go, as different courses in different institutions require different numbers of points, e.g. a doctor usually requires 600 points. Hope this clears things up, but if you have any more questions, don’t hesitate to ask!

    15. ash says:

      So 4th Year (or Transition Year) is kind of like an optional gap year, except you’re still in school. You still have classes, but you also do work experience one day a week, go on lots more trips, and have tons of opportunities for independent learning and similar.

    16. cece says:

      basically 4th year is a thing we call transition year. it’s a break from all the heavy studying and instead we have job opportunities. our respective schools which have connections with local businesses give us job opportunities that can help us create a resume when we leave school. for us secondary school is ur 7th grade to 12th grade and ur first year in college. 6 years altogether but 5 if you don’t do transition year making it only 7th-12th grade. hope this helped!

    17. Rachel says:

      Ok so we have 1st year to 6th year but if you choose you can take an extra year for a transition year which is work experience. And then collage. I hope this helped a little

    18. Yay says:

      Ok so 4th year is also known as Transition Year (or TY) and that’s OPTIONAL. So in Ireland it’s either 5 years or 6 years of secondary school.

    19. Neasa says:

      Theresa, 4th year is predominantly an optional year in Ireland. In general secondary school consists of 3 years & 2 years. The first 3 years (1st – 3rd) are referred to as ‘Junior Cert(ificate)’ cycle, as a state exam (the Junior Cert) is taken at the end of 3rd year. The final 2 years (5th & 6th) are referred to as the ‘Leaving Cert(ificate)’ cycle, as at the end of the 6th year the state exam (the Leaving Cert) is taken. This final exam is the main route to going onto 3rd level (College/Uni) as points are allocated to grades achieved. 3rd level works on a point system e.g. Medicine = 580 points
      4th Year, also referred to as ‘Transition Year/ TY’ is optional in the majority of secondary schools & is between the Junior Cert & Leaving Cert cycle. It is in this year that students focus on non-academic subjects, covering life skills (cooking, first-aid, driving etc), sporting events, voluntary work in the community & structured work experience. Students often opt to do this year as they’re either feeling burnt out after studying for the Junior Cert, they’re young & their parents often feel it’s a good opportunity for them to mature before the serious Leaving Cert/ going to Uni/College or the student is unsure of what career path they want to follow in Uni/College so this year allows them the opportunity to try different professions/jobs.
      All 5/6 years are covered by secondary school i.e. you go to the one secondary school for all 5/6yrs

    20. Caoimhe Doherty says:

      So basically in secondary school you have an option to do 5 or 6 years. Transition year (4th year) is an option and I kind of like a gap year we’re you go on all sorts of trips. I hope this helps 😊

    21. Rose says:

      Hi Theresa I’m Irish and I can see how you could be confused. Secondary School is six years but you can choose to skip 4th year. 4th year is when you get out there and get some experience before choosing your major. I hope that answered your question.

    22. Lorna O Brien says:

      You start Primary School at around age 4-5 and start in junior infants, then next year it’s senior infants, then 1st class, 2nd class (The year you’d make your first holy communion) , 3rd class, 4th class, 5th class, 6th class and then the next year you go to Secondary school and that starts 1st year, then 2nd year, 3rd year (we do exams in 3rd year called junior very), 4th year (is an option year in most schools you can skip the year if you want and go straight to 5th) 5th year and then 6th year (were we do our final exams called the Leaving cert) .. after all this you then go to college based off the points you get in your leaving cert, each course in each college has different points to get accepted…
      and way back to the start before you start Primary school in junior infants very child is entitled to 2 free years in preschool… and the majority of our primary, secondary schooling is free just minimal free, college can be the same too or if not (based on the families income) then you pay a fraction of what college/uni prices are in America ..
      Hope this helps

    23. Mairin says:

      Irish secondary school is either 5 or 6 years in total. There’s 1st year, 2nd year, 3rd year, 4th year ,5th year and 6th year. However 4th is optional, student can skip 4th year and go straight from 3rd year to 5th year. Students typically start 1st year at the age of 12/13 and students in 6th/final year of secondary school are roughly 18 years old

  4. Helen says:

    Can anyone let me know can a young person still attend secondary school to complete their leaving certificate in Ireland if they are over 18 ? Or would they attend further education college ?

  5. Mariel says:

    Hello, can anyone kindly please provide advice as to what the equivalent in Ireland would be for 2nd grade and 6th grade in NY? Both children have July birthdays and the just completed 1st and 5th grade in NY, respectively. Thank you!

