homeschooling in ireland

Homeschooling in Ireland

Hazel Katherine Larkin explains the realities and benefits of homeschooling in Ireland.

Some families home-educate their children because of religious reasons. Other parents may prefer to do it because it gives them greater control over the education of their children.

Most children in Ireland start school between the ages of four and six, and stay there until they are between 16 and 18. Many Irish families, however, choose not to send their children to school.

Bunreacht na hÉireann supports the right of parents to educate their own children in whatever way they see fit. Article 42 of the Constitution states:

  • The State acknowledges that the primary and natural educator of the child is the Family and guarantees to respect the inalienable right and duty of parents to provide, according to their means, for the religious and moral, intellectual, physical and social education of their children.
  • Parents shall be free to provide this education in their homes…
  • The State shall not oblige parents in violation of their conscience and lawful preference to send their children to schools established by the State, or to any particular type of school designated by the State.

Why homeschool?

Parents decide to home-educate for a variety of reasons. For some, they worry about the standard of education in Irish schools.

“With more than 30 children in the majority of classes in Ireland, how much ‘learning’ can actually happen?” asks Paula, who has always home-educated her three children (aged 13, 10 and eight).
Other parents decide they don’t want to send their children to a school with a Catholic ethos – and have no other choices in their localities.

“We’re atheists,” Jenny, another homeschooling mother, tells me. “And I didn’t want them going to a school and being fed all this nonsense about a god that we believe doesn’t exist. Then, they’d have to come home and un-learn it. It didn’t seem fair on either them or the school.”

Her solution, when the local Educate Together school had no place for her eldest daughter, was to home-educate.

Some parents remove their children from school when things aren’t going well. That’s what Sophie did. Her girls are both in the top 5% of gifted learners and the school neither knew – nor wanted to learn – how to facilitate their intelligence.

“My daughters were not receiving an adequate education and the school was refusing to work with me. In fact, they were putting obstacles in my way. When my seven year old told me she wanted to die because of the stress at school, I knew it was time to act,” she told me.

For other families, a less-structured approach to learning suits their family style better than the strict rigours of the average Irish classroom.

All these reasons – and more – are valid and acceptable ones to homeschool.


If you wish to  try homeschooling in Ireland the first thing to do is register with the National Education Welfare Board (NEWB). This needs to be done when the child turns six, or you remove them from school, whichever applies. The Board then sends an officer to your home and they go through the formalities of registering your child as homeschooled.

The NEWB ensures that you have given thought to all aspects of your child’s education – moral, physical, religious, social and intellectual – and also that you physically have an area for your child to learn (well-lit, well-ventilated, warm and comfortable), and a space where artwork can be displayed.

Information on what is expected will also be imparted during the meeting as well as other useful information – such as, if your child ever enters mainstream school in Ireland, they will not be entitled to an exemption from Irish. In addition, both parents (even if you’re separated or divorced) must sign that they are happy for the child to be homeschooled.

The NEWB will then make a decision on your suitability to homeschool and you will be informed of that decision in writing.

The financial implications

The first thing to consider is who will actually be doing the schooling? If you co-parent, will one of you have to give up work? If so, how will that impact on your family finances?

The other financial burden to consider is all the materials, books and subscriptions to online lessons, etc. that you might need to pay for.

Additionally, classes such as music, gym and other classes that might be available through school will be added expenses for the homeschooling family.

Another thing to consider is that you won’t be able to access the free dental and eye checks that are carried out through the schools – so, unless you have a medical card, you’ll have to pay for them. On the occasions when you need a sitter for your child – if you have a meeting or appointment you can’t bring them to, for example – that’s another expense.

What to teach and how to teach it?

Different families have different approaches to homeschooling. Some parents prefer to use a curriculum, while others are of the opinion that learning is organic, and that children learn what they need to know by everyday interaction with the world around them.

Personally, I used a learning log for each of my children. Every day, I made a note of what they studied, and for how long. I also included things like visits to museums, galleries and trips overseas; cooking, crafting, foreign languages, and things like their yoga practice, GAA practice and outdoor free-play. When we sat down and added it all up – they fitted a lot of educational things into their days!

Some parents hesitate to homeschool because they worry that they’re not ‘expert’ enough to teach their children. As long as you can read, you can help your child to learn – and for the things you can’t do, there are other people who can help. I ‘outsourced’ their dancing, singing and Mandarin classes, I had a friend (who is a professional artist) do art with them, and did the rest myself. We are also lucky enough to have a fabulous library nearby, and it became a great resource to us during the year my girls were homeschooled.


You, as a parent, are the greatest resource your child has. No one will have as much interest in ensuring their educational success as you. There is a Home Education Network (HEN) in Ireland, as well as many online forums dedicated to homeschooling in Ireland and abroad, so there is help, support and advice available to anyone homeschooling – or just considering it.

Home education is not just for children of primary school age, either. Your children can also do their secondary education at home – and there is no compunction on them to do the Irish state exams, either. They can sit exams set by educational departments in other jurisdictions, and matriculate for Irish universities without having done a Leaving Certificate.

If you choose to homeschool – and then realise that it doesn’t suit you as well as you thought it might – you can always put your children back into a state school. Their entitlement to a state education will not be compromised by your decision to home educate.

Finally, if you do decide to homeschool, don’t be too hard on yourself and don’t expect too much from yourself and your child. Accept that some days will be better than others, enjoy the process and ask for the support and help you need.

More you might like:

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Is your child ready for school?
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Ask Sarah

Q I’ve heard a lot about the Paleo diet and as I am very interested in reducing the amount of processed foods and grain based meals my family eats, we are considering following this diet. From what I read it seems to be a back-to-basics type of eating. Is a Paleo diet safe for children? My kids are aged seven and nine.

