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

  1. 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%

  2. Ella says:

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

  3. 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!

  4. 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

  5. Stefanie says:

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

    1. 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

    2. 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

    3. 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

    4. 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!!

    5. 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

  6. 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

  7. 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.

  8. 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

  9. 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

  10. Dylan McCombs says:

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

  11. 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!

  12. rohini says:

    Thanks for the guidance.

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