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Childcare and Schools 

Northern Ireland has an impressive reputation for outstanding standards of education at all levels.

In Northern Ireland education is compulsory for all children between four and sixteen years of age and is normally free of charge.

*Please Note*

If you are moving to Northern Ireland with children of school age it is recommended you make arrangements before arriving as it can be challenging to find a place in a school at short notice.

Further information about admissions to schools in Northern Ireland is available from the Education Authority website Education Authority (

In addition, help and advice for parents on a range of educational issues is available on the website of the Department of Education, Northern Ireland Home | Department of Education (

The Department for Education has developed a policy to support newcomer children whose first language is not English. This is available from the Department of Education NI website. We encourage you to visit schools and ask any questions or share any concerns you have about your child’s education.

School Admissions 

All children are entitled to a place in school, but you must apply for your child’s school place as soon as possible during the academic year after moving to Northern Ireland:

  • by the end of January of the year when they are due to start primary school
  • in February of the year before they start secondary school.

To get more information about school admissions and to apply for a school place for your child/children, please contact the Education Authority.   You can access their contact details at the following link

You can also visit a local school and ask for their support. If you want to apply to a voluntary grammar school, your child must sit a common entrance exam to ensure certain requirements are met.

Compulsory Education & Attendance 

All children and young people between the ages of 4 and 16 must attend school five days a week during the school year (the end of August/beginning of September to the end of June). If your child is ill and unable to attend school, you must inform the school office on the morning of the first day of sickness.

You can access early year places in childcare settings for babies and toddlers. Many primary schools have free nursery classes that your child can attend between the ages of three and four. More details on childcare for this age group can be found below.

All children must attend primary school between the ages of four and eleven. Most children start primary school in Year 1. The rest of primary education is divided into three key stages:

  • Foundation stage: Year 1 and Year 2
  • Key Stage 1: Years 3 and 4
  • Key Stage 2: Years 5, 6 and 7

Sometimes smaller primary schools operate mix-aged classes. For example, the classes for years 3 and 4 may be merged. This does not mean that children miss a year or repeat a year. Teachers will tailor the work to meet the needs of the pupils in their class.

Teachers assess pupils at regular intervals throughout the year, with more detailed tests at the end of Key Stage 1 and 2. You will receive reports about your child’s progress at least once per year. At the end of Year 7 (aged 11) your child will transfer to secondary school.

Secondary school starts with Year 8 (aged 11-12) and students move up a year every September.

Students will be assessed by teachers and take tests to monitor their progress. At the end of Year 12 (aged 16) pupils take important exams called GCSEs. Pupils may choose to leave school after these exams, or continue to study for further exams to gain entry to college or university.

In most cases, the school year in Northern Ireland follows the term dates and school holidays below (please note that this might vary slightly in some schools.) For example:

Term 1: September to December

  • Up to 1 week holiday (October half term)
  • Up to 2 weeks holiday (Christmas holiday)

Term 2: January to March/April

  • Up to 1 week holiday (February half term)
  • Up to 2 weeks holiday (Easter holiday)

Term 3: April to June

  • Up to 8 weeks holiday (Summer holiday)

Parent’s Involvement 

Schools in Northern Ireland expect that parents will get involved in their children’s education, for example:

  • Read information letters and newsletters to parents about school activities (such as an upcoming school visit or parents’ evening) or educational progress reports.
  • Attend parents’ evenings or meetings to discuss their child’s learning with their teacher(s).
  • Visit the school regularly to discuss any successes or concerns with your child’s teacher. Do not hesitate to ask questions or share your concerns about your child’s progress or wellbeing. Teachers and other school staff will be happy to talk to you, either at the end of the day or by making an appointment with them via the school’s office.

Talking with teachers is not seen as being disrespectful. All teachers want parents to get actively involved in the education of their children.

Childcare for Babies & Toddlers 

Similar to schools it is difficult to find places at short notice. When you find a facility you would like your children to attend, telephone and make an appointment to discuss whether there are places available for your child/children and to confirm the details. You know your child best and know what kind of childcare will suit them and meet your family’s needs. There are many types of childcare and all – except nursery schools and nannies – must be registered with Social Services.

Visit at least two or three examples of your chosen form of childcare and be sure to go during times when the carer is looking after other children. This will allow you to see how the children behave there and how the carer responds to them. Take a list of questions and discuss with the carer the daily routine and issues you feel strongly about, such as diet or discipline.

Once you have a shortlist, double-check that the options meet all your requirements – suitability, cost, availability, location – and that you’ve done a dummy run to check it’s really going to fit into a tight deadline. Don’t be afraid to go for a second visit if you have any misgivings – a good child carer will welcome this.  Double check all the arrangements and secure the place by paying any deposit, if it is required.

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