    1. Alisha says:

      Hi Mariel, 2nd grade = 2nd class and 6th grade is 6th class (which is your final year in a primary school) you would then move on to 1st year in secondary school

    2. Ril says:

      They would be going into 2nd Class and 6th Class

  6. Feidhlim says:

    On the table it says that Junior Infants is 4-5 years old,
    this was the case a few years ago but nowadays I think it is more commonly 5-6 years old.
    People don’t really start Junior Infants at the age of 6, but often people turn 6 while they are still in Junior Infants. People used to start primary school at 4 and sometimes even 3, but most of the time now, people wait until their child is 5 before sending them to primary school. As a result of this, most people are 18-19 doing their leaving cert (also considering most people do TY) and people doing their Junior Cert are usually 15-16.

  7. Math Man says:

    I think that the percentage grade is for Ireland, not the U.S.
    Also, here is the U.S grades and percentages.

    A: 94-100%
    A-: 90-93%
    B+: 87-89%
    B: 83-86%
    B-: 80-82%
    C+: 77-79%
    C: 73-76%
    C-: 70-72%
    D+: 67-69%
    D: 63-66%
    D-: 60-62%
    F: 0-59%

  8. Kyle says:

    I was held back in 2nd class in 2010 I’m 18 years old in sixth year my mates born in 2001/2002 keep telling me if I didn’t get heldback I would be going to college or be graduating in 2019 I feel really sad because they might see as a year younger and I won’t be able to fate anyone around my age.

  9. Ella says:

    Just pointing out that you said primary school is 1st-6th class but its actually Junior Infants to 6th class.

  10. Eva says:

    Transition year (TY)
    You have to pay for but you also get to do lots of things with by your school (go on trips abroad),
    You also get to do work experience which is also put on your Leaving Cert.

  11. Ladies Ray says:

    To all those wondering how and why fourth year in Ireland is optional… Here is why. In third and sixth year in Ireland there are big exams called the Junior Certificate ( Third Year) and the Leaving Certificate ( Sixth Year). In Fourth year, ( also known as TY , Transition Year) you do work experience ( get a small job, but do not get paid) and you go on many trips and tours, and you barely have any work. This is for a little break after the Junior Certificate. Once Transition Year is over, you move on to Fifth Year, which is like any other year. Then you move on to Sixth Year, the Leaving Certificate. Then you have to usher school. ( A little extra information about school here, Junior Infants to Sixth Class is in Primary School and First Year to Sixth year is in Secondary School. )
    P.S I am only eleven years of age ( in fifth class ) so some of this information might not be EXACTLY correct but I am 99.99% sure of it.
    Thanks for reading!

    1. dc says:

      Transition years is for students to get experiance in different areas to help them deside what subjects to choose for their Leaving Certiciface and what they might want to do in College or work.

  12. Suzanne says:

    Your American grades are wrong.
    90-100 A
    80-89 B
    70-79 C
    60-69 D
    59 and below is Failing

    1. Ryan says:

      I think it’s giving the Irish grade, the percentage associated with the Irish grade, and the American equivalent of the *Irish grade* not of the percentage represented. Had me confused for a second too, XD

    2. Carol Crane says:

      The American grades given by Math Man are not incorrect. It just depends on the school system you are in.

      In Maryland, our children had a grading system like Suzanne mentioned, ie: 90-100 is an A.
      However, now our children are in a Nebraska school and the grading scale is exactly what Math Man wrote.

    3. Zee says:

      They are not wrong Suzanne you should note the word comparisons it’s simply means and 80 % our side is worth an A when compared to grades on your sides. This is plainly because we get harder exams than American exams so they try to balance it as much as they can to make things fair

  13. Stefanie says:

    4th year is optional? Please explain this. Do they not earn credits?

    1. DH says:

      No such thing as credits here. You do one big exam for each subject at the end of your final year in school (Leaving Certificate Exam) and that determines your college place. College is applied for anonymously through a Central Applications System (CAO) and you list your college course preferences and you are offered a place based on your exam results. The only instances where it is not anonymous is in the case where an audition is required.in the case of studying drama or music.

    2. Tyrone says:

      Its a year when we do work experience and have a trip abroad, you don’t get anything extra from doing it

    3. Maria says:

      It is designed to act as a bridge between the Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate programmes. There is no state examination at the end of Transition Year. Assessment is usually carried out on an ongoing basis and can include school-based assessment of projects or portfolios, oral, aural, practical and written activities. Its debatable wether or not its worthwile to do 4th year. And no, you dont earn credits. So if you decide not to do 4th year, you go straight from 3rd to 5th year. Hope this helps

    4. Karen says:

      In a lot of schools, it is mandatory as it provides a good experience as you partake in work experience as well but in some schools it is optional. You also partake in other activities, like I know in my school the TY’s do the school musical, they go on a trip to an outdoor adventure centre, they go on a trip to Europe. You also do day courses like maybe first aid or something like that. You also do some community service. TY is also a chance to try new subjects and can help the student decide what subjects they would like to do for the leaving cert. ( Again I don’t know about other schools but Ido know that that is what is like in my school)

      1. Yeetus says:

        In all Irish secondary schools it is optional and we don’t have to do it if we don’t want to most Irish student would like to to it because it is a break from regular school and is a lot of fun so if an Irish student wanted to do transition year they could and if they did not want to do transition year they do not have to as it is an optional year

        1. Erin says:

          No in some secondary schools it is mandatory for students to complete all 6 years of school. It is only mandatory in very few schools though.

