The number of children starting primary school at age four has fallen by 30% over the past 20 years, according to new figures.
As the Irish Examiner reports, four-year-olds now make up 17% of infants, a figure that rose to 47% in 2001.
Figures from the Department for Education show that the age of toddlers has “increased steadily over the past 20 years, although the trend has accelerated in recent times”.
This is likely due to the introduction of the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) program in 2010 and its extension to two years in 2016.
The department’s latest statistical bulletin also sheds light on primary school enrollment figures, showing that between 2001 and 2021 there was an increase of 113,723 (25.8%) in primary school enrolment.
In terms of locations, the data shows that the largest proportional increases occurred in the Dublin region, while the smallest increase occurred in Kerry (0.9%) and Waterford City (0. 7%), while Clare and Donegal were the areas that saw the biggest declines of 3.4% and 1.9% respectively.
The report shows that the total number of regular primary schools has decreased 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 increased by 80 over the same period.
The department says these closures are the result of declining enrollment and the merger of schools in close proximity to each other.
The growing popularity of multi-denominational schools is also a factor, with the 27 newly established mainstream primary schools that have opened in the last five years having been multi-denominational in their ethos.
However, Catholic schools still make up the vast majority of primary schools at 88.6%.
Total enrollment in Catholic schools decreased by 8,458 between 2020 and 2021, while enrollment in multi-denominational schools increased by 1,844.