A The Paleo diet is one of the most fashionable diets around at the moment. It is also known as the ‘caveman diet’ and is based on cutting out processed foods, starchy foods like bread and potatoes and eating more meat, vegetables and fruit.
As fad diets go, it is not the worst but there are some good and bad sides to it. Reducing the amount of processed foods we eat is always a good idea and by doing that you will usually reduce the amount of fat, salt and sugar you eat, which is a good thing! The problem with the Paleo diet is that it also cuts out dairy (on the basis that cavemen didn’t drink milk) and this means that the diet is very low in calcium. For this reason it is really not suitable for children who do need a lot of calcium for growing bones. How did cavemen manage without dairy? They ate a lot more food than we do (up to 10,000 calories per day compared to the 2,000 most of us eat). By eating that amount of food they were able to pick up just enough calcium from green vegetables and seeds. To put it in perspective, you would need to eat 16 servings of broccoli a day to get all the calcium you need. This is easier to do if you eat 10,000 calories per day rather than 2,000.
The other problem with the paleo diet is that it is not entirely based in science. Many of the Paleo diets out there say you should not eat wheat, even though we know that cavemen did in fact eat wheat and other grains. These diets also don’t recommend that you eat blubber and the big lumps of fat that were also a large part of the caveman diet!
A final problem is that many Paleo diets encourage people to cut out beans and lentils and to get their protein from meat and fish instead. Many studies over the last few years are clear that eating too much animal protein is linked with more cancer and heart disease. Eating some vegetarian meals based on beans and lentils is a great way to get your protein without always going for meat.
Is this a diet we should follow? I think there is a lot we can learn from the Paleo diets. We could all do with eating less salt, sugar and processed foods and adding in more nuts and seeds as well as more vegetables. However, I think following a strict Paleo diet could lead to low levels of calcium and vitamin D and so it is not suitable for children or teens and adults would need to think about a calcium supplement.


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Ask Allison

Q My sister-in-law and I both work three-day weeks and we help each
other out with child minding on our working days, which up until recently has worked out really well. Between us, our kids are aged between five and nine years – the problem is that it’s now become quite apparent that we have very different parenting styles. I prefer my two daughters (seven and nine) to have a structured day. For example, in my house, we have allocated times for television and iPads, etc. My sister-in-law, however, lets the kids run loose after school – homework is ignored and my kids end up wired after eating sugary treats all afternoon. I am considering looking at after-school childcare for the kids, but I’m worried that this is going to cause a family argument. Is there a diplomatic way that I can ask my sister-in-law to introduce some discipline into her child-minding days? It certainly doesn’t do her two kids any harm when I am minding them in my own house!

In a word, no, there is no diplomatic way to do this as it may very likely seem like your saying that your parenting style is better than
hers. As L’Óreal says, ‘now here comes the science bit.’ Dr. Kaylene
Henderson, a child psychiatrist, wrote a very interesting blog about ‘the
science behind the Mummy Wars’. She explains that before she had
children of her own she hadn’t been aware of how parents have a
very specific sense of the right parenting style. She also found that parents could be very definite in defending their chosen parenting style. Dr. Henderson, who describes herself as a curious, scientific, open-minded person, was surprised at how defensive parents could be and, at times, of their judgemental attitude towards each other. She explained the neurology of the Mummy Wars; okay, I’ll need you to bear with me for a second. Warning; I’m about to use some neuro-techie language.

Why do we judge each other?
As we have all had different experiences, this means that we all have very different memories stored in our brains. Most of our memories are ‘explicit’ memories – these are ones that we can recall easily such as important dates that mean something to us; important birthdays, special events or stories of and about our lives.
There is another type of memory called ‘implicit’ memory that plays a
key role in our parenting. This type of memory is the stuff that you do on autopilot. Psychologists call these heuristics or rules of thumb –
such as tying your shoelace, or driving your car (once you have learnt
to do both first!). Otherwise we’d really waste a huge amount of time
pondering over tasks that we have readily available to us. This seems to be where the science bit of our parenting style kicks in. This implicit memory goes all the way back to when you were an infant being parented by your parents. This is when you started the process of storing up how they did it into your memories.
Unless you make a conscious choice and effort to parent differently, what you saw and unconsciously learnt will be your automatic go-to parenting style.

We learn habits
This can really kick into gear when we feel our parenting style is
being mirrored or highlighted by disapproval from another parent. I know the cold sweat you feel when your child decides to make their outstanding bad behaviour performance at, of course, the most public and worst time. The implicit autopilot of how your parents dealt with these outbursts will flow unconsciously from you if you haven’t worked super hard to be aware and consciously change the old habits.
What’s happening for the on-looking parent is that they see you doing something they are used to doing, but you are doing it all wrong. Simply, because that is not how they know how to do it.

Find a way that works
You both have different parenting styles – who is to say which type is correct? You just need to know what works best for your family and that’s the bottom line. The irksome feelings won’t go away. You can talk to your sister-in-law, but I’m adding a caveat that it would be hard not to hurt her feelings. What we’re possibly looking at is that you prefer a more structured form of parenting, whereas your sister-in-law has a more permissive style. I’m not sure the two styles can mix, the mixture is a bit like oil and water.
If a collaborative shared form of parenting style can be agreed upon, then that is great, but our learnt hardwiring may prove difficult to change despite the intent to do so.
Perhaps, your own instinct of changing childcare might work best for you. In terms of making childcare work; the fit is ultimately the most
important aspect as you want a cohesive congruent feeling of the other caregiver to just ‘getting it’, like in any good partnership. Best of luck
with this and I wish you both well.