Enrolling in Dublin Primary Schools

When we were deciding to make the move to Dublin, one of our top concerns was making sure that the kids got a good education. Based on our research (google), Irish public schools seemed to be highly regarded. A friend who worked at a local Catholic College in the Seattle area told me that all of their Irish students were very well prepared and it gave me some peace of mind. I figured that if we moved into a very nice family area that the kids would be able to get into a very nice public school.

The Irish public schools are referred to as National Schools and you can search for schools in your area at SchoolDays.ie. I tried to look at schools through their directory while we were planning our move, but it really wasn’t too helpful because we weren’t sure exactly where we would be living. The schools are organized on the site based on area code (e.g. Dublin 1 or Dublin 2). But since we weren’t sure where the areas were, we were only able to get an idea of what schools were like by looking at the individual school websites.

Every school lists an ethos which describes it’s religious affiliation. It seems that Irish public schools have a religious affiliation whether it’s Church of Ireland, Catholic, non-denominational, Jewish, etc. There are also Irish speaking schools called Gaelscoil. There are some other language-speaking schools for French or German too. You could also pay for private school or international school, but we were trying to avoid that cost. English-speaking public schools were one of the advantages of moving to Irish versus some of the other countries we were considering at the time (Czeck Republic and Germany).

When we finally arrived in Dublin, we took a look at a couple of houses and quickly narrowed down which area we wanted to live in based on ease of transportation, family-friendly amenities, and easy access to public transportation. Since we won’t have a car in Ireland for now, we needed to be able to walk easily to get groceries, get to the bus or Luas (Dublin’s light rail system), and to other family-friendly activities like swimming and parks. Once we made that decision, I quickly started making a list of schools to contact. I actually did this using Google Maps and searched for primary schools in the area where we were searching for housing. I then googled each school for their contact information and quickly found that some wouldn’t work for us because they were all girl schools or too far to walk from the areas in which we wanted to live.

Then I started calling. I started out confident and then quickly became disheartened! Because almost every school I called did not have room for all three kids. Most of the schools had one or two spots but no spots for all three. Unlike the Seattle-area community in which we lived before, you can’t just send your child to the nearest neighborhood school here. They keep strictly to their maximum class size numbers and because most of the schools are run by churches, they are not obligated to accommodate students simply because they are in the school’s district or area. Several of the schools had special policies for parents who put their kids’ names on waiting lists for junior infants (pre-K) years before they actually attend. Some of the schools also gave priority to children in their parish but sadly, even for those children, if there was no room…there simply was no room.

I was starting to get desperate. School was finished here the last week of June. We were still frantically trying to find a house to rent and space in a school and neither was working out as easily as we had hoped. We were two weeks into our Dublin adventure and had two weeks left on our short term flat. Suddenly, I received a call from a school secretary with whom I had spoken a couple days earlier! She called to tell me that they had room for all three children and that she would hold the spot if we were sure we would take it. At that point, I was sure! It was in the right area and it would take all three kids! She told me would send me the enrollment paperwork with instructions to send it back quickly to secure our spots.

The paperwork arrived within two days and we decided to visit the school to turn in our paperwork (because I still didn’t know how to post anything yet) and because I decided that it would be a good idea to visit the school. We took the bus from near our flat and took the 20 minute ride to the school. It is always a bit nerve racking riding the bus because you have to request a stop and since I didn’t know the area very well, it was hard to tell if we were getting close. But luckily, we got off on our stop and then walked the short walk to the school.

It is a small school and has an enormous field next to it. When we went in, we followed the signs in the tiny hallway to a small office. We asked a small boy where the front office was and he pointed to a small room with a desk and said that was the principal’s office. We waited a few minutes and the principal arrived. She seemed on her way somewhere, but she stopped to talk to us and ask the children questions. I explained that we were there to drop off our paperwork and then the secretary arrived. The principal offered to watch the children while I went into the office to do their paperwork.

I had brought their passports as well as copies of their immunizations and  birth certificates with me since these are all required when registering your child in a US school. The secretary never asked me for any of it. I simply turned in the simple form she had previously mailed to me which simple asked for our address and contact information, doctor information, and our church information.

While I spoke with the secretary and tried to figure out uniforms, books, and fees, the principal came in to ask if it would be all right if she took the children on a tour of the school. When they came back, she remarked that the children were very well behaved and that they were surprised that the school was so small.   The staff for the school is literally just the principal and the secretary. Each grade in the school is one single class of 24 students! We learned that their is a parent association which I will join in the fall and that Miss Piggy will be let out of school one hour before the boys. Ugh. Will have to sort out that schedule in the fall. But it does give me some time with Lulu and to do things with all three in school.

A couple of weeks later, our booklists arrived from the secretary and we headed over to the book store to purchase books. We found several moms waiting in line to sell back books at the shop. It reminded me of college! But we were able to find most of the workbooks and items the children need and put the rest on order for pickup in a couple of weeks.

Some of the books that we purchased for school.

We had discovered a couple weeks earlier that school uniforms are on sale at the end of May/June and that you buy uniforms for the following school year at the beginning of the summer. The sales assistants advised me to buy now because there would be no sales later in the summer and that it would be difficult to find sizes during the school year. So, I purchased a pinafore and skirt for Miss Piggy, trousers for the boys, and button down shirts and polo shirts for all three at Marks and Spencers. Other department stores also carried schoolwear, but I happened to be in the Marks and Spencers and bought their items there. We will have to order their track suits, jumpers (sweaters) and school ties from a specialty company as their school emblem needs to be embroidered onto these items.

So, I think we are ready and mostly prepared for school in the fall! A couple of the kids in our neighborhood attend a Gaelscoil. I have asked them to give the kids some lessons in some basic Irish over the summer so that they won’t be so behind. I’ve also discovered some online resources that might help. The Northern Ireland Public school curriculum website has some great online activities for learning basic Irish words as well as French, German, and Spanish. The Monkey also qualified for the gifted program in our Seattle school district before we left. So, we are hoping that the school also has special activities for highly capable students. On their website, they list activities for “more able” students and advanced math classes. So, we will explore that in the fall once school starts.

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