One of Ireland's oldest schools has decided to stop charging fees for day pupils and to enter the public free education system from September.

Kilkenny College says the decision follows a 2008 cut to State funding for Protestant fee paying schools.

Kilkenny College, which was founded almost 500 years ago, also attributed its decision to the impact of falling incomes and rising taxes on families.

The Church of Ireland second level school caters for 780 students, both boarders and day pupils.

In a statement posted on its website, the college said although fees had been maintained at 2008 levels, it was becoming increasingly difficult for families to send their children to the only Church of Ireland secondary school in Kilkenny and the southeast.

It said changes in 2008 to how Protestant fee-charging schools were funded had led to a withdrawal of support and building grants and an ever-reducing allocation of teachers.

The decision to stop charging fees was taken following what the school called lengthy talks with the Department of Education.

The school will continue to charge students who board.

The Principal of Kilkenny College Ian Coombes told RTÉ News research carried out by the school showed only a quarter of local Church of Ireland Primary school children were going on to attend his school.

Mr Coombes said he hoped dropping fees would change this by widening access.

He said the school had run out of application forms this morning once news of the decision to stop charging fees had been announced.

The Department of Education has confirmed that it is in preliminary discussions with five other fee-charging schools with a view to transferring to the free education system.

The five include both Catholic and Protestant schools.

In a statement Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn said he welcomed Kilkenny College's decision to stop charging fees.

The statement said the minister and the Government were committed to supporting the provision of education by schools with a Protestant ethos in order to meet the needs of their communities.

It said the Department was open to having discussions with any other fee-paying school which may be considering how best to continue to provide education to its pupils.