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

  1. 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…).

  2. Dylan McCombs says:

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

  3. 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!

  4. rohini says:

    Thanks for the guidance.

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