The primary education sector includes state-funded primary schools, special schools and private primary schools. The state-funded schools include religious schools, non-denominational schools, multi-denominational schools and Gaelscoileanna (Irish-medium schools). For historical reasons, most primary schools are state-aided parish schools, although this pattern is changing. The state pays the bulk of the building and running costs of state-funded primary schools, but a local contribution is made towards their running costs. Teachers’ salaries are paid by the Department of Education and Skills, and the schools are inspected by the Department’s Inspectorate.
Although children are not obliged to attend school until the age of six, almost all children begin school in the September following their fourth birthday. Nearly 40% of four-year-olds and almost all five-year-olds are enrolled in infant classes in primary schools (sometimes called national schools). Primary education consists of an eight year cycle: junior infants, senior infants, and first to sixth classes. Pupils normally transfer to post-primary education at the age of twelve.
The general aims of primary education are:
- To enable the child to live a full life as a child and to realise his or her potential as a unique individual
- To enable the child to develop as a social being through living and co-operating with others and so contribute to the good of society
- To prepare the child for a continuum of learning.
The primary curriculum aims to provide a broad learning experience and encourages a rich variety of approaches to teaching and learning that cater for the different needs of individual children. The revised primary curriculum, launched in 1999, was the first complete revision of the curriculum since 1971. The revised curriculum is designed to nurture the child in all dimensions of his or her life—spiritual, moral, cognitive, emotional, imaginative, aesthetic, social and physical.
The curriculum is divided into the following key areas:
- Language – Irish and English
- Social, Environment and Scientific Education
- Arts Education, including Visual Arts, Music and Drama
- Physical Education
- Social, Personal and Health Education.