The number of children starting primary school at the age of four has decreased by 30 per cent in the past 20 years, according to new figures.
As the Irish Examiner reports, four-year-olds now account for 17 per cent of junior infants, a figure that stood at 47 per cent in 2001.
Figures from the Department of Education show that the age of junior infants has been “steadily increasing for the past 20 years, although the trend has accelerated in recent times”.
It is most likely due to the introduction of the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme in 2010, and its expansion to two years in 2016.
The department’s latest statistical bulletin also sheds light on primary school enrolment figures, showing that between 2001 and 2021 there was an increase of 113,723 (25.8 per cent) in enrolments in primary schools.
In terms of locations, the data shows the largest proportional increases occurred within the Dublin area, while the smallest increase occurred in Kerry (0.9 per cent) and Waterford City (0.7 per cent), while Clare and Donegal were the areas that saw the largest decrease by 3.4 per cent and 1.9 per cent respectively.
The report shows that the total number of mainstream primary schools has declined by 55 since 2011, from 3,159 to 3,104 last year.
This includes the closure of 126 Catholic schools and 12 Church of Ireland schools, while the number of multi-denominational schools has increased by 80 in the same period.
The department states these closures are a result of declining enrolments and the amalgamation of schools in close proximity to each other.
The rise in popularity of multi-denominational schools is also a factor, with all 27 newly established mainstream primary schools which opened in the last five years having been multi-denominational in ethos.
However, Catholic schools still comprise the vast majority of primary schools at 88.6 per cent.
Total enrolments in Catholic schools fell by 8,458 between 2020 and 2021, while enrolments in multi-denominational schools rose by 1,844.