Many of your Northern Ireland- (NI) related education questions to AFF run along the lines of “how do I find a school?”, “are the academic years the same?” and “what about homework every night?”. Children’s Education Support Officer Paula explains more…

SCHOOL life in Northern Ireland is really not that different from the rest of the UK.

The most frequent comments we receive from parents are about the longer summer holidays, which run from the end of June until early September. It’s great for the kids but not so good for parents if your soldier is away and you are working. However, community support in NI runs an extensive summer scheme.

NI has the lowest statutory age of entry to school in the UK. A child who is four on or before 1 July must start primary school in September that year. The 12 years of compulsory education (seven years at primary and five post-primary) are divided into five stages.

July/August birthdays

If your child was born in July or August, they may be in a different class if they are moving from another part of the UK or Service Children’s Education school. Schools that cater for Service children in NI are adept at dealing with this.

There’s not a “one size fits all” solution, but schools will work with parents and pupils to work out what’s best for your child. The aim is to integrate children with their peers as soon as possible.

Special Educational Needs

Children arriving with a statement or an Education, Health and Care Plan have a separate admissions process to make sure the school is suitable for your child’s needs.


This is an important part of school life and is regularly set according to age and ability.

As children progress, more will be expected of them in terms of content and the length of time spent on it.


All schools start at about 9am but finish times vary:

  • 2pm for P1-P3
  • 3pm for P4-P7
  • P1 children will finish at midday for the first few weeks
  • Post-primary finishes at 3.30pm. Some offer breakfast clubs, after-school clubs and extra-curricular activities.


Transport assistance is only available where there are no suitable school places within the qualifying distance (two miles from home for primary schools and three miles from home for post-primary).

If there are suitable places within the qualifying distance and you opt to go further  afield then you will be responsible for getting your child to school yourself.

Grammar schools

To transfer from a primary to a selective grammar school, children need to take an entrance assessment (formerly known as the 11+).

Registration takes place between May and mid-September, with assessments in November/December.

If your child arrives after the registration period, you can make use of “special provisions” to apply for a grammar school. Consult the admissions criteria of your chosen school for details.

What to do first

If you are posted to NI, contact me for details of schools and the application process.

Call 028 92266347 or email

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