Ask Brian: How do I secure school places for my children moving back to Ireland?

Admission criteria can make it difficult to get places in over-subscribed schools

Be sure to do your research on  admission policies when choosing a school for your children. Photograph: iStock

Be sure to do your research on admission policies when choosing a school for your children. Photograph: iStock


Question: Following the recent US presidential election result, I am considering moving back to Ireland with my two sons, aged 13 and 14. Could you please suggest some resources to help me navigate the Irish secondary school system?

  Answer: It must be an unsettling period for Irish emigrants living in the US, particularly those who are undocumented. As you may know, the Irish second-level system is a six-year single school system, unlike the middle/high school system in the US. Children enter their first year, aged 12-13, and take their Leaving Cert at age 18-19.

Entry to all second-level schools is based on their published admissions policy, which you will find on their websites.

In the majority of schools, this will not be a problem for you; you should be able to secure places for your children by simply completing an application process either online or in writing.

In about 20 per cent of schools, however, there are far more children seeking places than the school can accommodate.

In these cases, school admission policies will have specific categories of priority, based on a range of factors from membership of a particular faith tradition, attendance at feeder schools, waiting lists, etc.

There has long been a recognition, however, that many of these criteria can make it difficult for new arrivals to access a school in their local area.


To attempt to ensure fairness for all parents seeking school places for their children, the Minister for Education Richard Bruton has recently published the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill 2016.

It delivers on a commitment in the Programme for Government to ensure there is transparency over school enrolment policies, an end to waiting lists, introduction of annual enrolment structures, and fairness in admissions for pupils and their parents.

This legislation has not, as yet, been enacted through the Dáil, however, so there is no certainty it will determine your children’s admission options if you return to Ireland in the coming months.

In addition, there is likely to be a “bedding-in” period for the new legislation to allow schools to adjust their admissions criteria.

For example, schools may be given several years to phase out waiting lists.

Given the current ages of your children, they will probably be seeking places in both first and second year.

If you are not seeking places until September next, securing a school place for both your children – in schools in high demand – will be determined by whether a place becomes available by virtue of another student leaving, and not by the school’s admissions policy.

You need to identify a local area in which you plan to live upon your return to Ireland. Google the schools in that locality – you should then identify a number of target schools; email their principals outlining your circumstances; and explain how you are seeking places for your children.