    5. Teri says:

      4th hear is optional as it is like a transition from junior cert third year to fifth year which is preparation for the leaving cert thats why 4 th hear is also know as ty transition year ty is a laid back year where you go on trip and prepare for your leaving cert if you started school a year early you can do ty as an extra year to make sure if your going to college or getting a job that you have an extra year on you in my school we don’t have a ty at all as the school is small and we don’t have enough rooms but most of the time it’s optional of you wanted to do ty in my school you would switch to a different school for the one year of transition year and move back to my school after if you want

    6. Anna says:

      Yes 4th year or transition year (ty) is optional it’s sorta like a gap/break year when you do fun activities and don’t do as much work as other years. They have this as the previous year you had the junior cert and in 5th year you begin preparing for the Leaving cert so it’s a break. But you have to pay to be in this year. Whats a credit? Please explain this!!

    7. Shay says:

      i’m in Ireland and yes- In TY or 4th year / transition year its basically a calm year where we get ready for the next stage in life but we have the choice to skip it

    8. Naomi says:

      I don’t really know what credits is but if you scroll up you can see my explanation of TY(4th year) 🙂

    9. Kaci says:

      We don’t do credits in Ireland. It’s optional as a break after our big exams in third year.

  14. Varghese says:

    Thanks for the information you have give. planning to move to Ireland with my two kids from India in May 2020, The elder one will be completing 6th class in march 2020, Age will be 12 years in November 2020, so will he be taken in 7th class in Ireland. please help

    1. DH says:

      No ‘7th’ class here. At she 13-he/she will go into the final year of primary school – 6th class. The following year they will enter Secondary School into 1st year.

    2. Anna says:

      I am from Ireland and if he completes 6th class in March then he will go into Secondary School as a first year

    3. Kaitlyn says:

      Hi em if he’s only turning 12 in November he should probably start 6th class in September 2020

    4. Naomi says:

      if your older child is turning 12 in November 2020, he/she should be going into 6th class not 1st year.

  15. yeptube says:

    If you re moving with children, you ll be happy to know that school is free for every child in Ireland, and the high quality of our education in Ireland is a point of national pride. With our guide, we make learning about our schools as easy as A-B-C.

  16. Sam says:

    Hi I’m Sam I recently moved to Ireland and my kids are back home in South Africa grade 7 and 10 but going to grade 8 and 11 next year confused a bit here what should I do about school next year because I really need the grade 8 here but school only starts in September here please explain

    1. Naomi says:

      So ye it seems your academic year is from January to December. But here in ireland and ohter countries like UK and USa its generally from end of August or September to June. Or May depending if they are in primary or secondary. Since both your kids are in secondary school they would be finish at the end of May then they will have June, July,August off back for school at the end of the month. So I would advice your children to either re do their year or wait till August 2020 for the new year. Just realsing your comment was last year so you should be good.

  17. Claire says:

    Primary school actually has eight years or at least that’s what they do in my part of the country , which is junior infants-6th class, and before primary school there is usually a kind of preschool that could be called montasori, Kresh, (etc…).

    1. Kaitlyn says:

      That is the education system in the whole of Ireland but it is now obligatory that all children complete a year of creche/preschool/playschool/Montessori before they enter Primary School

    2. Marek says:

      Yeah you’re right, but it’s optional, isn’t it? You’re not required to do it, although most people do it.

  18. Dylan McCombs says:

    Where did you get the american letter grades? Cause wherever they were from, their C is an F where I am

  19. Klaudia says:

    Hey, I think I remember you from a while back since I go to the same school you went to during your stay in Ireland. Pretty sure I once saw you at Culture Day representing the US? Not sure, but I remember there was a US stand next to the Polish one that I helped with. Wild how I found you here, since I was just looking up what the US equivalents to the Irish years are 😂

    1. Kotlinska says:

      Can anyone help me with finding out the difference in years in Greece? I am moving over to Ireland soon and am looking for help!

  20. rohini says:

    Thanks for the guidance.

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