‘Strong’ support for multidenominational primary schools at a time when 90% are under religious control

State-run schools say ‘urgent need’ to boost choice for parents if Government targets are to be met

State-run schools say there is an 'urgent need' to boost access to multidenominational education for parents at primary level at a time when 90 per cent of schools remain under religious control.. Photograph: iStock

State-run schools say there is an “urgent need” to boost access to multidenominational education for parents at primary level at a time when 90 per cent of schools remain under religious control.

Just 5 per cent of primary schools, or 166, are multi-denominational and efforts to transfer patronage away from religious-run schools over the past decade or more have proved slow and, in some cases, divisive.

Education and Training Boards Ireland (ETBI), the representative body for the State’s 16 regional education and training boards, said a new survey shows strong support for multi-denominational education and relatively little for religious-run schools.

The ETBI-commissioned poll, based on a representative sample of 1,011 adults by research firm Opinion, found that 61 per cent of adults had a preference for multi-denominational education compared to 9 per cent who had a preference for a religious body to provide education.


Education and training boards currently have responsibly for 28 Community National Schools at primary level, which are multi-denominational and provide a “multi-belief and values” curriculum rather than faith formation in one religion.

ETBI general secretary Paddy Lavelle said: “Our research shows that there is a strong appetite for the Community National School as the model of choice and this needs to be urgently prioritised by Government if it is to achieve its target of 400 multi-denominational primary schools by the year 2030.”

The latest Department of Education “schools reconfiguration” process launched in March 2022 has resulted in two out of 63 religious-run schools so far transferring patronage to the Community National School model. They are Cornamaddy National School in Athlone and St Enda’s, Whitefriar Street, in Dublin 8.

Dublin 8 school transfers from Catholic to multi-denominational patronageOpens in new window ]

Minster for Education Norma Foley has said she is hopeful there will be a number of other transfers of patronage and change of ethos to multidenominational in the short term.

“The learnings from the process in the pilot areas should provide a pathway forward on the process for providing multidenominational options for parents in other towns and areas of the country going forward,” she said, recently.

“The goal remains to establish a strong process, that has the support of patrons and local communities, and which will enable us to continue to increase the number of multi-denominational primary schools across the country.”

Catholic bishops have expressed supported the reconfiguration process. However, they have warned that a law which prohibits Catholic schools from prioritising the enrolment of local children of the same faith is emerging as a “stumbling block” to the process.

Reconfiguring school patronage can work if Church and State co-operate for the common goodOpens in new window ]

The ETBI’s survey also explored the key factors that influence parents when deciding on where to send their children to primary school.

They include, in order of importance, having modern teaching facilities; lessons taught through English, provision for special needs students; having sports facilities; smaller class sizes; exam results; coeducational, or mixed; classes; and an inclusive ethos in admissions. Among the least important factors cited were being a single-sex schools; having lessons taught through Irish; fee-paying status; or being managed by a religious body.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent